An unowned property at the corner of Elmwood and Michigan avenues is raising concerns amongst residents and officials alike. The roughly half-acre property is one of the oldest parks in Wilmette, which has largely gone unnoticed.
In light of , residents Patrick Duffy and Mike Boyer, who also serve in the village's Zoning Board of Appeals, have been raising public awareness on what to do with the land. Most recently, the duo presented their concerns during public discussion at the Wilmette Park District’s board meeting Monday night.
"Our goal here is to keep this piece of property at the end of Elmwood Avenue for the benefit of Wilmette residents, " Duffy said. "Our vision is to keep the property for public use."
In the early 20th century, the parcel was one of several right-of-ways granted to the village. The right-of-way status means that while the village controls the land, they do not own the property. The rest of those right-of-ways, which were a series of roads that ended at Lake Michigan, . But the more northern one at the intersection of Elmwood and Michigan stands alone, now containing overgrown foliage and serving as unregulated public access to the beach.
Duffy and Boyer, along with several supporters, proposed that the Park District consider purchasing the land so it would not be privatized. They argue that the space's topography and history are worth preserving.
"Our goal is to have a low-impact park. We’re not trying to draw additional people to the site or into the neighborhood," Duffy said.
In addition to Boyer and Duffy, others, including some who neighbor the Elmwood Avenue land, presented their opinions.
Some, like Kevin Carey, echoed Boyer and Duffy’s sentiments. Additionally, Carey said the roughly 50 residents he's approached about the land didn't know it was public.
"Most people thought it was private property. They were afraid to go down there," he said.
But former and current neighbors to the area said they are concerned that turning it into a public park could be disruptive.
Beth Beucher, who grew up near the land and currently serves as a member of the Lakefront Commission, said opening the area to the public could disturb the peace.
Beucher, who is not in favor of selling the public land for private use, proposed that a fence be re-constructed and the status quo maintained.
"It is a public safety that needs to be addressed," she added.
Monday's discussion comes as a follow-up to questions raised during . Park District board members were sympathetic to the issues raised, and mentioned that the property would be discussed during a real estate committee meeting happening later in the evening.
"People feel passionately about this, and because of that the park district wants to listen to everyone’s opinions and to do some fact gathering," said Steve Wilson, executive director of the Wilmette Park District.
"On the surface I think it’s great that they are going to consider acquiring it," Boyer told Patch. "But there’s a long road before anything happens."
That includes actions that the village board can take as well, according to Wilmette Manager Timothy Frenzer.
"The Village doesn’t own it, so all we can do is maintain or vacate it," Frenzer said, "It can't just put a for sale sign up on it."
According to state law, the property can be vacated to "adjoining property owners." But, before that point, the village would host a series of forums regarding the value and sale of the land.
Meanwhile, residents are gathering signatures to ensure the property isn't privatized and have also launched an online petition for signatures. Boyer will again present materials to the Village Board during Tuesday night's meeting.
"This is not on the agenda of the Village Board tonight," Frenzer said. "If at some time the village wants to explore vacating it, then a whole public hearing process has to start."
Stay tuned to Patch for more updates.