There are only four unpaved alleys remaining in Winnetka, and a new plan facing the Village Council could bring two of them up to scratch by the end of the year.
The two alleys in question are in the heart of Winnetka near Skokie School,
sharing bounds with Elm, Oak, Locust, Rosewood, and Glendale streets. And though one of those one-block-long alleys borders $16 million worth of market-value housing, one resident called its condition “third-world” at Tuesday's village board meeting.
Steve Saunders, director of public works, said the alleys are in poor shape. “They require frequent pothole filling and grading to keep them serviceable. They’re poorly drained, they can become impassible at times, and they’re very difficult to
plow and maintain in the winter,” Saunders said.
The cost of excavating the alleys to their original grade and installing stormwater
drainage to both alleys would cost an estimated total of $247,400. Homeowners
would collectively pay $61,850. Since the homeowners have not unanimously
agreed to each pay an equal shared amount, the Village devised a payment plan
based on property assessments. That means that each of the 37 homeowners would pay between $188 per year to $618 per year for five years, which would appear as a line item on their property taxes, and would qualify for deduction.
Though there may be consensus on the condition of the alleys there’s no agreement on how the improvements will be financed.
Before 2010, property owners paid for 85 percent of alley upgrade costs. Since then, the cost to property owners has dropped to 25 percent, in a Village effort to finally pave the remaining gravel alleys. Despite the idea of sharing the cost based on assessed property value, two homeowners testified that they would rather each neighbor pay the same amount.
Adrienne Sassaman, who owns a home between Locust and Rosewood streets,
said at Tuesday's meeting she sees no benefit to herself or her home in particular with alley upgrades because her attached garage is cut off from the alley. Though the alley abutts her home, it is not used to access her property, Sassaman said. She said it wasn’t fair for her to pay a larger share of the costs just because she owns a newer home with a higher value than other homes. According to the Cook County Assessor’s Office, Sassaman’s home is assessed at just slightly above the average home on the block.
“It’s sort of tantamount to me as driving up to the tollbooth, and because you’re in
a 2008 Mercedes you’ve got to pay $5 to go through the tollbooth, and the person
behind you in the Dodge Dart from 1978 only pays 50 cents. They’re both two-axle
vehicles. Why would I have to pay more?” she said. “I don’t understand how anyone
with a brain could say this is fair.”
Trustee Christopher Rintz, who said he lived on the blocks in question at one time, said it’s time to make the improvements. “I believe you’re never going to please all the people all the time… it’s a disgrace back there," Rintz said. "‘Third world’ doesn’t even begin to describe it.”
A timetable has been set in motion with the introduction of these two ordinances,
and a public hearing is scheduled for the June 7 meeting. After that meeting, property owners are allowed to submit petitions against the ordinance. If a majority of homeowners sign a petition in opposition, the alley improvements would fail. If the ordinance passes as planned, the alleys would see improvement this fall.
Note: An earlier version of this article did not include that Adrienne Sassaman objected to the alley improvement fees because use of the alley is not required to access her home.