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After billionaire leveled lakefront bluffs, Chicago suburb considers whether to regulate, protect them

Alex Hulvalchick, Chicago Tribune on

Published in News & Features

CHICAGO — The Winnetka, Illinois, Village Council hosted a study session to consider enacting regulations for bluff and steep slope construction and destruction after residents raised concerns about billionaire Justin Ishbia removing bluffs from his lakefront property.

Trustees debated whether to allow lakefront homeowners — many of whom have in the past spent money to keep up and protect bluffs on their property — free reign over their property or whether the village should regulate the bluffs to guarantee the natural landscape of the lake, and neighbors’ properties, will be protected.

The discussion began following the entire removal of the bluffs this past summer on Ishbia’s lakefront property at 205 Sheridan Road. The removal is part of his construction plan to build a $43.7 million mansion for himself and his family. The construction has seen all greenery removed from the lot along with leveling of the lake bluffs.

Village President Chris Rintz asked the board how much concern the construction at the Ishbia property is giving them, to which Trustee Bob Dearborn replied “immense.”

“My sense has always been the heartburn ... is the fact that it’s new construction,” Rintz said. “It’s big. There’s a lot of it. People are afraid.”

Trustee Tina Dalman said she felt badly that controls weren’t in place to halt the project, such as when Ishbia petitioned the village to consolidate the four plots he purchased into one 3.7 acre lot.


“That’s where that could have been stopped if we had greater control and we didn’t,” Dalman said. “That building is being built as of right (now) in compliance without variances. That, I think, is the heart of the issue. How can we address that so that we don’t have a hotel size use in a residential area?”

She further questioned what exactly makes the bluff removal a negative if there is sound engineering done to stabilize it once construction is complete.

“Just because we don’t like somebody scooping out the bluff, which nobody here likes, I don’t know if that’s sufficient. I think we need to find the harm in order to regulate,” Dalman said.

Caleb Barth, marine engineer with Baird and Associates, presented to the board and said that in general, removing bluffs leads to “irreversible erosion.” It causes more sand to be washed away and creates deeper pockets under water closer to the shoreline, he said. The greater depths create larger waves, and without sandy beaches as protection, those waves cause more damage to the remaining, exposed bluffs.


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