A request for an easement across property leased by the City of Evanston so a Wilmette landowner can sell his property to a developer received a cold shoulder at a Seventh Ward meeting on Nov. 3.

Joe Keefe, representing the Keefe Family Trust, described Fairway Oaks, the potential development, as a 1.1 acre undeveloped, landlocked parcel that his father purchased in the 1980s. The family now wishes to sell the land and has an “interested buyer,” he said, but there is no ingress or egress.

Instead of looking south for egress, the Keefe family could look north, and a developer could connect a road from the development to a road in the Golf Terrace subdivision of Wilmette. Mr. Keefe told residents that he had not approached Wilmette with such a proposal.

John Adler, Director of Community Development for the Village of Wilmette, told the RoundTable a member of the Keefe family had “dropped in a few months ago to talk about the property” but there was no conversation about an easement in Wilmette.

The City of Evanston and the Village of Wilmette lease the property used as a golf course by the Evanston Wilmette Golf Course Association. The property is owned by the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago (MWRD),and, if not renewed, the lease will expire in May of 2032. The Keefe family is asking the City of Evanston for an easement across City-leased property – which juts north of Isabella Street near the CTA tracks – so that homeowners in the new development would have egress onto Isabella Street.

Fairway Oaks, the Keefe’s landlocked parcel, is heavily wooded, and many trees would be removed to build the expected four houses, about 12,000 square feet each, on the parcel. Other mature trees, including six swamp white oaks, would be removed to create the private road across the Evanston easement.  The road would be 28 feet wide and another eight feet would be used for a sidewalk.

The road on the easement would be private; the homeowners association at Fairway Oaks would be responsible for maintaining it, said Seventh Ward Alderman Eleanor Revelle.

As compensation to Evanston for agreeing to the proposed easement and to the removal of the mature trees, Mr. Keefe said the family would construct a “conservation park” with native plantings adjacent to the development and would put about $50,000 in trust for maintenance of the park. That could cover maintenance costs for about five years, Mr. Keefe said; afterward, the responsibility of maintaining the park would lie with the City.  The developer who wishes to build the homes at Fairway Oaks has conditioned his offer of about $2 million on the easement and the conservation park, he said.

Paul D’Agostino, the City’s Environmental Services Bureau Chief, said under the City’s tree-preservation ordinance, the Keefe family would have to pay for or replace many of the trees – at a cost of $150 per diameter inch per trees. “I’ve looked at this parcel of land several times; it’s a significant parcel,” he said.

In addition to the six swamp white oaks, “there are numerous other significant trees on this site, including other oaks,” Mr. D’Agostino told the RoundTable. “My estimate of some of the largest trees is that they are approaching 200 years old. Under good conditions, some oaks can live to be 300-400 years old, although I’m not sure this site would support that type of longevity, due to the very wet conditions much of the year.” He also said he was reluctant to offer an estimate of the annual maintenance of the park, “as we don’t know what the final product will be or what the actual size of the area will end up being.”

A member of the audience asked how the construction traffic would affect the birds and butterflies that the conservation park would be designed to attract. Mr. Keefe said the homes would probably be built at one time, to reduce costs.

Asked whether the family had requested or otherwise done an environmental impact statement, Mr. Keefe said, “The difficulty we face is that, without the easement, it’s hypothetical.”

Another resident asked whether the family would sell the land to the Wilmette Park District or to the golf course association rather than to a developer, Mr. Keefe said the family “would be interested” in doing so.

Mr. Keefe reiterated what the family sees as benefits to Evanston for approving the lease: “a rehab of overlooked land; the removal of invasive species; and a sensible and sensitive use of the property.” MWRD has agreed to the concept in principle, he said.

Referring to a statement by Mr. Keefe that projects such as the Golf Terrace development in Wilmette and berms on CTA and golf course property have created an “artificial wetland” there, another resident said the number-one objective in dealing with a wetland is to minimize disturbance. “The way to avoid disturbance is to go through Wilmette,” he said. “The disturbance would not be limited to the road itself – and disturbance in that area would mean a complete loss.”

“How many trees would be cut down?” still another resident asked.

“A considerable number,” Mr. Keefe replied.

Near the end of the meeting, Ald. Revelle asked for a show-of-hands vote on “leaving things alone” or “the nature park – not considering whether to approve the easement or not.” Two people favored the nature park; about 13 voted to leave the parcel alone.

There is no date yet for City Council to discuss the matter. 

Mary Gavin

Mary Gavin is the founder of the Evanston RoundTable. After 23 years as its publisher and manager, she helped transition the RoundTable to nonprofit status in 2021. She continues to write, edit, mentor...