In the 1980s, the Keefe Family Trust (“Keefe”) began acquiring property in Wilmette that was essentially landlocked. Years ago, when Keefe proposed building two houses on the property, the trust negotiated an easement with the CTA that would provide ingress and egress, but it was found to be too narrow to allow emergency vehicles to turn around.

Keefe recently said it has a buyer for the property who, a representative of the trust has said, would like to build four 12,000-square-foot homes there. Lacking ingress to and egress from the property, Keefe has engaged Illinois Senate President John Cullerton as its lawyer.

To get ingress to and egress from the property, Keefe and Cullerton now want to cross through Isabella Woods, a small oak forest owned by the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago and leased to the City of Evanston.

The City, whose lease will expire in 2032, has refused to consent to MWRD’s granting an easement to construct a road through Isabella Woods. At the May 15 City Council meeting, aldermen unanimously approved a resolution opposing the easement.

Keefe has also pursued a second tact. A provision of the MWRD lease with the City of Evanston allows the construction of roads under certain conditions “for the use of any other governmental agency engaged in the construction of highways and roadways … the Lessee shall surrender the possession of such part of the demised premises that may be so required.”

Keefe and/or Mr. Cullerton convinced Cook County to request an easement from MWRD to enable the County to construct a road about 255 feet in length through Isabella Woods, which would provide ingress and egress to the private development.

While it has been said that construction and maintenance costs would be paid by the developer, this sounds like the County is wielding its power to help a wealthy developer get richer. One wonders why the County is getting involved in this private matter.

It is true that there may be no financial cost to the County, but there are other, and, we think, more serious costs to be considered: the destruction of Isabella Woods, a tiny gem of an oak forest; the removal of more than 50 trees, some of which are 200 years old and could live another century longer; the loss of a bird and wildlife habitat; and the many the ecological benefits of this parcel of land. 

MWRD’s mission centers around water, and Isabella Woods diverts about 110,000 gallons of stormwater annually. What will a decimated woods and a paved road do for the environment?

We trust the MWRD Commissioners will remember their commitment to the environment and to the people of Greater Chicago and not give in and allow private interests to interfere with their mission.

We urge them to deny the request for the easement.

Update

At its May 18 meeting, the MWRD Board unanimously rejected the request for the easement.