Wetland area in Canal Shores.RoundTable photo

The Keefe family is once again looking for public land for private use.

The Keefe family of Wilmette, real estate developers, several years ago purchased a landlocked parcel in Wilmette. They now have plans to develop the property with million-dollar homes, but there is no ingress or egress from the property onto public streets.

Last spring, representatives of the Keefe Family Trust (Keefe) asked the City of Evanston for permission for an easement so the family trust could develop the property for single-family homes. The easement would have run through Isabella Woods, a tiny oak forest north of Isabella Street but still in Evanston. The Woods, boasting several 200-year-old trees, serves as a wildlife habitat and a diversion for storm water.

The Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago owns Isabella Woods as well as much of the surrounding property, which is leased to the City of Evanston and the Village of Wilmette. The two municipalities sublease the property to the Evanston Wilmette Golf Course Association, which operates the 18-hole Canal Shores Golf Course, which meanders along the North Shore Channel – the “canal” – in both Evanston and Wilmette.

The lease expires in about 15 years.

Many Evanston residents, including Seventh Ward Alderman Eleanor Revelle, opposed the request for the easement through Isabella Woods. By resolution on May 15, the City denied the request for the easement, so the Keefe family turned to MWRD, requesting the easement at its May 18 Board meeting.

Ald. Revelle and then-Deputy City Attorney Michelle Masoncup testified at that meeting about why they felt the Board should reject the request for the easement, and Leslie Shad, Special Adviser to the Board of Directors at the National Wildlife Federation, presented a petition with 300 signatures opposing the request for the easement.

After two hours of deliberation on May 15, the MWRD Board rejected the request for the easement. Keefe then sought help from the Cook County Highway Department, asking the Highway Department to seek permission from MWRD to build a County road that would connect the Wilmette property to Isabella Street.

The road would have provided a way, once the property was developed, for the owners of the homes, as well as emergency vehicles, to enter and leave the property. Although Cook County would build the road, Keefe would reportedly absorb the construction and maintenance costs.

This road would  pave over a significant portion of Canal Shores’ 10th hole. At 60 feet wide and 300 feet long, the proposed easement is approximately the size of the Central Street bridge.

In a statement posted on Oct. 4, representatives of Canal Shores said,  “Canal Shores is adamantly opposed to this proposed roadway. … [The proposed road] “would harm important ecological areas, reduce valuable green space and unfairly convert public land for private use. …  In addition to destroying the 10th hole tee area and much of the fairway, the easement would permanently harm Canal Shores’ most ecologically sensitive area, which includes multiple century-old oak trees and three wetlands. One of the wetlands would be paved over. The other two wetlands would be negatively affected. This easement would also greatly harm one of the most aesthetic holes at Canal Shores and reduce valuable green space.”

The MWRD Board is set to hear the matter at 10:30 a.m. Oct. 18.