Residents of the unincorporated Woodley Road neighborhood are considering annexing to Winnetka — which could address some of their flooding problems.
The Woodley Road neighborhood, which sits near the border of Winnetka and Wilmette, is in unincorporated Cook County. Its narrow and curvy road, sprawling properties and dense tree growth evoke a distinct feeling of rural privacy. One problem: There's no storm sewer to drain off water after a heavy rain.
The idea of annexation has been bandied about before. But as Winnetka's $34.5 million Willow Road tunnel project moves forward, Woodley Road residents have a window of opportunity to hop aboard. Both village officials and homeowners association representatives say it could provide stormwater protection for Woodley residents and millions of dollars in new assessed value for the village.
"It's quite a big investment (Winnetka) is making," said Stephen Baine, president of the Woodley Road Association. "It's a one-time opportunity to assess whether we should join them."
A new $5 million storm sewer could alleviate flooding along Woodley Road and connect to the Willow Road tunnel, said Hal Francke, an attorney who lives on Woodley Road, citing a plan done by a private engineering firm. But it remains to be seen who would pay for that sewer, and who will own and maintain it.
At this point, there are far more questions than answers on whether annexation will work for both parties.
Woodley residents would pay more in village property taxes and stormwater fees, but perhaps less for other services currently contracted out, like plowing and waste removal.
The village would see a significant increase in assessed value. The total equalized assessed value of the Woodley Road area is $104.7 million, as of 2011, Francke said. But Winnetka officials will also need to consider the potential costs of increases to public services for some 140 new homes.
Both sides will analyze the cost-benefit as negotiations progress. A decision on whether to move forward, and an agreement on the details, must be reached within the next eight to 12 months, said Winnetka Village Manager Rob Bahan.
"At the end of the day, it always comes down to: What does it cost? And how much do I get in return?" Bahan said. "The discussions so far have been positive and I believe both sides see a benefit."
It's possible that having more people pay into the stormwater system will reduce the average stormwater utility fee per person, Bahan said, but it's too early to know the real impact.
Francke is chairman of a task force appointed by the Woodley Road Association to study the annexation issue.
Driving through the neighborhood during a recent interview, he pointed out the source of Woodley Road's flooding problems. There are no sewers, no gutters, no ditches — in other words, there's nowhere for the water to go.
"When it rains, it just goes wherever it can," Francke said.
The Woodley Road Association decided to reexamine the possibility of annexation in the fall of 2011, he said. That came on the heels of Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle's call for unincorporated areas in Cook County to annex in order to reduce the fiscal burden on the county.
But the proposed Willow Road tunnel is the primary motivation. Intended to address flood in five of the village's drainage areas, the tunnel will divert stormwater east into Lake Michigan through an 8-foot diameter pipe. Village officials have said the tunnel could handle the additional stormwater from Woodley Road with no major changes.
Woodley Road's new sewer would run east on Hill Road, then north on Birch Street, before connecting to the tunnel.
So far, Francke said, most Woodley Road residents have expressed interest in learning more about the annexation's cost and what it could mean for the flooding problems.
"You're never going to get 100 percent in favor of annexing. …We're talking about a complicated set of issues," Francke said.
In order to annex to the village, a property has to be contiguous to the village or other property annexing, he said. It's not yet clear what could happen if some residents are in favor, but others can't be convinced.