Spot Check: Weed Wacked in Winnetka

On Tuesday, October 1st, as message boards, chat rooms, and Facebook pages lit up all over the North Shore, the Winnetka Village Council introduced for adoption the Village's Ordinance prohibiting any and all types of recreational cannabis businesses in Winnetka.

No weed no way. Not now, maybe not ever.

How’d We Get Here?

On Tuesday, June 25th, Illinois got legal weed, and the distinction – some say, dubious – of being the first state in the nation to legalize pot via the legislative process rather than a ballot initiative. Springfield wanted it, reaaally wanted it.

Winnetka, not so much.

The state law was passed ostensibly to decriminalize pot distribution and ownership, expunge the records of some 800,000 people, and be a boon to cash-strapped minority communities. But Winnetka has neither a plethora of incarcerated dealers nor is it particularly cash strapped. So, the Village Council had some thinking to do.

It’s Just Not Us

One Red Flag Resolution, two public hearings, dozens of emails, phone calls, and Peets/Starbucks/Farmers Market intercepts later – the majority against any kind of weed business in Winnetka – the Village Council decided pot was not Winnetka and directed the Village Attorney to draw up an ordinance to make sure it would stay so.

The Case Against Cannabis

  • Feds don’t like it. For now, looking the other way, but it’s still on their books as a Schedule 1 substance – “illegal, prone to abuse, and with no recognized medical benefits.” So local licenses could be on a short leash, and companies with weed-friendly policies and federal contracts may have to choose one or the other.

  • Banks can't like it. The Federal Reserve is not a fan of insuring illegally-gotten gains. That could change, but for now pot sales are pretty much a cash business. A boatload of cash at closing time and three train stations. Snatch. Grab. Getaway. Some Trustees think Winnetka just doesn't have the bandwidth for stuff like this.

  • Tax benefits are there, but maybe not there enough. And a recently-found glitch in the law says no revenue until September 2020. Plus if you tax to the max, your competition could come from some dark places.

  • Speaking of which, $1,000,000 in sales nets Winnetka $30,000 in revenue max. At least one Trustee wonders if the cost of enforcement could make this a less-than-profitable deal.

  • No roadside test yet. Back to that cost of enforcement thing.

  • But most of all for the Trustees and the Prez, it’s bad for our kids. Full stop.

The Grass May be Greener...

Oh, Glencoe.

In what was seen as the mother of all NIMBYs, Glencoe celebrated Good Neighbor Day with a letter to Winnetka: 'We're thinking of making that retail strip on Green Bay Road a Weed Welcome Here Zone. Thought we'd give you a head's up.'

The retail strip that's just steps from one of Winnetka’s most popular playgrounds?

Color President Rintz miffed to the max. Should make for some awkward moments at the next Regional Municipal Conference get-together.

The State of Stash to Date

Communities already licensed to dispense medical marijuana get first dibs on the 75 – and eventually 110 – rec-can licenses the State is ready to issue.

Some like Evanston want it, some like Lake Forest don’t. And then there's...

  • Lake Bluff – Village Staff recommended total ban. Plan Commission/Zoning Board felt that projected $95K in taxes was too juicy to pass up and voted 5-1 to recommend rec-can. Back to Village Council for some very interesting discussions.

  • Highland Park – Has a medical marijuana dispensary. Watchful waiting. For now, no. All eyes on Deerfield and Northbrook.

  • Wilmette – More watchful waiting. Referendum being teed up for November 3, 2020.

  • Glenview – Still more watchful waiting. Still, just in case, Plan Commission holding public hearings even as we speak.

  • Deerfield – Has medical marijuana dispensaries. Multiple. Plan Commission all in on rec-can. Committee of the Whole to consider it. Leaning towards yes. And should residents harbor visions of Amsterdam, only one dispensary can be awarded at a time.

  • Northbrook – Has an actual request for a permit for a recreational cannabis business – 755 Skokie Blvd. Looking to OK dispensaries and – yes – craft growers. Plan Commission all in. Village Council to weigh in October 15th.

  • Skokie – All in. They've got a Cannabis Commissioner and everything. But licenses for one year a a time – in case they change their minds. Oh, and no on-site toking. 3% sales tax, giddyup.

  • Naperville – The ultimate Weed Waffler. Home to a medical marijuana dispensary, they were a definite it's-not-who-we-are no. Then, weeell... and finally, no, really, no.

Back to Our Neighbor-to-the-North

Glencoe's party line is something about not enough loading dock space in Glencoe's downtown. Their Zoning Board's launching the first of what should be several public hearings. So whether you think Glencoe is Public Enemy #1 or your New Best Friend, let ‘em know how you feel.

Call – 847-461-1104. Operators are standing by.

Write – Contact the Glencoe Village Manager's Office.

Drop byZoning Board Meeting, 7:30 p.m., Monday, (that’s tonight) Oct. 7th, at Glencoe Village Hall, 675 Village Court.

Check in – Updates on pending changes to Glencoe's Zoning Code or their Code of Ordinances, will be posted here.

In the Meantime, Here's your Cannabis Syllabus

You're welcome.

Spot Check: They Pulled the Plug. Will One Winnetka Really Become the Property Formerly Known As?

No 3rd party guarantor.

No Plat of Subdivision.

No maintenance or paid utility fees.

No explanation.

And finally, no show. No lenders. No equity investors. No Conney’s Pharmacy rep. Just an 11th hour text – yes, text – to the Village President and investors – that the Conney’s deal had been inked.

No Choice. No Mas.

With no time to verify, and not inclined to trust, on Tuesday, July 16th, after three missed deadlines and then some, an out-of-options Village Council motioned, seconded, unanimously agreed to instruct the Village Attorney to “prepare a resolution nullifying the Development Agreement and other documents.”

On August 6th, the Trustees are expected to sign the resolution, making One Winnetka no more.

(Psst: "Conney's deal???" The developer agreed to buy the Conney's Pharmacy property at 736 Elm as a key part of the Development Agreement. No Conney's, no Development Agreement. No Development Agreement, no One Winnetka.)

No Smiles. No High-Fives.

Twelve minutes of Attorney review and 17 minutes of public comment (most in favor of pulling the plug). The President called it. “Close it down," “stand down and give the developer another chance,” or something in between? Discuss.

  • Wedner: With no shame and no fear of a reboot with another developer, found "no reason to delay the inevitable when a developer “with ample time” fails “to lock in financing.” PS, kudos to the Village Attorney for “a beautiful agreement that protected the Village.”

  • Swierk: The no-shows-no-contact made his decision “pretty easy.” Let's “get the ball rolling” with the resolution, but leave the door ajar should the developer “get his act together” enough to “warrant another shot.”

  • Coladarci: Is there a way to address the Conney’s property as a “chance to do one thing good?” Was cautioned by the Village President that the council “would be ill-advised to interject itself into a private business deal.

  • Lanphier: The “most disappointing element” was the “lack of communication of any progress.” Lacked “confidence that this project will be fulfilled.” Advised the Council to “move ahead and make something happen for everybody.”

  • Dearborn: Described the "mess on our hands" as "suburban blight in Winnetka [that] is unimaginable for most of us in this room." Concluded "as stewards of this Village, we need to get on a different path.”

  • Rintz: With equal parts anger, frustration, and disappointment, assured the room that the Village Council had “made every effort…without compromising the community…to make sure [the developer] had an opportunity to bring this thing forth.” Tried “our hardest to make this a success for everybody in this town.”

“That’s the Way You Do It”

Just an hour before, in a contrast lost on no one, Willow Trace, a 6-unit, 4-story, two-parcel proposal at 688 and 694 Green Bay Road, nailed the first step in the newly-revised, hopefully more streamlined and transparentPlanned Development Ordinance approval process: The Concept Review. The “55,000-foot view” that gives developers a chance to pass the “what’s Winnetka” sniff test.

The Village Council thinks this one does. Easily.

Next stop, the newly-formed Planned Development Commission – the right-brain/left-brain group-think of Plan and Zoning Board of Appeals Commissioners – to decide if this new project sits well with the Village’sComprehensive Plan and Zoning Ordinances.

Or has darn good why-nots. We’ll keep you posted.

Handicapping. Next Tuesday. A $98,000,000 Hail Mary?

Curiously, while it was radio silence to the VC, One Winnetka was full-court press to the media. Promising all the ducks. Lined up. With bows. By the August 6th Village Council meeting.

What’s up with this is anybody’s guess.

If One Winnetka makes good with a signed contract with Conney’s Pharmacy,


Conney’s files title, obtains the Certificate of Occupancy, nails the Department of Public Health’s approval to dispense medication, closes and moves in,


One Winnetka files a plat of survey with Cook County signed off by the Village President, takes care of those 14 maintenance violations, and locks in that 3rd party guarantor,

...the Village Council “would have to discuss.”

TBD. Be there, Tuesday, August 6th, 7:00 PM Village Hall.

Up for a little background?

Spot Check: The Rest of the Story

The Big Ask. The Big Answer. Or, how D36 became its own cautionary tale.

What started as a way to make full-day kindergarten work in Winnetka, mission-crept to the biggest ask in Winnetka’s history. On Tuesday, April 2nd, the Big Ask got an even bigger answer: No thank you. Times 2. 

election results 41719 cropped.jpg

Didn’t Exactly Run Out of “I Voted” Stickers, But…

Good news. The turnout was a not-to-be-scoffed-at 37%, give or take a tenth of a percent. Better than the Village’s 2014 ref on the stormwater tunnel, and enough to earn a decent place in the you’ve-got-my-attention-now hall of fame. Yea us!

On the other hand...

Cringe-worthy Moment Post-Mortem

Super Kocanda says it’s "far too premature to say what went wrong." We get that. But nothing says "red flags" like a two-to-one shellacking. Winnetkans are quarterbacking, Monday morning-style:

  • The real costs. Having to confirm them after they become public? Not a good strategy when your pitch is public trust.

  • Early identification and buy-in among the 75% of the community that didn’t have kids in District 36 might have helped the District reality check before reality hit.

  • The Kaegi Effect: The new assessor released property assessments the weekend before the election. And in an on-line minute, aspiration met a whole new level of tax aversion.

  • Smart insiders pushed facts that resonated. Note to self: Refs that win usually have little or no opposition. Oh that pesky stealth v. transparency ethical conundrum.

  • Lots of towns think it's OK to spend more on their schools than on any other part of their communities. (Looking at you, parks, libraries, and stormwater solutions.) Maybe the waterlogged mancave crowd wasn't feeling it so much this time around.

  • And finally – underscore – they were warned. The District’s last survey delivered a boatload of potentially ouch-worthy data – like 57-68% of respondents were OK with essential repairs, but only 37% with upgrades. A lot like the ref's final numbers.

Is What They Said What They Heard?

What went wrong may have been lapped by ‘what did they think they were voting on.’ The jury's still out. Super Kocanda says "this was a referendum on our neighborhood schools." Was it? Or was it the extent of the ask, or just plain tax exhaustion?

If, as Super Kocanda says, this is “not likely to be the only referendum,” answering this question will be Job 1.

Speaking of which…

What Now?

While the architects are on hold:

  • Business as usual for the 5 schools. Same with you, Crow Island trailers.

  • Until the next ref – if – you’ll see a reduction in the debt service portion of your taxes as it continues its march to zero, ending in 2022.

  • "Urgent facilities projects," approved by the Board in February will get done this summer, using existing funds.

  • Health and Life Safety issues in the schools will be “addressed,” again using cash on hand – what and when, TBD.

  • That infamous lead in the pipes will be fixed. Signs taken down.

  • We’ll learn what deferred maintenance means, since they promised to do it if the ref failed.

  • And of course, although not a part of the ref, redistricting is on, as it always was. Who goes where, still TBD, but scheduled to be announced next fall. PS, the District says if you don’t like your plan, you might not have to keep it.

What We're Watching...

  • The Process – is the one that got us here, the one that’s going to get us there? New consultants? New budget – taxpayer funded – for getting it right this time?

  • The People – new core team? Would the district be brave – or smart – enough to build our very own team of rivals? Passion meet data. Think tank dream team. Ref 2.0, giddy-up.

Bottom Line

In this town, there’s no such thing as an average IQ. Surely, we can come up with something. And it’ll probably be closer to the right something. Hopefully, going forward, the voices of dissent will not be shamed into silence. Be brave. Stay engaged. Stay in touch.

BTW – the soonest you'll see ref-redux – if – is next February. We've got 10 months. Class is back in session.

Spot Check: District 36's $100.6 MM Big Ask. What's it Cost? What's it Deliver? It's Your Vote.

It’s about numbers. It’s also about shared vision. And as always, "The Future of Winnetka." Tangibles, intangibles, and tax tolerance. In a town with ROI in its DNA, this is a tough one. Emotions are sure to run high. Get the facts. Then get to the polls.

Run That by Me, Again?

Winnetka’s School District 36 has a long-term wish list. Name: Educational Master Facilities Plan (AKA EMFP) – part facilities improvements, part educational upgrades. Multiple phases. Total Price tag: $148 MM – give or take a couple thousand.

On the table: Phase 1. Asking price: $100.6 MM. $90.6 MM from referendum, $10 MM from reserve
Coming to a ballot box near you.

Total Cost: $150.6 MM. Your Share: $1,352. For Phase 1.

Bond Interest w and wo Ref.jpg

Reality check. That $100.6 MM ask morphs into a $140.6 MM payout when you run it out for 22 years. Plus there's that $10 MM they would take from reserves. For a grand total of $150.6 MM.

For which you'd be writing a check for $1,352 per $1 MM fair market value every year for the next 22 years.

What You'd Get

Current Project Scope.jpg

What it Would Look Like

What it would look like

How it Would be Spent


And if the Ref Fails?

It's all or nothing. The District is playing for all the marbles. Without your approval, it's status quo. Plus $2.9 MM it says it needs per year to get the 5 schools back up to speed – think deferred maintenance – and keep the doors open. You'll get a reduction in your taxes as the current debt is retired, while the Board and Admin head back to the drawing board for a plan they think you could live with.

Tangibles. Intangibles. Bricks. Mortar. Mortar Boards.

Research shows that school district spending can do things like increase teacher morale, provide healthier learning environments, and enhance neighborhood property values. But improve academic achievement? Not so much. If teacher morale, property values, etc. are your metrics, this could be your ref. Just don't expect your 6th grader to split the atom any time soon.

On the other hand, how did our Washburne students do at New Trier, again...

Known Knowns and Unknowns

The District feels good about the numbers it knows. Between the bonds, the annual tax levy, and reserves, it thinks it can handle things. But what about…?

  • Contracts. With the teachers and custodians. Through 2021 and 2023 respectively. Super Kocanda’s contract was just extended to 2023. Renegotiate or rehire? Either way, cha-ching.

  • 25% of the District's teachers will be eligible for retirement by 2025. Future Ready could be an attractive acquisition carrot, but so’s cash money.

  • No help from the State. Its new darling, "Evidenced Based Funding," doesn’t intend to pay to make Winnetka’s good thing better anytime soon. 

  • The ever-threatening tax freeze, and side-eyeing local school districts to kick in to the Illinois Teacher Retirement System. For an amount-to-be-named-later.

  • Staffing costs and facilities modifications due to the adoption of the non-fee- based extended-day Kindergarten Program.

  • Reserves. The cash-money-you've-already-forked-over reserves. The EMFP would tap $10 MM of it for the downpayment. How much would need to be replaced to maintain our current bond rating? And could that money have been put to better use elsewhere, like say, pensions?

  • Other taxing bodies. Permitting, quid pro quos, and tax grabs the Parks, Library, Village, and New Trier Township may have in mind.

And then there's this. The jury’s still out on the potential impact of these 49 Winnetka United families with their $1.1 MM in property taxes, but it represents the fragility of the demographics. What happens when demographers are more lucky than right?

Finally, the winner of the who-couldn't-see-this-coming sweepstakes. Leading Chicago business group proposes raising income taxes and taxing retirement income to fix Illinois' finances.

Pass Fail Cautionary Tale

Deja vu all over again? Twelve years ago, the line items were the same, but the ask a few decimals short. Lack of foresight then? Overreaching now?

And of course, everybody's favorite teachable moment: New Trier Township High School's ref reboot. Egg meet face.

$100.6 MM of our money – 15 minutes of your time – 3 ways to get your vote done.

Whatever it's worth to you in vision, deliverables, and cost, it's got to be worth 15 minutes of your time. For one of the toughest calls ever, at least one thing's easy:

Moved? Registered at your new address? Not sure if you’re registered? Check here.

Referendum or not, this is an off-year. Only 5% of Winnetka goes to the polls in off-years. The biggest ask in Winnetka's history decided by 5% of the voters? That's quite an ROI – for somebody.

Still Got Questions?


"Shall the Board of Education of Winnetka School District Number 36, Cook County, Illinois, improve the sites of, build and equip additions to and alter, repair and equip existing buildings, including, without limitation, constructing safety and security improvements, increasing accessibility under the Americans with Disabilities Act, replacing electrical, plumbing, mechanical and HVAC systems, complying with the Health/Life Safety Code, renovating classrooms and Resource Centers/Libraries and adding multi-purpose/lunchroom space and gym space, and issue bonds of said School District to the amount of $90,600,000 for the purpose of paying the costs thereof?"

Spot Check: District 36. The Big Ask. $100.6MM. Spring Ballot. In Less than 80 Days.

Last June, residents said Winnetka was all about neighborhood schools. (We covered it here and here.) The School Board said OK, and in October passed the $148.8MM 10-year, multi-phase Educational Master Facilities Plan. Then spent the next two months whittling down expectations and expenses to what they think is a taxpayer-tolerable, referendum-passable $100,600,000. 

 For Phase 1.

"Shall the Board of Education of Winnetka School District Number 36, Cook County, Illinois, improve the sites of, build and equip additions to and alter, repair and equip existing buildings, including, without limitation, constructing safety and security improvements, increasing accessibility under the Americans with Disabilities Act, replacing electrical, plumbing, mechanical and HVAC systems, complying with the Health/Life Safety Code, renovating classrooms and Resource Centers/Libraries and adding multi-purpose/lunchroom space and gym space, and issue bonds of said School District to the amount of $90,600,000 for the purpose of paying the costs thereof?"

The biggest ask in Winnetka's history.

The $100.6MM Shopping List

Of the $100.6MM, the first $10MM are earmarked reserves. The remaining $90.6MM would come from the referendum. And be paid out like this:

According to the consultant, these are "concept numbers based on concept drawings," with contingencies for "market conditions and design decisions." Whew.

Watch for the drill-down if and when the referendum passes. In the meantime, try here for interactive diagrams and long-term costs per school.

And Skokie School...? 

The Airbag.

The district will spend $1.5MM to get it up to speed and keep it going until all renos and additions are done. They'll use it as "swing space" where various 5th/6th and 7th/8th grades will call it home until their Washburne classrooms are done. After that, they're thinking rental, long-term lease, or public space. No takers yet.

And the Number Is...?

The District's created what they ca'll a “tax impact calculator” to help you figure out how much more you'd pay in taxes if the referendum passes. Put your numbers in. Take it for a spin.

Caution: It does not account for the decrease in rates you would have gotten when the current bonds are retired, or increase in rates from the just-passed levy.

What's the Alternative?

The don’t-go-to-the-polls-without-it-one-hundred-point-six-million-dollar-question? They’re working on it. [The promise at 19:05]

Thinking is, if the referendum fails, you'll get a tax cut as current debt is retired. The District will spend what it needs to keep the doors open in the five schools, deferring maintenance and addressing "only the most urgent needs." And just when you've gotten used to those temporary classrooms at Crow Island, you'll likely face Referendum Redux in 2021.

When the District's done crunching numbers for costs and savings, they'll post them here. Soon. Hopefully.

Regardless, redistricting is on. Fall 2020.

What More Will You Want to Know by the Time You Vote?

  • The Tax Calculator gives us the above what we're now paying number. What's the total cost per household for Phase 1?

  • What’s the plan for the rest of the Plan if residents max out their tax tolerance before Phase 3?

  • If the demographic and economic projections are wrong, how flexible is the 4-school model? How viable is bringing the K-3 model back on-line? [1:39:05]

  • With the current economic and demographic uncertainty, why now?

  • 2028 is a long way off. What if the stuff that got them here –'transitions are bad' and 'collaborative space-is-good' – doesn't work when they get there? Any plan for a mid-course review and reboot?

  • Would the Board consider reducing its future levy requests, or at least not taxing to the max, if there were to be operational savings from Phase 1?

Mandate Meet Skin-in-the-Game

They want it, you’ve got it. There’s no sitting this one out. You've got three chances to vote. And not one excuse not to.

Right now – Vote by mailApply on line, they'll mail you your ballot, fill it out, send it back. Done.

March 18th – first day of early voting. Your best bet is Centennial Ice Rink in Wilmette.

April 2nd – Hey! Where’s my polling place Moved? Not sure you’re registered at your new address? Check here.

BTW, if you’re just hearing about this now, you’ve got a lot of catching up to do. And just a few short weeks. Let the cramming begin!

Referendum or not, this is an off year. Only 5% of Winnetka goes to the polls in off years. The biggest ask in Winnetka's history, decided by 5% of the voters? Don't let that be on your watch. Vote.

Next School Board Meeting - Tuesday, Jan. 29, 2019 - 7:15 p.m. Hubbard Woods Auditorium.

Sign in, speak up.

Pass the Word – and this Spot Check – to every Winnetka voter you know.