by Emily Spectre
WINNETKA – After a public hearing process concerning the planned development One Winnetka that spanned seven months, the social justice agency Open Communities has filed a complaint with the Attorney General asserting that the Winnetka Plan Commission violated the Open Meetings Act (OMA) by precluding public comment at the September 30 meeting.
The controversial One Winnetka development has drawn scrutiny from the community ever since it was first introduced last March. Each of the seven Plan Commission meetings on this issue were packed with residents planning to voice their view on the project.
Open Communities is seeking an order that would re-open the public hearing, permitting further public comment on the Plan Commission’s resolution making a preliminary positive recommendation of the project to the Village Council.
Gail Schechter, Executive Director of Open Communities, asserted in a letter to the Attorney General dated October 6 that the Plan Commission violated OMA when it did not allow public comment while the commissioners deliberated over a resolution recommending the project. Schechter further noted that while Plan Commission Chair Tina Dalman welcomed public comment at the end of the September 30 meeting, the developer of One Winnetka had already left by that time.
The village filed its formal nine-page response to Open Communities’ complaint with the Attorney General on November 9, expressing its surprise at the challenge.
“The Village provided extensive public comment as part of the public hearing on the Proposed Development. The Village worked hard to balance both the public’s right to participate in the zoning process and the need, at some point, for the Village officials to have the opportunity to deliberate and render a recommendation,” Village Attorney Peter Friedman wrote in the November 9 letter.
The village pointed to numerous opportunities for public comment throughout the public hearing process, as well as the opportunity for public comment after the Plan Commission concluded its deliberations on September 30. The village also asserted that OMA does not require providing the public an opportunity to address public officials in all portions of a meeting, and that Illinois caselaw supports the village’s action to defer public comment while commissioners deliberated. Finally, the village maintained that OMA speaks only to public comment in relation to public officials and not interested parties, thus the applicant was not required to stay until the end of the September 30 meeting.
The village further noted that the planned development process provides for at least seven more public meetings on the One Winnetka project where the public will have an opportunity to comment.
At this point, Open Communities will have the opportunity to respond to the village’s November 9 letter. According to the Attorney General’s website, the Attorney General’s office may determine that Open Communities’ challenge is unfounded, opt to informally mediate the dispute between the parties, or issue an opinion.