By Jean Lotus
Public Property Commissioner Chris Harris held a town hall back in 2012 to discuss what residents wanted for the 8-acre, village-owned Altenheim parcel. The meeting spurred the idea of a community survey.
Two years later, the comprehensive plan community survey data is in: Almost half the residents surveyed prefer open space/recreational land.
Forty-nine percent of respondents to the survey created by the comprehensive plan consultants, Images Inc., said their first choice for the Altenheim parcel was open space. Tied for second choice at seven percent of respondents each were transit-oriented development (a multiple use retail/residential building) and senior housing. The survey counted responses from 246 people.
The Forest Park Review FOIA-ed the survey results, dated April 1, 2014, after Images Inc. declined to upload them to the www.pictureforestpark.net website.
"The town hall had an overwhelming sentiment to keep it green space; the survey had the same result," Harris said. "It's time the citizens got what they wanted."
Harris said in 2012 he thought residents would want input into the use of the Altenheim parcel, that the village should look at a sculpture garden similar to one in Skokie, which draws tourists and events.
The village purchased the land in 2001 and the debt service on the 8-acre property costs about $367,000 a year, or $1,000 per day. The debt will be retired in seven years.
Back in 2012, when the survey was first suggested, a plan to build a state-of-the-art YMCA fell victim to the recession and Fenwick High School was eyeing the property for a sports complex.
After Fenwick submitted a "letter of intent," implying they wanted a low-ball price for the parcel, Mayor Anthony Calderone announced in summer 2012 that no decision would be made on the Altenheim property before the comprehensive plan was complete.
West suburban Ravinia suggested
Those residents who participated in the plan's survey were clear about what they wanted. Survey-takers shared their opinions on use of the Altenheim parcel in the comment section.
Many residents suggested a "Ravinia"-style music and arts venue, citing the proximity to public transportation.
"Market Altenheim — think Highland games, Native American powwow, dog shows, etc." wrote one resident, who also asked for a "sledding hill and skating" in the winter.
However, when asked if they would be willing to pay an extra use assessment for the Altenheim property, residents said no, 59 percent to 41 percent.
"We already paid for Altenheim with our taxes," wrote one resident in the comments. "Sell to Fenwick" came up several times in miscellaneous comments by survey-takers.
Harris said the survey question about the extra taxes was "lazy thinking, aimed to skew the results." It was silly, he added, to expect residents to pay a tax to keep a green space green.
"We have paid the loan for years and years on the land," Harris said. "Have we had to reach into anyone's pockets? No."
"The mayor would have to call his decision to buy it a bad one if he did that, so he never will," Harris added.
Gillian: Plan on track
Village Administrator Tim Gillian said he was not surprised by the desire to keep a green space on the Altenheim parcel, and as a resident that's what he'd like himself.
But he cautioned improvements to the space have to be paid for. The Park District of Forest Park has said repeatedly they do not want to manage the Altenheim property, but Gillian admitted the village did not have the expertise or staff to maintain a park area.
"[Is the village] equipped to handle the park and do maintenance on a weekly, even daily basis? I don't know. It's easy to say have a green space; it's harder to figure out who will pay for it."
Although the pictureforestpark.net website has not been updated since February, Gillian said the comprehensive plan is progressing according to schedule.
"We are starting to see some copies of a rough draft, miscellaneous sections of the plan," said Gillian, who noted the plan is on schedule to be complete by October.
The next step will be a complete draft presented to plan commission, which will make recommendations and turn the plan over to the village council for more input, Gillian said.