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Mayor Anthony Calderone appears to be reconsidering the value of a complete community survey on the fate of the village-owned Altenheim property and the derelict village-owned apartment building at 512 Desplaines Ave.
"I don't see that [the survey] is necessary," he said today. The mayor said that he thought residents would be better served if the village folded the survey into the Comprehensive Plan process, which is scheduled to be completed in 2014.
On Monday's Village Council agenda, the mayor has put a "mayor-led discussion" to talk about options for the survey.
"I want to give the public ample time and ample opportunity to formulate their opinions," he said. The ideas unearthed during the comprehensive plan process might give residents more options. "If the residents are asked in a stand-alone survey, they'll be asked to respond in a myopic view rather than look at it in a grander scale."
But Commissioner for Public Property Chris Harris objected strongly to the mayor's change of heart and characterized it as "going back on his word" and "backpedalling."
A stand-alone village-wide survey regarding the two parcels was included (by village request) in the comprehensive plan proposal submitted by Wheaton Company Images, Inc. The company would be paid $100,000 for both the plan and the survey.
But the mayor seems to have changed his mind about its value. "Right now people are looking at Altenheim with laser glasses, rather than the big picture. Their opinion may change once we've incorporated comments and suggestions and outlook from the comprehensive plan."
Harris disagrees and thinks the village should know as soon as possible what the residents desire for the parcel.
In recent years, Fenwick High School has inquired about buying the back 8 acres of the 11-acre Altenheim parcel for athletic uses that range from simple playing fields to a "sports complex" with lights for night games.
The idea seemed stalled until last spring, when Fenwick hired a new football coach from the minor leagues and put him in charge of fundraising. The school then presented the mayor with a letter of intent to make a purchase on May 15. The letter did not contain a purchase price offer, but did refer to two property appraisals. The high appraisal was $2.2 million and the low appraisal was $1.2 million.
The mayor is sole negotiator for the Altenheim property, having passed a local ordinance 4-1 giving him these powers. Former Public Property Commissioner Marty Tellalian had objected to the mayor having sole negotiating responsibilities and characterized the maneuver as legally questionable. Tellalian ran for mayor against Calderone in April, 2011 giving up his seat on the council, and lost by 150 votes.
Harris held a town hall meeting to discuss the two parcels in February. At the meeting, the mayor agreed that a survey of villagers would take place to get the pulse of the residents about their desires for the property.
The stand-alone survey was written into the village's request for proposals (RFP) to be included in the $100,000 comprehensive plan contract.
"A RFP is a proposal," the mayor said today. "Proposals are proposals, not the final agreement. They can be accepted or rejected or amended." He characterized the wording in the RFP as "we had the option of having Images, Inc. do an independent survey."
He also said if the village was interested in a survey, they could do it themselves. "With our own internal resources we could produce a survey to go to all the residents of Forest Park." Here he contradicted what he had said at the February town hall where he agreed an independent entity should conduct the survey.
The mayor said conversations with Images, Inc. have influenced his thinking on the survey. The mayor said the consultant company told him that a stand-alone survey was not as good as gathering resident input over the entire plan process, which he referred to as a "gaining process."
Tracy Morse, president of Images, Inc. declined to talk about the described conversation and said, "I will have to defer to the village at this point. We follow ultimately what Forest Park wants to do."
When asked what would happen if Fenwick made a solid offer before the plan was complete, the mayor said, "As far as I'm concerned, Fenwick is a non-issue right now. We are not at Fenwick's mercy. The property has never been officially on the market. Fenwick approached us."
But Harris strongly disagreed.
"What if Fenwick walks up with a check for $5 million from a single donor?"
Harris said he would try to create a social media campaign to get residents to attend the meeting Monday night and give their opinions about the necessity of the survey during public comment at 7 p.m.
"This baffles me. I don't understand what the mayor's afraid of," he said.
The mayor said even though he himself thought the survey was "unnecessary -- what is the good of it?" -- he would put the question to the council Monday night.
"My recommendation is we leave it as part of the comprehensive plan process. There is no downside to waiting longer," he said.
"But the majority of the council members may say, 'Thanks, Mayor, but we'd like to do a survey sooner.' So be it."