The Forest Park Village Council and the Park District Board of Commissioners will hold a closed session meeting on Sept. 12 to discuss two recently completed appraisals of the Roos building, located at 7329 W. Harrison St.
The building is being considered for use as the new site of the park district’s offices and also as a joint-use facility with both park and village offices.
The village and the park district split the $2,000 cost of the two appraisals, one with the property zoned residential and the other zoned industrial. The completion of the appraisals was announced at a meeting of the park board last Thursday.
The Review filed a request under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) for copies of the appraisals on Friday. A faxed letter from Village Clerk Vanessa Moritz denying the request stated that the documents were exempt from the Act due to a clause that reads “the records, documents and information relating to real estate negotiations until those negotiations have been completed or otherwise terminated are exempt from inspection and copying.”
Terry Pastika, executive director of the Citizen Advocacy Center in Elmhurst, which often handles FOIA-related cases, said that though the denial might be legal, it violates the spirit of the Act.
“I think that technically they are able to withhold the appraisal [because] it’s under the umbrella of negotiations. However, having said that, I would make an argument that the purpose of that statute and exemption is to protect purchasers, buyers and sellers from price gouging. In this case you have two public bodies, and any way you look at it is tax money. … In that way I think it violates the spirit of open government,” she said.
Pastika expressed a similar opinion in regards to the decision to discuss the appraisals in a closed session meeting.
Forest Park Mayor Anthony Calderone said that the decision to go into closed session was made to avoid public confusion and to ensure that the acquisition price would not be negotiated in the press.
“Any time a municipality is discussing the possibility of acquiring property, that’s a reason for going into closed session”the reason is that negotiations of that property could lead to litigation,” he added.
Pastika said that, according to the Open Meetings Act, litigation must be imminent, not just a possibility, in order to go into closed session.
A previous meeting to discuss the issue in May was held as an open session.
The Roos property was zoned as a residential Planned Unit Development (PUD) in September, 2004 in order to allow the Armitage Capital Corporation and developer Patrick Wangler to demolish the buildings and construct 132 new condominiums.
In May, however, with little progress seemingly being made on the condo project, the village and park district began discussing the prospect of acquiring the property either as a new home for the park district or as a joint facility for use by both the parks and the village.
The asking price given to the village by Wangler was $3.75 million.
Calderone said the village council will not be voting on the possibility of extending the PUD after it expires on Sept. 27 as had previously been reported.
He said the residential appraisal is being reviewed along with the industrial appraisal in case a judge should decide that since the property was once given a PUD designation, the village must purchase it as such even though the time frame of the PUD had expired.
Calderone said the ideal option would be for the park district to purchase the property alone. If the district is unable to afford the property, he said, the village would consider moving in as well.
He said that if neither of those options proved feasible, District 91 might be brought into the talks to consider sharing the property with the parks and village, though the school board showed little interest in the idea when it was brought up at a recent meeting.