Village council almost blew it, and for what?

I am a proud Forest Parker. I routinely brag about Forest Park and even make it my business to tease and shame Oak Park residents about their excessively unfriendly, bureaucratic village services. The consistently polite service at village hall from the parking, building police and fire department is phenomenal.

I was really proud when the YMCA chose Forest Park.

When I read the Forest Park Review and learned that the commissioners almost did not close the deal on the YMCA I was concerned.

The Forest Park review reported:

“In earlier discussions between the parties, the commissioners claimed it was made clear that the YMCA needed to provide certain discounts and programs in exchange for a 20 percent break on the land purchased from the municipality on which the facility would be built. This basketball program, they said, was a ‘deal breaker.'”

Are you kidding me? A basketball program? I like basketball as much as the next person, but from a larger perspective, think of all the things we can do with the YMCA in Forest Park. I question whether for-profit businesses offer special discounts to Forest Park residents?

The YMCA offers memberships on a sliding scale and also offers scholarships to those less able to pay the full membership cost. My aunt, on a fixed income and a Forest Park retiree, belongs for a very nominal monthly cost. The YMCA is a valuable community asset. Forest Park is lucky to get it. Forest Park will be better for it.

The comments, demeanor and attitude from the commissioners seem ridiculous.

Shame on the commissioners who fail to see the value of the YMCA and its benefit to Forest Park. I promise you were not elected for this. While you are representing me, please know that I want the YMCA here. If I wanted to live in a town with acrimonious, nonsensical politics, I’d move to Oak Park. Please try to avoid alienating the very people that you will need to work with to get it built. Community partnerships count.

Seowa Gbala
Forest Park

Support for subsidies

On behalf of the 1,395 children, youth, adults and seniors who received scholarship or subsidy support in 2008, the West Cook YMCA would like to thank everyone who contributed to the 2008 Invest in Youth campaign. The West Cook Y raised more than $130,000 for scholarship and subsidy support last year, the most ever in our history. This could never have happened without the generous support from the communities we serve.

Members, friends of the YMCA, and businesses supported our annual gala last April, our Christmas tree sale in November and December, and made direct contributions to the campaign. These funds helped us achieve our mission of building strong kids, families, and communities every day. Whether it was to provide a youth day camp scholarship, a warm water arthritis class for a senior, or a membership for a family struggling to make ends meet, Invest in Youth contributions made it happen. We are grateful for the support the YMCA has received over the 106 years of its existence.

As we face difficult challenges as a nation and state, at the local level the YMCA continues to provide needed programs and activities, instilling the values of caring, honesty, respect and responsibility in everything we do. We look forward to another year of service in 2009. Thank you!

Dr. Lois Klatt and Eleanor Flavin
2008 Invest in Youth Co-Chairs
West Cook YMCA Board Members

Big game, big thanks

The Forest Park Youth Commission would like to thank the following businesses for their support of the First Annual Forest Park Youth Commission/Forest Park Kiwanis Big Game Party held at the Forest Park community center on Sunday, Feb. 1:

Forest Park Kiwanis Club, Mohr Oil, Consolidated Tire, Lemont LLC, Geo’s Automotive, Byron’s Hot Dogs, Ed’s Way, Pineapple Dance Studio, Todd & Holland, Flex & Pointe, Starship Subs, Paciugo Gelato, the Golden Steer, Louie’s Grill, A Little Bit of Everything, the Original Pancake House, Forest Park Review, the Park District of Forest Park, the Howard Mohr Community Center, the Forest Park Public Library, and the Village of Forest Park.

Your generosity allowed us to provide a night filled with entertainment, food and beverage, games, and raffles surrounding Super Bowl XLIII for the Forest Park youth who attended. The members of Forest Park Youth Commission thank you for your assistance in promoting youth activities in the community. We are grateful for your willingness to support the Youth Commission and our goal to provide an evening filled with activity, socialization and enjoyment for the youth of Forest Park. We look forward to our continued partnership as we plan and grow the Forest Park Youth Commission activities for Forest Park’s youth.

Mary Win Connor, Rachell Entler, Erika Goodman, Eric Entler, Eric Connor, Kila Bell-Bey,
Jorie Stevens, Josh Enos and Susan Kunkle
The Forest Park Youth Commission
Editor’s note: Erika Goodman is an employee of Chicago Parent, a sibling publication of the Forest Park Review.

We can do better

The village of Forest Park approved the Planned Unit Development (PUD) and the associated “use agreement” with the YMCA on Monday, Jan. 26. During the meeting, Scott Gaalaas of the YMCA stated that he has “repeatedly heard Commissioner Tellalian make misleading comments, inaccurate comments and no one has confronted or challenged those comments.” Mr. Gaalaas then went on to “share accurate comments” about some of my past statements regarding the YMCA.

Mr. Gaalaas first stated that the “YMCA had 100 calls, fire and police calls” over a three year period and claimed that I “neglected to indicate that 95 percent of those calls were related to the residents.” Mr. Gaalaas characterized this neglect as “very misleading” and “very inappropriate.” As I clarified at the council meeting and stated in previous meetings with Mr. Gaalaas, there were approximately 170 fire and police calls to the YMCA in 2006 and 2007. That is 170 calls per year! Approximately 30 percent of those are 911 hang-ups. I got this information from the Oak Park/River Forest dispatch. Mr. Gaalaas did not challenge this information when I presented it at previous meetings nor has he clarified how he backs up his repeated statements that 95 percent of the calls are from YMCA residents when 30 percent of those calls are 911 hang-ups.

Mr. Gaalaas also challenged my past comments about the discounted price that Forest Park gave to the YMCA for our property. He stated that “in 2004, Forest Park purchased approximately 11 acres of land from Altenheim for $3.6 million with restricted covenants.” He further stated that the “restricted covenants significantly reduce the value of the property” and that “Forest Park retains approximately 3.2 acres including the picnic grove … and one acre of land just south of the Altenhiem.” Continuing, Mr. Gaalaas stated that the “Forest Park appraiser admittedly did not consider these restricted covenants” and stated that his appraiser did not agree with the Forest Park appraisal. Mr. Gaalaas went on to claim that “Commissioner Tellalian has consistently stated incorrectly that the YMCA paid over $1 million less than market value and seems to have convinced some of the council that Forest Park has donated $1 million to the YMCA.”

Mr. Gaalaas is wrong in so many ways that it is hard to know where to start. First of all, Forest Park purchased the property from the Althenheim in 2001 – not 2004 – and what we paid is irrelevant anyway. What is relevant is that our formal appraisal for the land being sold to the YMCA is $5.3 million, ($15.67 per square foot) and the YMCA is purchasing the property for $4.3 million ($12.70 per square foot). In addition, our formal appraisal is based on a more restrictive zoning than required by the covenants. The property across the street sold for $22 per square foot in 1995 and is now an R-3 condominium development. So not only is Mr. Gaalaas wrong in stating that the restricted covenants were not considered, the appraisal required by law assumed greater restrictions than imposed by the Altenheim agreement. And talk about misleading, Mr. Gaalaas failed to mention that the YMCA is purchasing all of the land that can be developed under the restricted covenants. Forest Park had to give back about one half-acre of land to the Althenheim to lift the development restriction on one acre of our remaining property.

I responded to the so-called “accurate comments” from Mr. Gaalaas at the council meeting. To my disappointment, the mayor and the other commissioners did not comment on either the inaccurate and misleading statements from Mr. Gaalaas or to my response. I don’t expect the council to vote with me, but they should have responded to the false statements that were being made by Mr. Gaalaas. And if they didn’t know that his statements were false, they should have.

I don’t dislike the YMCA, but we could have done much better – whether it was with the YMCA or some other use of our property. Considering all the options, in the end, we may have decided that the benefits of the YMCA would outweigh the burdens of increased traffic, increased loads on our sewer system, lack of any tax dollars from the YMCA, and increased need for village services. But alternatives to the YMCA were not seriously considered, the property was not correctly valued and sold at a discount, and the burdens of the YMCA were not accurately presented nor adequately considered. Our elected officials, our staff, and our consultants did not serve us well and listened to people who are not motivated by what is best for Forest Park.

Marty Tellalian
Forest Park Commissioner