It was a good meeting and a healthy discussion last Thursday at village hall when Commissioner Chris Harris called a town hall meeting to talk about the village-owned properties at the Altenheim and on Desplaines Avenue. Some 60 people took part. Mayor Anthony Calderone was an active participant. And more people knew more about the options for these properties when the meeting ended.
Public discussion. We recommend it.
Still as the evening ended, after two and a half hours, we were left with the queer sense that the underlying purpose of the meeting was never entirely articulated. Yes, it was helpful to have a presentation on the possibility that Fenwick High School might, at some point, make a serious and specific proposal to purchase the back 8 acres of the 11-acre Altenheim parcel. Questions were asked and answered.
But there was a competing notion, one being advocated by both Harris and Jennifer Wolfe, chair of the village’s Recreation Board, that was never exactly put forward as an active, alternative plan.
Harris and Wolfe – and maybe others in village government – believe that the village should actively turn away from any proposal for a third party to develop the land. Instead, they want village ownership preserved for all time with an open call for partnership with the park district, the forming of a nonprofit foundation to seek grant money, and an ambition to create, forevermore, something truly special for kids, adults and families in Forest Park.
Our sense is that this proposal isn’t being made in the event Fenwick drops its interest in the parcel. Proponents want this to be the primary goal, though they never exactly said it.
We think it is a worthy idea, and we were happy when Mayor Calderone agreed with participants that it was past time for the village to conduct a proper survey of village residents to gather their thoughts on what should be done with this final parcel of wide open space in Forest Park.
We’d go further and suggest that until such a survey is complete, until some initial legwork is done to find out how other communities have integrated nonprofit foundations, until there is a sense of what state, federal and philanthropic funds might be available, talks with Fenwick should be put on hold.
Ten years ago, we applauded when the village leapt off the curb to buy this piece of property with the single goal of protecting it from residential or commercial development. Calderone, on Thursday, was amazingly direct in admitting he had no idea what to do with the property back then. Now, though, it is time to get more proactive and make a plan for this grand space. (We were happy to hear Calderone state emphatically that it has always been the village’s intention to retain ownership of the 3 acres nearest to Madison Street. That is the well-used area, which is home to the farmers market and other community events.)
The survey, fairly done, is a good place to start. The crowd last Thursday was likely partisan, but it was clear they were excited about the possibilities of a planned park. Let’s find out what the rest of the village thinks of this concept.
And then let’s have another town hall meeting. Democracy rocks.