‘It’s not easy being green,” sings Kermit the Frog. In the case of the Altenheim property, it’s not easy staying green. The pandemic, however, is causing a shift in our attitude toward development and density in Forest Park.

It has prompted a growing number of residents to reject using the village-owned Altenheim property to build more condos. Their voices are heard at the village council meetings and also through a newly-formed organization called Save the Forest Park Greenspace Initiative. This group was founded by Al and Terri Mollsen.

They launched their Facebook page on Aug. 6 and it has close to 100 members. Some of them live in The Grove, across the street from the Altenheim property. They are concerned that the construction of more condos will lower their property values. The greenspace group also wants to spread awareness to residents who don’t live near the site and may not see its potential to be used as parkland.

They are seeking transparency from the village council when it comes to making decisions about the property. Finally, they want to promote community participation in the process. They believe we all have a stake in what happens to the property and input from residents is crucial. They know the village is short on green space and this is our last chance to preserve a precious resource.

Al served on the Cultural Park Committee and believes the data they gathered about the property provides a factual foundation for keeping it green. He doesn’t foresee it serving as a music venue. But the Mollsens have come up with a list of possible uses for the property. Some of their proposals have already been echoed by others.

They see the property as a possible site for a farmers market, seasonal festivals and even commencement ceremonies. They envision a sculpture park with works of art on consignment. The property could be used for movies in the park and to host charity runs. It could feature ice skating rinks in the winter and outdoor fitness classes in the summer.

Right now, the property is not being used for much of anything. Terri sees it as a forbidding place, with “No Trespassing” signs posted. It has dilapidated buildings the village is planning to raze, A few golfers use it as a driving range. It’s rare to see people walking through the property, let alone using it for picnics.

The Mollsens believe residents treasure green space now more than ever because of the pandemic. Spending time outdoors isn’t just an option. It has become a necessity. Countless dog walkers stroll past their house. There are more joggers and bike riders than ever before. They believe these outdoor activities are bringing neighbors closer together.

At the same time, they are seeing people return to traditional values and simple pleasures, like backyard gatherings. Al’s family has deep roots in Forest Park and he recalls the social cohesiveness it had in the past. The Mollsens see the property as a perfect venue for open recreation and community interaction.

They consider building condos there as more of a “quick fix” for the village’s financial problems. They don’t see condos as money makers because the village has to provide infrastructure and services for these residents. They believe transforming the Altenheim into parkland could provide long-term revenue, through corporate sponsorship and the sale of permits.

Residents who want to support their initiative can visit their Facebook page, take the survey and become members.

It’s not easy staying green but we should make a concerted effort to preserve the green space we have left.  

John Rice

John Rice is a columnist/novelist who has seen his family thrive in Forest Park. He has published two books set in the village: The Ghost of Cleopatra and The Doll with the Sad Face.