The village of Forest Park voted to enter into an intergovernmental agreement (IGA) with Cook County to accept an Invest in Cook grant, which will help pay for a 10-foot-wide walking and biking path along Van Buren Street between Madison Street and the existing parking area and path near the CTA Blue Line Forest Park transit center.

Through the agreement, the county will award the village with up to $247,500, approximately half of the total cost of the project, toward engineering and construction expenses.

According to project specifications, design of the path will begin this month and will be completed by July 1.

Bidding will be done in August, with construction anticipated to begin in October.

July 1, 2022 is the anticipated completion date of the path.

However, at least one resident and one commissioner said the project is akin to “putting the cart before the horse” since the anticipated demolition of the Altenheim buildings and potential development of that land should be a consideration and part of a larger plan that incorporates the creation of the Van Buren path.

During the public comment section of the Jan. 11 meeting, which was held via Zoom, six letters from residents, urging the mayor and commissioners to wait on building the path until a comprehensive long-lens plan is developed for the entire area, were read.

Resident Ralph Di Febo wrote, “If you do not have an overall plan for the property, you might end up tearing up the path you build now to develop the rest of the property later.” Di Febo has been a long-time champion of keeping the Altenheim property green, especially the south end.

The question is whether building the path now could interfere with potential plans for the Altenheim demolition and potential development of the land. But failure to accept the grant would mean losing out on money from the county.

At the village council meeting, Village Administrator Tim Gillian said the village has applied for this grant unsuccessfully before, and he assured the commissioners that building the path now wouldn’t interfere with future developments.

“What I would say is that there is no reason why a path outside the perimeter of any new development would in any way hinder what they’re going to do,” Gillian said. “It could very easily be made part of any new plans that occur at Altenheim, be it a residential development, or commercial or green space.”

“A bird in the hand is the way to go,” Commissioner Ryan Nero said, citing public safety during events at the Grove. “It’s probably in our best interest to have a walkable path there versus not.”

Nero did, however, bring up that any future road-widening concerns could put the village in a position where the path would need to be rebuilt, although he said “building around the existing path … is certainly feasible and not an unreasonable option.”

Commissioner Dan Novak said the public comment about putting the cart before the horse resonated with him, and he ultimately voted against the IGA, though the other three commissioners and the mayor voted in favor.

As part of public comment, a letter from the 7771 Van Buren townhome association, supporting the path, was read. It stated that although the future of the Altenheim has not been decided, this is a “separate issue” and should be pursued.

“We, the homeowners at 7771 Van Buren Street, are strongly in favor of the proposed project to build a bike and footpath on Van Buren Street,” reads the letter. “We believe having a bike and footpath will significantly increase the livability of our neighborhood. We also believe it will improve traffic safety and improve the way our street currently looks. We asked the council to please vote yes on this project.”