The 11 acres of the Altenheim property owned by Forest Park. File photo

A presentation by resident Ralph DiFebo and the Ad Hoc Altenheim Committee was pulled at the last minute from the June 14 village council agenda. Mayor Rory Hoskins informed DiFebo, as he was setting up his projector and materials in the village meeting hall prior to the meeting, that the agenda was too full for the presentation, said DiFebo.

The presentation, which includes background information and possible uses for the approximately 11 acres of village-owned property, was scheduled after public comment, at which time Hoskins said, “We’re going to go ahead and skip over the presentation on the Altenheim. That’s a little bit premature for tonight.”

Later, during his mayor’s report, he provided more context, stating that the village has received comment from different parties interested in the future of the property.

“The Altenheim is certainly a center of attention these days,” Hoskins said. “They’re making great progress on bringing down those buildings. And we have received contacts from different interested parties who wanted to get in talking to the village about what could potentially go there.” He said that includes various citizen’s groups with which the village plans to meet. He added that there needs to be a conversation with the Altenheim Senior facility that will continue to operate on adjacent property. “They have the most at stake in terms of future development there,” Hoskins said.

In an email, Hoskins said he is “aware of the good intentions of Ralph DiFebo,” but intends to seek input from other entities as well, such as the Altenheim Board of Directors and condo and townhome associations of nearby residences.

Adding the presentation to the agenda was an error, Hoskins said. “It should not have been on the agenda.”

Progress of Altenheim demolition as of June 17. | Maria Maxham/Editor

“It’s unfortunate that we didn’t get to hear Mr. DiFebo’s presentation, but I’m hopeful that we’ll be able to invite him back soon,” Commissioner Jessica Voogd said during the meeting. “Additionally, you know, now with the demolition going so well, and things are moving forward, and COVID is becoming a little bit more manageable, I’m kind of hopeful that we might have a town hall in the near future.”

Voogd told the Review that she’d pushed to have the presentation on the agenda, going back and forth with Hoskins and Village Administer Moses Amidei via email about dates that would work.

“With the demolition really taking off, I thought it would be a good idea to have a member of the ad hoc committee talk about the work and research they’d done, to focus energy back on the discussion,” Voogd said in an interview. “Let’s revisit the information they gathered.” She added: “I’m very disappointed it was canceled, especially at the last minute.”

In an interview on June 16, Commissioner Ryan Nero said he thinks the item was pulled from the agenda because it doesn’t represent the mayor’s hopes for the Altenheim.

“It doesn’t align with Hoskins’ vision for the property,” Nero said. “But pulling it isn’t in the interest of the village. No matter what your personal vision is, you have to be the voice of the village and the people and provide different ideas and opinions than your own.”

Nero said the presentation, which was submitted to commissioners ahead of time, was fair, presenting facts and good property comparisons.

While the original plans of the ad hoc committee, chaired by DiFebo, included an expansive band shell and outdoor concert venue, over the years they have been scaled down to include recommended areas for development and green space.

Commissioner Dan Novak said he had “no clue” why the agenda item was pulled and that there was “zero communication” from Hoskins. “The mayor has his own plans for the property,” Novak said.

Commissioner Joe Byrnes said he thinks it’s high time discussions about the future of the Altenheim property begin.

“The buildings are almost down,” Byrnes said. “The discussions need to begin. And it’s not about what he wants or what I want, it’s about what the people want.”

But whether the ad hoc committee should be given the chance to present their ideas when other interested parties haven’t been invited to do so is a point raised by at least one village official, who echoed Hoskins’ sentiment that all groups should be part of the discussion, not just one.

According to Director of Building, Planning and Zoning Steve Glinke, those recommending plans for the property should be given equal treatment by the village.

“DiFebo isn’t any more or less deserving than anybody else with interest in the property,” said Glinke in an interview with the Review. “We should let the policy makers determine the forum and format for a discussion of multiple options.”

But Andrea DiFebo, Ralph DiFebo’s wife, said as far as she knows, the ad hoc committee was never decommissioned, and although established under a previous administration, it’s still in place to provide recommendations to the village council.

The committee put months into developing the updated presentation for the June 14 meeting, which provides different options for use of the approximately 11 acres of village-owned land and selling prices by acre of comparable developments. A “Reader’s Digest” list at the end provides a synopsis of the committee’s suggestions:

–      Consider the two to four north acres of the land for development

–      Create a park on the seven to nine south acres, with similar attributes to the Grove

–      Seek different sources of funding for park and street improvements, including a portion from the sale of the north property, creation of a TIF for the Altenheim, solicitation of state and federal grants, and creation of a foundation to seek private grants

“I’m extremely disappointed,” said DiFebo about the presentation being canceled.