Forest Park commissioners are putting together an advisory committee to help decide the future of the village-owned portion of the historic Altenheim retirement community property.
During the April 11 village council meeting, Commissioner of Public Property Jessica Voogd and Commissioner of Public Health and Safety Maria Maxham announced that they were looking to recruit “residents and stakeholders.” The commissioners said that forming a committee was important because they wanted any decision regarding Altenheim’s future to be transparent, and they wanted an advisory body that will be able to look at all the studies and proposals related to the site that have been prepared in the past. While the applications are due by April 29, the commissioners don’t have a firm timetable for when the committee is going to start meeting, let alone when it might start making recommendations.
The Altenheim senior living community has been a Forest Park institution since it opened in 1886. In 2001, the retirement community downsized, with the village purchasing everything but the two buildings at the heart of the property. Forest Park demolished the buildings and did soil remediation throughout 2021. It has been using the north portion of the property closest to Madison Street, which became known as the Grove, for various village events, while the Park District of Forest Park has been using the south portion of the property for its own events.
The terms of the sale included a restrictive covenant that required any future development on the site to comply with R-1 or R-2 residential zoning, and the use of the property can’t “interfere with the reasonable, quiet enjoyment” of the seniors living in Altenheim.
The Altenheim property is located within walking distance of the Forest Park Blue Line ‘L’ station, and Pace bus routes 303, 310 and 317 have stops along the property’s eastern edge.
In August 2016, Forest Park resident Ralph DiFebo proposed turning the south side of the property into an outdoor performance venue. At the end of that year, then-mayor Anthony Calderone agreed to form an ad-hoc committee to study the proposal. The committee, which DiFebo chaired, ended up proposing making the south portion into a green space and allowing the north portion of the property to potentially become a mixed-use transit-orientated development should the village feel it needs to raise some money.
But the proposal went on the backburner after Rory Hoskins was elected mayor in 2019. DiFebo was scheduled to give a presentation on the project during the June 14, 2021 village council meeting, only to have it pulled from the agenda at the last minute. As the Review reported at the time, Hoskins said that he wanted to hear from more parties, and several commissioners felt that the committee’s proposal didn’t align with the mayor’s vision.
Now that the site has been cleared and remediated, the village is giving the planning process another go. Maxham’s responsibilities include overseeing issues pertaining to building and zoning codes, while Voogd is responsible for overseeing village-owned properties.
During the April 11 village council meeting, Voogd said the new advisory committee would review all of the past plans, including the ad hoc committee proposal.
“We’ve had committees in the past, we’ve had studies, we’ve had a lot of outreach done, and I think it would be helpful to have the advisory committee come together and put it all in one place,” she said.
The committee would advise the village council on decisions related to the property’s future.
“We’d like to see this process be open, transparent and successful,” Voogd said.
The two commissioners worked with Steve Glinke, the village’s director of public health and safety, to put together a new Altenheim frequently asked questions page on the village website, which gives the background on the site and the general overview of past plans and proposals. The page, forestpark.net/dfp/village-services/altenheim-property/, also includes a link to the advisory committee application form. The committee is open to anyone who either lives, works, or owns a business in Forest Park, and applicants must be able to commit time and bring their own visions for the property to the table.
“We hope to receive applications from a wide range of village residents and community stakeholders who will bring an open, unbiased approach to this volunteer advisory committee,” Voogd said in a follow-up interview.
The commissioners said they didn’t have a firm timeline for when the committee will get to work.
“Moving forward with Altenheim is not a process we can rush,” Maxham said. “The land is so special and so unique. We have to make sure we make the right decision for this special piece of land.”
DiFebo told the Review that he wasn’t interested in joining the new advisory committee, reflecting that he’s already put in years of his time on the issue.
“I think they need to do it on their own, start over, and work on it that way,” he said.
DeFibo said he knew from the get-go that his ad hoc committee would be advisory, and that the village wasn’t obligated to follow anything they suggested. But he said he hoped that the new committee would take his committee’s work into account.
His wife, Andrea DiFebo, agreed.
“I was an observer, and one of my takeaways is that any time you ask community members to volunteer their time for committee, their hope would be that their work would be considered,” she said. “I just hope that the next committee will [do] some good, will be listened to and their work will be taken into consideration.”