It took 20 years but there is now the start of a public process actively backed by the village government to plan the future of the 11-acre portion of Altenheim property owned by the village.
That’s the good news.
What’s troubling to us is that in an Oct. 4 meeting of the 11-member committee, three subgroups broke off to brainstorm and the collective wisdom was that most of the open land, the only open land left in Forest Park, should be developed with greater and lesser density as residential housing and commercial use.
Sure, there should be some open space surrounding development, the group concluded. But the suggested notion of including a cultural amenity, a “West Cook cultural destination” was less well received.
But that, we’d tell you, has been the grand idea since the village boldly bought this parcel to stave off development two decades ago. It is why the village has been shelling out $300,000 a year to pay off the $3 million purchase price.
Maybe the citizen-driven idea of a mini-Ravinia was always pie-in-the-sky. But aiming higher than townhouses, mixed-use midrises, and some sort of hotel (unlikely in our view) is where this committee needs to set its bar.
If that sort of uninspired and unimaginative development is all Forest Park believes its citizens deserve in this landlocked town, then we should have let the private sector build townhouses in 2002 and we’d have saved a lot of lawnmowing and captured some needed property and sales tax revenues.
We’re also worried over the deference being paid to the good folks at the remaining Altenheim retirement facility and at the Grove townhome development — both adjacent to the open land. Altenheim sold the property to save itself and provide a nest egg. They have rights, some built into the sales contract. But they do not have a veto over creative, community-focused use of this land. And residents of the Grove bought units across from open space with an uncertain future. So consideration? Yes. Also recognition that their collective voice is one of self-interest.
It is the citizens of the village who deserve the real consideration here. Taxpayers bought into the idea of open space. Active recreation space. Passive park space. Open space. They’ve watched their tax dollars be shoveled into that concept. They deserve a more ambitious outcome than what was discussed on Oct. 4.
We were interested in an idea that surfaced at the meeting suggesting that the village-owned parking lot north of the CTA’s Blue Line terminal ought to be folded into this plan. Use of that lot has diminished post-pandemic. And again providing parking for commuters from suburbs further west isn’t particularly compelling for Forest Parkers.
This is the moment of truth for this golden parcel.
Let’s not sell Forest Park short.