Forest Park’s newly formed Altenheim Advisory Committee took its first crack at brainstorming concepts for the future of the village-owned portion of the historic Altenheim retirement community property – but any concrete recommendations are still at least a few months away.

The 11-member committee was assembled by commissioners Maria Maxham and Jessica Voogd to study the previous plans for the property and help the village develop something new. During an Oct. 4 meeting, the members split off into three groups to take a first stab at coming up with some concepts for the future use of the site. 

The broad consensus was that members wanted denser development on the north side toward Madison Street and more open space on the south side. And they wanted any plan to account for the site’s surroundings. But it will be months before the committee brings more solid concepts and conclusions to the village council. In the meantime, the committee expects there to be plenty of public meetings.

The Altenheim Committee has been meeting since August. The first meeting was essentially an organizational meeting with some discussions of the site’s history. The second meeting was a tour of the Altenheim property, to give all committee members a first-hand idea of what they were discussing. But it wasn’t until the Oct. 4 meeting that the members considered the future.

The village contracted Muse Community Design, a Chicago-based urban planning consultant, to help with the process. Company principal Courtney Kashima and director Kindy Kruller guided much of the discussion during the meeting. 

The first group suggested it would be best to think of the site as two parcels – one north of the present-day Altenheim retirement facility and one south of it. The north side would be denser, with some mix of rental housing and/or mixed-use developments, and possibly a hotel. The south side would be less dense, with more scattered housing and some open space.

Kashima, who presented the group’s proposal, said that they wanted the site to include some kind of a cultural amenity to serve as a “West Cook cultural destination.” 

The second group felt that any vision for the Altenheim property should include the area around the section of Van Buren Street that curves between Desplaines Avenue and Madison Street. Forest Park Director of Public Health and Safety Steve Glinke, who spoke for the group, said that it would include the village-owned commuter parking lot north of the Forest Park CTA terminal, where usage hasn’t recovered since the pandemic.

He said the group wanted to stay away from too much open space, since, after leasing four of its pocket parks to the Park District of Forest Park, “the village is not in the park business anymore,” and the park district “made it abundantly clear that it’s not interested” in the Altenheim property. Instead, the group was leaning toward “low-density residential development” similar to what Group 1 suggested. The group also wanted “a revenue generator of some sort,” whether it’s passive or active.

The third group’s proposal was the least concrete of the three. There was a broad interest in keeping the zoning residential, and they believed that it was important to figure out how much the village should expect to make back, given how much money it has already sunk into the property over the past 20 years.

After the groups outlined their vision, the commission was surveyed to see which of those ideas they would support. The denser north and less dense south, and the idea of having a more area wide plan, got the most support, while the idea of having a regional cultural amenity was less popular. The polling also suggested considerable support for creating some kind of buffer between the retirement community and whatever goes up around it and having as much open space as possible.  

Kruller emphasized that, when the village does look for development proposals, it won’t be too specific.

“It’s not like we’re going to dictate every detail, because we want creative responses,” she said.

The meeting also touched on public engagement, with the consultants saying that they would have smaller meetings with stakeholders, such as the residents of the Grove condominiums across the street from the site, as well as larger public meetings. Kruller said they wanted to avoid “Tuesday night meetings” where people simply take turns speaking in front of the microphone – they wanted something where people would feel like they were being listened to and that their input makes a difference. 

Committee member Kurt Hansen said he wanted the committee to get a better sense of the terms of the covenant the land was placed under in terms of the sale and other zoning regulations, so that the committee doesn’t waste time on concepts that wouldn’t be possible in the first place.

Committee member Geoff Smith said public outreach doesn’t make sense until they have some more concrete proposals to present to the community. 

“It’s like asking people to comment on a partially baked cake,” he said.