The Forest Park Review sent questionnaires to each person running for public office in 2023. The Review’s questions are in bold and the candidate’s responses are below.
Name: Joe Landgrebe
Previous Political Experience: None
Previous/Current Community Involvement: Board member, Firefighters’ Pension Fund; Citizen Police Academy
Occupation: Real estate broker
Education: B.A., politics and government, Illinois State University; M.A., political economy of China, National Chengchi University
1. Do you believe Forest Park should actively pursue acquisition of the former U.S. Army Reserve site on Roosevelt Road? If so, what do you believe would be the best use of this property and what do you think should be the minimum bid for its purchase?
The former U.S. Army Reserve is a potential development opportunity for the Village of Forest Park. However, with most commercial real estate transactions with a historical background like the Army Reserve, an environmental study is in order. For example, we must fully access whether the site has asbestos in the buildings or leaky underground storage tanks. These issues could potentially cost the village hundreds of thousands, if not millions of dollars to just remediate. We owe it to our taxpayers to do our due diligence to determine the true value of the property. So, for this reason, I do not believe the Village of Forest Park should pursue this opportunity at this time.
Furthermore, we need a clear understanding of the water drainage improvements to the facility in Fort Sheridan in the northern suburbs. We need the actual cost before we could determine if the U.S. Army Reserve is a fair trade for the Fort Sheridan project.
Lastly, the question I want to propose to the Village of Forest Park, is to address the numerous issues with purchasing the property, Do we really need to buy it? As the governing body, it is unnecessary to purchase a property to control it. We can control how the real estate is used by zoning. We determine the best use of the land and zone it accordingly. Then, we can let the private sector fund the project. We eliminate our exposure and potentially secure a steady tax stream.
2. How should the discussion of this acquisition be more public and transparent?
I do believe the discussion surrounding the acquisition of the U.S. Army Reserve should continue involving the community in a public and transparent manner. I encourage the village hall meetings to be open to the public and accessible by Zoom. Our agenda for these meetings will be clearly defined prior to meeting, and the documents will be made easily accessible. Most importantly, we should always have a seat at the table for community’s opinions and feedback.
3. What do you believe is the single greatest commercial development opportunity in Forest Park?
I believe the single greatest commercial development opportunity in Forest Park is the Roosevelt corridor. This is a large piece of land where we control both sides of the roadway for a long stretch. If we developed in this location, the increase in traffic flow would not cause severe congestion because of the two lanes heading east and west. In addition, this east/west thoroughfare is a main artery used to travel in and out of Chicago, Oak Park, Berwyn, North Riverside, Broadview, Maywood, etc. We have an opportunity capitalize on the commuters traveling on this road by offering more shops, easily accessible restaurants, and entertainment.
Circling back to the first question, the Army Reserve occupies a significant tract of land on Roosevelt and could potentially be a significant commercial development. At this stage, mixed use would be ideal in this location. A blend of affordable housing, retail shops, and potentially a hotel. It is important for the community to know that Forest Park does not have to purchase the property to control it. We could zone it based on our desired use. We will encourage private developers to pursue this opportunity with the potential of a long-term stream of tax revenue to Forest Park.
4. What do you believe is the minimum portion of the 11 acres of the Altenheim property that should be preserved as green space for public use? Is the park district the best option for building and operating that green space or do you believe that there are better options for operating the space?
I believe there is a great opportunity for a balanced approach to developing the Altenheim property. One that marries the natural landscape with the potential for raising tax revenue for the community. With the 11 acres of land available, the majority would be dedicated to a beautiful green space, including walking paths and a garden area.
A benefit that should be incorporated into the design, should be access to the Prairie Path. I often ride my bike on this path to the neighboring western suburbs. The locations along the path become destinations where I spend a good amount of time in their downtown areas. We could integrate the path strategically, so that our local establishments also become destinations for fellow suburban path riders.
Furthermore, I would be interested in looking at developing some of that space to potentially create an arts district. We could offer temporary and/or permanent space based on seasonality and needs. This opportunity would offer art fairs, farmer markets, pop up shops, and more to support small and local businesses in our community. The balance of the property would potentially be townhomes and/or mid-rise condominiums. These units could be done tastefully and resemble the projects already built on Van Buren Street.
At this time, the park district’s resources are spread thin, and I believe they should not be further burdened with the build out and operations of this space.
The Altenheim property provides a good example of why the village should not be in the business of purchasing land. Here we are 20 years later, and we are still debating about the best use of this property. We are throwing away $300,000 a year of our already limited resources, to decide the future of this property. We could have zoned per our intended use and this land could have been sold to a private developer, where we would have generated an immediate stimulus and secured long term tax revenue.
5. How do you define racial equity in municipal government? Do you believe it should be a priority? What are the specific opportunities in which an equity lens might improve local governance?
I define racial equity in the municipal government as the equitable access to resources and services. The policies should be established free of racial biases and sensitive to the myriad of community needs. The goal is to eliminate practices and policies that support disparate outcomes based on race. I absolutely believe racial equity should be a priority in municipal government. We should endeavor to create equitable communities. There are an immense number of opportunities in which an equity lens may improve local government. As a real estate broker, I am familiar with the importance of affordable housing and creating an equitable outcome for all residents. As a member of the Citizen Police Academy, I am learning how equitable policing practices can develop community relationships, and improved outcomes for law enforcement and the community. For example, opening economic opportunities such as minority owned cannabis dispensaries can lead to fewer barriers. Effective land use policies as my proposal for the Altenheim project, can foster a neutral space for the enjoyment for all citizens. Finally, a top-down approach from analyzing budgetary expenditures can help identify sources of inequity.
6. How should Forest Park balance public safety concerns with making policing more equitable and community-engaged?
As an enrollee in the Citizens Police Academy, I am learning about the balance of public safety concerns, while also making policing more equitable and community-engaged in Forest Park. I believe in fostering a community that has meaningful and trusting relationships with the citizens and the police force. Our community has specific challenges we need address. We must prioritize mental health, drug abuse and homelessness in our community. Our police officers are acutely aware of these needs. I want to find innovative and productive ways to support them. Forest Park currently has a mental health professional on staff for two days a week. I propose we increase that to 5 days to relieve some of their duties, and to provide targeted solutions. We also need to encourage relevant training to perform their job effectively. Let’s ensure our citizens are heard by developing a community oversight committee.
7. Do you view as an impediment the fact that Forest Park does not have home rule? Do you think Forest Park should seek home rule authority?
I have researched the pros and cons of home rule. Home rule can lead to increased autonomy, and localized decision making that leads to tailored solutions. For example, zoning changes. As mentioned in my previous responses, I believe effective zoning is the key to a successfully managed village. Furthermore, Forest Park will have more say in the law making and decision-making process. This will create opportunities for financial engineering such as issuing bonds. Also, there is an option to privatize certain services like garbage collection or water, making it more cost effective.
Home Rule can lead to inconsistency in policies with broader state and federal laws. This may lead to a lack of cohesion and result in conflicting policies. The extra power given to local actors can create abuses of power and corruption. I believe our greatest concern, is that Home Rule gives the village the ability to raise taxes. Higher real estate transfer fees and taxes have a chilling effect on home values and tend to drive the market down. As a homeowner with an already high tax bill, I am not a proponent of raising property taxes. Can we agree to a tax cap to avoid raising property taxes?
8. Do you believe that Forest Park’s commission form of government is preferable for Forest Park in comparison to a city manager form?
I believe our commissioner style of government has served us well throughout our history. Forest Park is a community of neighbors that sets us apart from those with city manager form. This allows us to have a more democratic approach and greater public involvement in decision making. As a candidate, I do believe this is the best form of government for our community. I am open to listening to the public and moving forward towards the future together.
9. What role do you think village commissioners should play in the operations of the village government? Do you believe that the current mayor and commissioners should have active authority in the operations of the departments to which they are assigned?
The Village commissioners play an important role in the operations of our current government as an advisory role in decision making. A few examples include, forming policy and budgets, managing personnel, and approving or denying applications for permits and contracts. Simply said, they support the departments to which they are assigned.
It is ultimately the village manager and department heads who lead the day to day operations. The individuals in these roles have made a lifelong career commitment to the village and have a wealth of institutional knowledge that complement commissioners’ involvement.