Concerned Van Buren Citizens, a commission of board members from the Grove Midrise Condominium Association, urged the village council to get more public feedback on the future of the village-owned portion of the historic Altenheim retirement community site before making a final decision.

The Grove development is adjacent to the Altenheim property.

Gene Armstrong, the commission’s president, presented the group’s case during the June 26 meeting of the Forest Park Village Council. On March 6, the Altenheim Advisory Committee issued final recommendations for the site, and Armstrong said that, while his organization supported many of those recommendations, they were dubious about potentially dense development and a seeming shortage of green space. He also argued that the committee report overstated how much public input it got. 

Commissioners Maria Maxham and Jessica Voogd, who worked together to establish the advisory committee, previously expressed their own concerns about public input falling short. During the June 22 meeting, Commissioner Michelle Melin-Rogovin agreed that the Grove residents’ concerns were valid, and Commissioner Ryan Nero offered to meet with Armstrong to discuss his concerns. The Review saw the two discuss a potential meeting after the council adjourned.

The Altenheim committee report called for keeping the triangle-like north section of the property as a public recreational space, building homes that comply with R-2 zoning between the south edge of the current retirement community and the Altenheim cemetery, and adding denser housing at the southeast corner to take advantage of its proximity to the Forest Park CTA and suburban Pace bus terminal. It recommended allowing commercial use, but only if it’s a small business such as a coffee shop or dry cleaner.

While the version approved during the March 6 meeting was text-only, the version shared with the village council on May 22 included two concept drawings of what that might look like. The main difference is that one shows green space along Van Buren Street and at the southeast corner, while the other replaces that greenery with denser buildings. 

Residents of the Grove condominiums attended all Altenheim Committee meetings, and Armstrong was personally present at most of them. He told the council that his group felt that the renderings didn’t accurately represent the committee’s conclusions, which called for “significant portion of the property to be designated for open public recreational use.” Armstrong pointed out that the renderings weren’t part of the report released during its March meeting. In a written version of the presentation, he argued that the renderings “have created confusion and suspicion,” which was “an unfortunate and probably unnecessary outcome.”

Armstrong also said Grove residents don’t support active recreation on the site– something that the report leaves a possibility – and argued that the private developers who purchase the property shouldn’t be required to pay to maintain the public areas.

“This should be a public space. and we would support the use of public funds,” he said

But most notably, Armstrong argued the committee got less public input than the report suggested and urged the village council to remedy that.

“I can say with certainty that the committee held no discussions with the members of the community from the Grove,” he said. 

While Armstrong did give a presentation to the committee, he argued that it didn’t count as a discussion. And he pointed to the fact that the copy of his presentation, as well as the presentations made by other groups to the committee, were not available on the village website.

Melin-Rogovin said she agreed those presentations should be posted. Voogd said she shared Armstrong’s concerns.

“I look forward to the village, because the onus is now on us now to figure it out, soliciting feedback,” she said. “Hopefully, we will invite more people to share their input, so we can get a better idea of how the community feels about it, and that we make a meaningful attempt to engage the public as we move forward.”

In an interview after the meeting, Maxham agreed the renderings created unnecessary confusion, and said she expects there to be “several steps” before the council adopts anything. The village is currently considering hiring a consultant to flesh out the report, and Maxham said she would like the village to discuss with Armstrong the best ways to get public input.

Armstrong told the Review that he was hopeful that the village council will listen.

“Hopefully, some of the things we say and some of the positions we take will be reflected in the final product,” he said.