About that Altenheim property ...

Opinion: Letters to the editor

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Mayor Hoskins and the Forest Park Board of Commissioners:

We wish to express our views on the future of the village-owned Altenheim property. We are organized as "Concerned Van Buren Citizens." The members of our group are property owners and residents who will be most directly impacted by what the village decides to do with the Altenheim property. Members include:

•      Residences at the Grove - A residential complex comprising two mid-rise condominium buildings with 140 residences at 7753 and 7757 Van Buren, and 53 townhomes on Grove Lane. More than 300 village residents call this neighborhood home. It is directly across from the largest parcel of the Altenheim property.

•      Van Buren Townhomes - A complex comprising 17 townhomes at 7771 Van Buren with 45 village residents. These townhomes are directly north of the Residences at the Grove.

 Together we are organized as "Concerned Van Buren Citizens" because of our apprehension that the proposed "Cultural Park" plan — even after their committee suggested that accommodations were made to account for residents' concerns — may be perceived by other villagers as sanctioned by the village council and, therefore, conclude that the ultimate use of the property, as a cultural park, has already been decided. We feel that such perceptions might deter other villagers who may have viable, even great ideas, from speaking up and wanting to be involved in this significant decision.

We are grateful for having had the opportunity to meet with Mayor Hoskins and with Commissioner Jessica Voogd to discuss the Altenheim property. We greatly appreciated their assurances that the Concerned Van Buren Citizens committee would have a place at the table when the village begins in earnest discussions as to the future of the Altenheim property.

It is clear to us that neither of these elected council members view the Cultural Park proposal as sanctioned or commissioned by the village council. Comments by prior members of the board could give villagers a different perception. To dispel any possible confusion, we make the following suggestion:

The village council should convene a task force to investigate alternative uses for the Altenheim property and submit recommendations to the board by no earlier than June 30, 2021. This period of time will allow the task force adequate time to solicit the perspectives of representatives from the many interest groups that are important to the greater health and vitality of our village: The business organizations, social service organizations, religious organizations, our schools, our park district, and, especially, a diverse cross-section of residents, especially those most significantly impacted — represented by the Concerned Van Buren Citizens.

Our group is aware that two possibilities other than the Cultural Park proposal have received public attention. First, we read in the local newspaper that the village may desire a use that will generate additional real estate tax revenues. Second, we are aware that the study coordinated by a representative of the National Park Service suggested various "public park" alternatives. This information should be shared with the task force. It may envision ways that both desirable outcomes might be achieved.

We want to be clear about one position: We are opposed to a concert venue, large or small. We think such a use would be anathema to the idea of a residential neighborhood. With 210 housing units on the block, we are a residential neighborhood.

We realize that for many years, discussions about the use of the Altenheim property were largely hypothetical speculation. Until the decrepit buildings could be demolished, nothing could happen. It is our understanding that the demolition of the buildings is now anticipated. Therefore, we believe it is time to get serious, and to begin board-sanctioned discussions to focus on what use(s) of the Altenheim Property will serve the best interests of the village and its residents. We look forward to being a part of the effort to reach decisions on this issue.

Gene Armstrong is a Forest Park resident.

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