By Maria Maxham
Forest Park residents hoping to keep the village owned Altenheim property green are organizing to make their voices heard and demand communication from the village regarding plans for the approximately 11 acres.
At the Aug. 10 village council meeting, 10 letters from residents regarding the property were read, all of them in support of keeping the space green and most of them asking questions about the village's decision-making process for the land.
"Please, please, please no more condos. Save the green space," read a letter submitted by residents Sandy and Ken Ramage.
Frank DiFebo stated in his letter that, now retired, he is interested in serving on whatever committee or task force is formed to investigate uses for the land.
"Who decides what comes next and what criteria are they going to use?" asked DiFebo in his letter to the council.
Resident Teresa Marousek said in her letter that selling the land would be a quick and easy source of income for the village. But she urged the council and mayor to think deeper about the issue.
"Think about the legacy you are creating," wrote Marousek. "Do you want us to remember you as just another suburban mayor and council, or the mayor and council that has a vision for a better community?"
Several letters asked the village council about the proposed short and long terms plans for the property and urged the board to listen to residents' voices.
Chris Harris, former village commissioner and mayoral candidate in 2015 and 2019, said the residents had to learn from the Review about potential plans for the property, including a property appraisal that is currently underway, suggesting a lack of communication from the village to the residents.
A previous town hall meeting regarding the property was standing room only, he said. "The people in Forest Park want and deserve a seat at the table," Harris said.
Hoskins addressed the issue during his report at the end of the meeting, stating that he appreciated the discussion and interest of the residents. But although he said, "It was never my intention to sell all of the property," Hoskins made it clear that development of at least a portion of the land is being considered and investigated.
Over a year ago, Hoskins said, he and Village Administrator Tim Gillian met with the board of the adjacent Altenheim residences. Development of the village-owned property next to the senior residences is subject to restrictive covenants regarding potential uses of the land.
"We wanted to make them aware that now that we're in a position to possibly demolish the buildings, we might need their help in terms of arriving at a suitable end use for that land," Hoskins said.
Hoskins also said the village has had discussions with the CTA regarding one-way traffic on Van Buren Street, which would need to be addressed, as well as issues related to property ownership of parking areas.
Additionally, Hoskins said he had met with "prominent real estate developers" regarding the property. "We wanted to market the availability of the land," he said. "We wanted the community of prominent developers in the Chicagoland area to know there was a large parcel that could be suitable for a transit-oriented development (TOD)."
Hoskins said when he originally went to Springfield to ask legislators to make demolition funding available in the form of a state grant, the intent to develop the land was made clear.
"We told them we anticipated an eventual TOD," Hoskins said. "We didn't say this was to build a park. We said this was to remove nuisances and make the land useful for development."
He added: "We're been fairly transparent. Not every meeting with a real estate developer is going to be broadcast on TV."
An appraisal of the property is currently underway, expected back before the end of the month. And the village's planning consultant MUSE is developing a draft Request for Proposal (RFP) for potential developments. Development of the land, said Hoskins, "would theoretically involve some residential and some green space."
In fact, when he was running for the position of mayor, Hoskins stated that he was in favor of a plan that would involve selling about half the land and preserving half as green space.
"In addition to our obligation to the residents and to preserve outdoor space for enjoyment, we have obligations to fund pensions, and most Forest Park residents are concerned with creating an environment where we don't have to exorbitantly increase taxes and other fees for services," Hoskins said during the Aug. 10 meeting. "My personal goal is to find a sensible medium where we can utilize property that has been in Forest Park's possession for almost 20 years … as well as meet our financial obligations."
The village has been waiting for a $750,000 grant to demolish the five run-down structures on the property, which was purchased for $3.6 million in 2001. The loan to finance the property purchase will be paid off in 2023. The property is just south of Madison Street along Van Buren Street.
Article changed to reflect the correct first name of one of the residents who commented during the council meeting.
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