By Maria Maxham
The value of the village owned Altenheim property is $1.83M, according to an Aug. 17, 2020 draft appraisal of the property. This is significantly lower than the last valuation in 2006, at which time a 7.7-acre portion of the 10.98-acre property was appraised at $5.3 million.
Additionally, the new draft appraisal recommends the property be kept vacant for now due to market conditions.
But village officials reject the current draft of the village-ordered appraisal, stating that it contains errors and significantly undervalues the land.
The property was purchased by the village for $3.65M in 2001, and the loan that paid for it will be repaid in 2023. The West Cook YMCA offered $4.3 million for the property in 2007, though the sale never went through.
The 2020 appraisal also provided values for six parcels of land, breaking the Altenheim into smaller sellable pieces, the total of which is $1.31M.
The new draft appraisal includes a recommendation for highest and best use that suggests the land be kept vacant for the time being.
According to the document, "… speculative redevelopment of the site is not recommended at this time due to the current market conditions. The highest and best use of the site at this time is to hold as vacant hold until such time a meaningful, financially feasible redevelopment plan can be formulated and be made ready for implementation."
The new appraisal, however, has at least one major mistake. The appraisal states it is for 13.14 acres, although the village-owned portion of the Altenheim is only about 11 acres.
The entire Altenheim property is 13.14 acres, but that includes 2.156 acres of the active Altenheim senior home.
"It's wrong right from the get-go," said Mayor Rory Hoskins. Hoskins said that if the appraiser didn't even get the parcel size correct, it's hard to trust the rest of the document. "The draft undervalues the land," Hoskins said.
Hoskins and other village officials say there are other defects in the document.
"We don't agree with the appraisal document," said Steve Glinke, public health and safety director, who heads the zoning and building department for the village. Aside from the acreage being incorrect, a second major concern Hoskins and Glinke see with the appraisal is that the comparable properties used to help determine the value of the Altenheim land don't truly resemble or represent the uniqueness of the Forest Park parcel.
Comparable parcels used in the appraisal include properties in Warrenville, Aurora, Batavia, Addison and Westchester, none of which, according to Hoskins and Glinke, are similar enough to the Altenheim to contribute to an accurate assessment of value.
"The value is in the location," Glinke said. The Altenheim's easy and close accessibility to the Eisenhower Expressway and the CTA Blue Line station add worth that isn't accurately accounted for in the appraisal Glinke said.
The 2020 appraisal document makes reference to adjusting the Altenheim's value upward because of the property's "proximity/walking distance to the CTA's Blue Line Station," though how much the appraiser added for this isn't specified.
The document also states, "Forest Park is proximate to labor markets and transportation. This community's overall outlook is one of stability and sustainable economic growth although the impact of the Coronavirus Pandemic remains to be seen."
In fact, the impact of COVID-19 on the assessment of the property is mentioned more than once in the document, which states that economic strains, including a high jobless rate in Illinois, in part due to the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as other fiscal problems faced by the state impacted the valuation.
"We have issues with the accuracy of the report," Glinke said in an interview on Aug. 27. "We are underwhelmed by the price quoted. Despite COVID-19, people are continuing to develop. We reject this in draft work. We will attempt to further discuss issues with the document [with the appraiser], but it is likely this won't be used as the basis of valuation moving forward."
Glinke and Hoskins both said an attempt might be made to ask the appraiser to make changes to the draft.
Prior to the release of the draft appraisal, at the Aug. 24 village council meeting, held via Zoom, Village Clerk Vanessa Moritz read 19 resident-submitted public comment letters related to the Altenheim property, the most public comments the village has received about any issue in at least a year. A Facebook rumor spurred some interest, as people incorrectly believed the Altenheim was being discussed at the meeting, although, in fact, it wasn't even on the agenda.
Still, the outpouring of comments showed overwhelmingly support among those commenting for preserving green space and made it clear that residents are ready and willing to share their opinions, even if not solicited by the village.
Ultimately, the decision on what will happen with the Alteheim property is up to the village council. Any site plan or new development, whether it first goes through the Zoning Board of Appeals, the Plan Commission, or both, will have to be approved through a majority of votes from Hoskins and Commissioners Joe Byrnes, Dan Novak, Ryan Nero and Jessica Voogd.
Hoskins said in an Aug. 27 interview that "Public comment is great. We expect the community to be engaged. This is an important topic to many residents." For now, though, no decisions are being made, said Hoskins.
"Things are fluid. We still don't have a sound appraisal," Hoskins said. He added that the grant to demolish the derelict buildings on the property should be available soon.
"We've submitted all our paperwork for the final grant agreement," Hoskins said. "We were expecting the formal document by the end of August."
When that formal grant document comes through, the village can begin the process of going out to bid on the tear-down, as the village council voted unanimously at a June 22 meeting to approve project specifications and contract documents and to authorize for the advertising of bids as soon as the grant is awarded.
Byrnes, Nero and Voogd all expressed their support of resident input in the process of deciding what should be done with the Altenheim property.
Byrnes said that the work done by the ad hoc Cultural Park Committee, started in 2016, should be looked at again.
The committee originally came up with an ambitious recommendation involving a concert shell, but amended plans to a final suggestion that involved selling the north section of the property, the two acres known as The Grove, to a developer to construct either a 55 and older condominium development or a boutique hotel. Development of a drainage system for the land and creating a park were parts of the plan as well. The committee held a public forum in March 2018 to present these plans to residents and village authorities.
"Nobody's called the committee together again," Byrnes said in an Aug. 27 interview. "They worked so hard for 3.5 years. We need to look at their prior work and maybe make adjustments. But we would be three quarters of the way there."
Byrnes said he sees the Altenheim "as an opportunity to make something the whole village can enjoy." He talked about creating an outdoor space that could be used all year long; winter activities might include a sledding hill where plowed snow is piled and cross-country skiing paths.
"It could be a gem 12 months out of the year," Byrnes said.
He said he also liked the idea of a space for activities like a farmers' market, art fest, or a food truck festival. Some of these things, he said, could even be done now with proper social distancing in place.
"It should be a free area for people to enjoy," Byrnes said.
Byrnes acknowledged that selling off part of the land might seem attractive in order to bring more money in to the village, especially with the finances as dire as they currently are. But, he said, the village would be permanently sacrificing something for a temporary fix.
Nero, who worked on the Cultural Park Committee, which was headed by resident Ralph DiFebo, said that several options were presented by the committee to the village.
"They were based primarily on green space that the village residents and surrounding community could enjoy," Nero said in an email. He added, "I always liked the idea of a park to expand on some of the activities we used to enjoy in Forest Park pre-COVID-19. Events like Summer Fest, Rib Fest, October Fest, Grooving' in the Grove, Farmers Markets, just to name a few."
"No matter what the future holds for the Altenheim property, the path forward must be financially sound and make sense for years to come," Nero said.
"This is our last large piece of green space in Forest Park," said Voogd. who is known for her passion for the environment and for supporting "green" ordinances and land use. "I want to see a creative, thoughtful approach regarding the future of this property. This village needs green space that is open to everyone. We need to ensure that there is innovative, sustainable, green infrastructure."
Voogd said she still refers to a 2017 survey done by the National Park Service's Rivers, Trails, & Conservation Assistance Program (RTCA), in which the organization gathered community feedback. Although it was done several years ago, "The recent public comment certainly shows many in Forest Park still want green space," Voogd said. "I encourage all residents to share their public comments with the council."
Byrnes, Nero and Voogd all said they support getting resident feedback prior to any decision about the property being made. Byrnes, however, said he would prefer a townhall format to a survey, because he likes hearing people say what they think.
"Surveys don't cut it for me," Byrnes said.
Novak did not respond with comments for this article.
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