Lemont Mayor Brian Reaves promised an overflow crowd at its village board meeting on Monday that he would work to prevent Palos Park from annexing four properties totaling 1,400 acres of unincorporated Cook County land.
“I will do everything in my power to fight this,” he promised the crowd, encouraging them to do the same by contacting officials in Palos Park and Cook County to express their own displeasure. “I will do whatever I can to stop this.”
The four unincorporated properties in dispute are Cog Hill Golf & Country Club, a public golf course that was home to the PGA’s Western Open from 1991 to 2006; The Gleneagles Country Club; Mid-Iron Golf Course and Ludwigs Feed Store Corp., known locally as Ludwig Farm. Because the properties are adjacent to the village of Lemont, and completely separate from Palos Park, Reaves and everyone who spoke during public comment agreed that it makes no sense to allow the annexation. Lemont had future development plans for the properties, but Palos Park made the first move.
“It is a true misappropriation of what belongs to Lemont. (These properties) have been a part of Lemont forever,” said the mayor.
He pointed out that allowing Palos Park to annex the disconnected properties would split up his own village. “Can you imagine coming to Route 83 and Main Street, and seeing “Welcome to Lemont, and then welcome to Palos Park, and back to Lemont again? It is ridiculous.”
Responding to an audience question, he said the annexation would also break the area into separate ZIP codes.
Palos Park is surrounded by forest preserve district property, and in order for the annexation to work, the village needs to obtain a piece of Cook County Forest Preserve District property that now separates it from the Mid-Iron driving range, at 126th Street and Bell Road. This would meet the requirement that a municipality be contiguous to property it annexes.
Palos Park would provide Lake Michigan water free of charge to a nearby Forest Preserve District police station, and give zoning rights back to the forest preserve district because the village doesn’t want to develop the land.
Reaves said the water issue should be “taken off the table,” because it would be much easier for Lemont to provide the water mains needed for access to Lake Michigan water than Palos Park. “If they really want to pay for Lake Michigan water, we can give it to them,” he said.
Palos Park Mayor John Mahoney has said that the Mid-Iron Golf Course, which did not open this year, could be part of a commercial development in the future. And to officials at the Lemont meeting said there is enough space on the Lundy Farm piece to build about 200 homes, and 400 more on the Gleneagles property.
“(Because the properties would still be within the boundaries of Lemont school districts) It could have a huge impact on our schools,” said Reaves, answering a question from a Boy Scout in his junior year at Lemont High School.
Reaves and others at the meeting said the annexation issue, which has been in discussion since at least 2009, stems from the property owners being “disgruntled” with Lemont, for one reason or another. All the property owners have applied to Palos Park for annexation.
“Whatever has upset these individuals, this shouldn’t be allowed,” said the mayor.
When asked if the deal could go through without support from Lemont residents, Reaves said, “unfortunately, we don’t have any official say in the matter.” Officials acknowledged that what Palos Park is trying to do is legal.
State Sen. Christine Radogno (R-), who lives in Lemont, was at the meeting to hear from residents, and afterward expressed her displeasure with the annexation moves being made by Palos Park and the “wealthy disgruntled landowners”.
“This is terrible public policy, to have a community eight miles away making decisions that will affect this community. It is clear that Palos Park is using the Forest Preserve Board to get around the legislation (against municipalities annexing property not connected to them).
If the Forest Preserve Board of Cook County approves the deal with Palos Park to take ownership of the piece of Forest Preserve property, the annexation can go ahead with the approval of the Palos Park Board. The Forest Preserve Board is made up of the same people as the Cook County Board, and since Cook County Commissioner Sean Morrison (R-17th) lives in Palos Park and supports the annexation, many people expressed resignation about the whole process.
However, residents such as Kathy Hendrickson suggested forming a community group to lobby against it, saying residents might have more influence than officials.
“That is your right to do,” said Reaves, noting that the next meeting of the Cook county Forest Preserve Board is Sept. 8.
Other residents said they will begin attending Palos Park Village Board meetings, which are held at the same time as those in Lemont.
“This has been going on for a long time. Follow the money trail,” said Hendrickson. “I’m saying this because I want you to get fired up. I want you all to fight this,” she said, appealing to residents to lobby against the annexation.
The Rev. Glenn Bergmark, a resident of Lemont since 1965 and chairman of the Environmental Advisory Commission, described the action being taken by Palos Park as “very selfish and self-centered.”
“I’ve seen a lot of annexation attempts over the years, but this is the most egregious.”
Ray Lehner, a resident of the Equestrian Estates subdivision, was more direct. Noting that after much deliberation, residents of his subdivision rejected annexation overtures from Palos Park several years ago. He referred to the neighboring community as a “political predatory parasite.”