It's all over but the lawsuits.
I haven't written much about my Don Quixote-like windmill in the last several months. In March, the Lake County Forest Preserve District (LCFPD) Board . In correspondence released earlier this month, the US Army told Highwood Mayor Charlie Pecaro that fulfilled the LCFPD commitment to the Fort Sheridan land, not and as the deed currently reads.
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With this revised interpretation, the Army is basically washing their hands of any involvement in what happens next. The LCFPD Board and Administration could not have asked for a better letter. In fact the LCFPD has never actually contacted the Army about their desire to vacate the deed restriction; a recent FOIA request came back with only a copy of the letter to Highwood and, oddly, a notation that the rest of the FOIA was denied as the property is currently involved in a sale or purchase. I have no idea what part of the Fort Sheridan Forest Preserve could be subject to a real estate transaction at present, and publicly, LCFPD is basically saying the whole issue is closed. It seems LCFPD can never neatly address any aspect of the Fort Sheridan controversy.
And controversy it still is. At an open house held earlier this week, LCFPD solicited ideas for what plan "B" should be for the Fort Sheridan Forest Preserve. Ironically, that was the question that I raised long ago, in my. At the open house, many attendees penciled in a vote for "golf course," and homeowners in the Town of Fort Sheridan - some of whom spent tens of thousands of dollars on a premium "golf course" residential site - didn't hold back. These homeowners are , since there is clearly no other course of action that will either create the environment that originally existed when the residential community opened a decade ago.
There is still a lot of hue and cry on this issue. Studies are thrown about that claim that golf courses do not raise property values. Yet the Fort Sheridan neighborhood values have declined faster than the rest of Highland Park and Highwood in the years since the old golf course was removed. Town of Fort Sheridan residents elicit little sympathy over their missing golf course, but imagine if suddenly one day the city of Highland Park declared the entire beachfront along Lake Michigan to be public access instead of mostly private. Something that fundamentally changes the character of a community cannot be easily willed away with open houses and cookies. Yet LCFPD has still made no direct overture to the homeowners they have progressively screwed over the last decade.
Can we all move forward? It is interesting to see the property now in consideration for development of additional Forest Preserve facilities. It would be so much better if it was potentially going to the Park District of Highland Park, who actually develop their properties. There could be baseball fields, tennis courts, or even an interpretive center on the beach. Maybe that would
Instead, the Lake County Forest Preserves has a vision that the open field basically remain an open field. They're willing to entertain more paths, or better beach access such as kayaking facilities, but basically, they want to keep it in its natural state. I really do enjoy spending time in the Fort Sheridan Forest Preserve, as well as the Openlands Lakeshore Preserve that is right outside my back door. Still, I will always look at this open field and wonder "what if" the LCPFD actually exhibited some vision for the multi-million dollar property they got for nothing.
If the golf clubhouse had been built, would it have become a neighborhood hangout for the 500 families in the Town of Fort Sheridan and nearby neighbors? Would there be wonderful celebrations like weddings and bar mitzvahs on the bluff over Lake Michigan? It seems like we will never know, because LCFPD is more interested in open field picnicking -- not even discussing putting in actual picnic benches.
Urban planning is difficult, political and, in this economic climate, unattractive. Yet at the time LCFPD agreed to take this land, they also agreed to put tens of millions of dollars of improvements into it. Permanent restrooms and a paved parking lot isn't the kind of investment I am expecting from LCFPD. It is time to think bigger, either as a way to compensate the communities they have insulted with their removal of the old golf course, or as a way to show they really understand what a treasure they have.
And I don't think we've heard the last about a golf course on the site.
One thing I am sure of -- with no personal offense meant to friends, neighbors, and even relatives, I am really tired of hearing how important the Fort is for birding. There are dozens of public parks along Lake Michigan within five miles (or even 500 feet) of Fort Sheridan Forest Preserve. Open Lands, Morraine Park, Central Park, Lake Forest's city center, Lake Bluff's city center, etc. For some reason, the overbuilding argument against a golf course is never used against birding.
The LCFPD should have much more vision than one special interest group's ideas as they move forward. This week's open house was the start of that effort. Now LCFPD must come back and actually present a real, long-term vision, and one that rewards the Town of Fort Sheridan for being co-stewards of this historic property.