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Lake County Board Candidates Nearly Unanimous on Not Building Golf Course at Fort Sheridan

Answer questions at recent League of Women Voters forum.

 

Candidates for the Lake County Board may face an identity crisis, but there is no lack of issues for them to debate.

Many people may not really know or understand the role of the Lake County Board, but three Democratic and two Republican candidates for District 13, which encompasses Lake Bluff, Gages Lake, Wildwood and parts of Gurnee, North Chicago and Waukegan, will be on the March 20 primary ballot.

The Democratic candidates include:

Robert Glueckert: A 30-year resident of Lake County. He is running for office for the first time. Is a private business owner. Lives in the furthest western part of District 13.  He is looking to reduce taxes and bring in new business.

Anthony Soler: He bills himself as not a career politician. he has never run for an office and never held one. He has lived in Lake County most of his life. His is a Navy veteran and a Navy deep sea diver. He has worked as a firefighter/paramedic for the Waukegan Fire Department since 1997. He is stepping forward to offer voters a different choice than your typical cookie cutter politician.

Sandy Hart:The :ake Bluff resident will bring a strong background in community service and business. She worked at Kraft Foods for 14 years and oversaw a $4 million budget. She currently serves on the Lake Bluff Park District board and the Lake Forest Hospital women's board. She has three priorities: strengthening the business community and growing the job market; financial accountability and transparency, and preservation of open space policies.

The Republican candidates include:

Rick Lesser: The Lake Bluff resident is a small businessman and attorney. Lesser has been involved as a community leader for many years. He served as a trustee on the Lake Bluff Village board for the last eight years. Lesser has been president of six different organizations, including the Lake County Bar Association and Lake Forest-Lake Bluff Chamber of Commerce. He views government as a partner with business.

David Barkhausen: The Lake Bluff resident cites his strong record of accomplishment in holding prior public offices. He spent 16 years in the State legislature, 1981-1997. He served the Lake Bluff Village Board for eight years, six years as its finance chairman, and has bdeen Shields Township Clerk since 2005. He is familiar with all of the areas in District 13 since he represented it for at least 10 of the 16 years he was in the legislature.

The five candidates answered questions in the Feb. 19 candidate forum sponsored by the League of Women Voters-Lake Forest/Lake Bluff Area (LWV) and Lake Forest-Lake Bluff Patch at Lake Bluff Elementary School. The questions were drawn from the LWV, Patch and audience members. Here is a cross-section of those questions and their responses.

 

  • What should be done about Route 53, should it be extended and how would it be funded? 

Rick Lesser: 

"The only way to fund Route 53 is through the Illinois Tollway Authority. That is the only agency with the funds and ability to get the job done. The road needs to be built. We have a daughter at the University of Iowa. When we drive on Interstate 88, you see lots of new buildings, lots of businesses operating there. We would have a similar development in Lake County if we could only build Route 53. Now the County Board cannot do that in itself. The county needs to continue to lobby the Illinois Tollway Authority and Springfield to get the road built. They have done a referendum and it showed great support."

Sandy Hart:

"I am in favor of building the extension. 76 percent of voters voted yes for Highway 53. The Illinois Tollway Commission did form a group to ensure the highway is built in a way that relieves congestion and improves mobiilty. It does have to make sure it does not impact neighboring communities, the wetlands in the area and there are some organic farms that are right near that roadway. In terms of paying for it, I agree with Mr. Lesser that it has to be done through the Illinois Tollway Authority. But it will be expensive. Approxiamtely $2.2 billion, and additional land that needs to be purchased. I understand only 70 percent of the land has been purchased."

David Barkhausen:

"This has been an issjue for 40 years. I voted for it when I was in the state legislature. There is currently a so-called Blue Ribbon Advisory Committee made up of county, building and environmental representatives under the Illinois Tollway Authority. They have five different alternative designs. So this is an ongoing issue, and those of us running for office and possibly getting elected need to be cognizant of what is being done and help to advance their work."

Robert Glueckert:

"I am in favor of Route 53 and the Illinois Tollway Authority essentially providing the funds. We can keep trying to bring down taxes and bring down the rate, but at same time, we need to bring new business here. One of the core basics that government brings to its residents is infrastructure, and one of those is improving the existing highway system."

Anthony Soler:

"Route 53 needs to be built with Illinois Tollway Authority funds. It will take cars off the existing roads that we are using right now. There is no other way to go north and south but Interstate 94 and Route 41. When Route 53 is built, there will be some relief. The Lake County Board has little or no impact on that; all we can do is put pressure on the people who make those decisions.

 

  • What should be done with the Fort Sheridan Golf Course. Should a golf course be built, and how would it be funded. 

Robert Glueckert:

"Not in favor of it. While there is a concern about liability or lawsuits that may come about as a result of that, whether it’s from individual homeowners or the government that has deeded the property to us, I don’t think we will lose that property. I don’t think the Army is going to take it back. To add a golf course to that property at this particular time would turn around not only lessen the amount of business going to the three county courses that are being subsided and effect private courses as well. We should turn the property into a forest preserve area."

Anthony Soler:

"The deed says the property shall be a golf course and recreational open space in accordance with the Ft. Sheridan Joint Planning Commission Concept Plan dated in September of 1994. So I went back and looked it up. That is an 18-hole golf course that they jointly agreed it should be. This is legally binding. This land was given to Lake County for free. The county was willing to pay $10 million for it and it’s valued at well over $50 million. We need to find a way to bid it out. If you look at it as a $50 million piece of property for free to the county, we need to find a way to build it."

Rick Lesser:

"The number of rounds of golf played every year in this area have been consistently dropping over the past decade. The golf course makes absolutely no sense as a practical matter. The county did promise to do this. But like a lot of promises that are made if they can’t be kept, then people should be compensated for that. I don’t think the Army wants the land back. I don’t think they will take it back. The people who bought homes there, their homes are not worth any less for not having the golf course and instead having open lands there. The property is worth the same thing. They are not being harmed by this. I think it should not be built. It would be bad for the other county golf courses, the Lake Bluff Golf Course, Lake Forest’s Deerpath and Highland Park’s Sun Valley golf courses."

Sandy Hart: 

"I was selected to participate in the Ft. Sheridan Advisory Committee. I already voted against putting a golf course there. I do feel for the homeowners that live there, and I will say it was not 100 percent of the homeowners that wanted a golf course. But for those who did purchase their land hoping that would be the case, they did not lose any value. In fact, research shows open space can actually add more value to an area home than a golf course. Most importantly to me, I believe that land is invaluable and unique. It is 258 acres of land right on Lake Michigan. It adds incredible value to the residents and visitors of Lake County."

David Barkhausen:

"I agree with three of the four prior speakers. I have been on record opposing the golf course and have been active lobbying Lake County board members to oppose it."

 

  • How would you ensure that the zoning, road maintenance and similar needs of unincorporated areas are met? 

Rick Lesser:

"The county controls the zoning in the unincorporated areas. Our district includes a large area of unincorporated Lake County, particularly in the Gages Lake/Wildwood areas. It’s critical to update our zoning code. It’s the Unified Development Ordinance. It reads like it’s written in the 1950s as far as classifications of businesses. It forces businesses new uses to come in on bended knee to ask for special use permits rather than give them good classifications so a business can know, 'Yes, I have the right to operate my business in this area'. We have too few classifications and too antiquated classifications. We need to bring the UDO code into the 21st century. If we did that, we would find a lot of our businesses would expand and operate and we would have new businesses operating in area like Gages Lake."

Sandy Hart:

"The more we can work with area businesses, whether they are in a municipality or in an unincorporated area, that’s very critical. Mr. Lesser brought up an excellent point that we should always be reviewing the rules and regulations that either help or hinder businesses from coming to the county. The unincorporated area is an excellent area for opportunities for business. We need to do everything possible to bring more businesses to Lake County and retain them."

David Barkhausen:

"The significant unincorporated areas that we seek to represent, The Arden Shore subdivisions just north of Lake Bluff and the very large areas in Wildwood and Gages Lake are really completely residential. The issues we need to be mindful of are adequate law enforcement, putting an emphasis on patrolling by the sheriff’s office; enforce the nuisance ordinance - the creative new way to handle nuisance complaints through an administrative procedure rather than requiring people to go to court. Implement it so it truly serves the residents there; assist with creation and operation of neighborhood watch programs through cooperation with the sheriff’s office – and water supply – as a legislator I helped to create the Central Lake County Water District that extended Lake Michigan water to Lake Bluff for the first time and to the unincorporated areas."

Robert Glueckert:

"I live in one of the unincorporated areas on the far west end of the 13th District. I live just on the north side of Route 120 where it narrows down to 2 lanes. I experience on a daily basis a half hour to a 45-minute wait between the light at Hunt Club and Route 120, and that first light on Mill Street after Route 120 is narrowed to 2 lanes. I sympathize with the people in Woodland Meadows, which is the subdivision just north of there, that is now receiving traffic off of Hunt Club Road, cutting through that subdivision to get over to Mill Street to avoid that 20-30 minute backup. One of my first priorities to see where and whom we talk to in the state to get that issue resolved."

Anthony Soler:

"That whole corridor on 120 going west from Almond Road is a bottleneck. It needs to be four lanes. It’s not fair to everyone who lives west of there. It’s the very farthest west point of District 13. Needs to be addressed immediately. On a county level, there should be less red tape. If someone wants to get a building permit, it doesn’t need to take as long as it does. We still need to follow rules and regulations and do things safety. But when government gets too big, so prohibitive to do building and business in he county, why would anyone want to do that."

 

  • What should be done with Winchester House, close it, repair it or build a new one? 

Sandy Hart:

"We need to be looking to the future. Right now, we may believe there are enough beds at other nursing homes. With projections of baby boomers retiring and needing care, we need to make sure we have enough beds for them. Those other private facilities will be filling up with people who can pay a little more than our Medicaid patients. I am in favor of keeping it."

David Barkhausen:

"I believe the evidence shows and the prior leadership of the Lake County Health Department even though it was muted at the time, believes that the capacity in private nursing homes is adequate for the population generally and particularly Medicaid dependent patients. I question whether the taxpayers should have to spend $40 million on a brand new facility under those circumstances. And I don’t think there is another candidate in the race that is taking that position."

Robert Glueckert:

"I support building a new Winchester House, and I support the County board’s decision to hire an outside contractor to provide the services there."

Anthony Soler:

"I think we need to take care of our elderly community. It’s a fact that Lake County and America is getting older. As a paramedic, I go into these private nursing homes. You are comparing apples to oranges when it comes to Winchester House. The Lake County Board voted 21-1 to build it. The money is there."

Rick Lesser: 

"Winchester House has been providing care since 1947 for our community. I think it is an important part of the community. It is self funding. It has not been costing the taxpayers money. There are just not enough Medicaid beds in this county. Until that happens, I would not want to see, especially in this recession, elderly people thrown out with nowhere to go. As long as it can be kept self-funding, then we should keep it."

For more news and updates from Lake Forest-Lake Bluff Patch, "like" us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter.

Sonny Cohen February 26, 2012 at 05:18 PM
Fire your headline writer. Five candidates addressed the Fort Sheridan golf course issue and four unambiguously oppose it. That's hardly a split. It's more like a landslide.
Jim Powers February 26, 2012 at 05:34 PM
Thanks, Sonny. You're right. The headline was incorrect. I have fixed it to reflect the near unanimous support to not build it. Thanks for your input.
Sonny Cohen February 27, 2012 at 05:55 AM
Thanks for the consideration.
Lisa Marea February 27, 2012 at 06:12 AM
How unfortunate that those running for public office do not understand that they have a binding agreement with the United States Army to build (they could have simply maintained the one they had but they closed it) a golf course. Do they plan on giving the property back to the United States Army? Will they spend millions more dollars of tax payers money to fight the agreement they made to get out of the agreement? What will they do with the property if they are able to get out of the agreement? The property sits squarely off roadways that do NOT support the kind of very heavy traffic that Independence Grove or the many other Forest preserve properties do? Will they leave it the perpetual weed patch it has become? Will they sell some of the property to build condominiums to support the rest of the Forest Preserve properties in other parts of the county? It is nearly 15 years since I cast a vote in support of the Lake County Forest preserve getting the property from the United States Army for free, if they are able to rescind their promise to me, am I able to withdraw my vote? Voters throughout the county have been mislead by the current county board and staff. It is unfortunate that those running for office now have been drinking their koolaid. I hope that when new members come on they will do their homework so that they discover that Lake County residents have been harmed by the decision to delay the inevitable and they move to keep their side of a very binding contract.
Sonny Cohen February 27, 2012 at 06:49 AM
Lisa, you have a choice to run for office or vote for the one guy who supports the golf course. As far as the property is concerned, by Act of Congress (not agreement with the Army), the land is committed to open space, not condos or Walmarts, etc. And the land transfer requiring a golf course was dictated by the communities involved in the plan, not the US Army. A lot has happened to golf in the 15 years since you supported the land acquisition. It has been pretty well demonstrated that a golf course of any stripe would be the more costly alternative as well as detrimental to all existing and struggling municipal courses. It would seem that most people in Lake County who have followed this matter are convinced that the real harm would be from the cost of developing and operating a new golf course in an over-saturated golf course market. Certainly a very small group of people are disappointed and the promises made in another era has been a delicate issue. The decision to change directions based on careful review of the economics is a brave one based on several years of study and deliberation and not caprice.
Lisa Marea February 27, 2012 at 08:08 AM
Sonny, how unfortunate that you are giving (once again) the impression that it is the local governments that bind the Forest preserve to the committment of a golf course. It is the covenent, deeding the property to the Lake County Forest preserve for free, with the stipulation that a golf course be on the property. That covenent is what makes the Forest preserve continue to investigate a golf course, if there were no legal requirement would there be any further discussion on the topic? I know that you are opposed to the course, that's ok, but opposed or not, the covenent stands.. As far as a small group of people being disappointed if the course is not built, how many people will be disappointed once its announced what will be built instead? In 15 years of the forest preserve arguing against the golf course, they have never once announced what their plans are. It's time that they did so. Will they set up picnic tables on the parade ground? Will they build a site to have weddings and concerts? Will they build play grounds built of tires? Will they care for the cemetary? Will they mow the weeds? We have heard for YEARS what they will not do, but Sonny, what WILL they DO? You claim they have changed direction...they must know where they are going. If after 15 years they do not have plans for the replacement, how can their decision be anything but capricious? And still the convenant stands and taxpayers dollars are being frittered away. Koolaid Sonny!
Sonny Cohen February 27, 2012 at 03:02 PM
Lisa, You're right. This covenant with the four words, "golf course in perpetuity" is the source of this problem. But the covenant is not the Ten Commandments. It's man-made law which represents bad public policy and it has to be remediated. Not only should the covenant not stand, government is obligated to adapt policy to the times. When government is inflexible, we criticize that as well. It's the basis on which we now have civil rights, women's rights, etc. Times change, we must too. I have listened to this fear mongering about what this area will become for almost 4 years. It is entirely disingenuous. In fact, we have been fortunate to see modest and incremental improvement in the area as a public asset. The "weed field" you refer to denigrates your own neighborhood. In fact, what's there is fast-growing rye and black-eyed susan which the district has trimmed each year after the bird nesting season. This serves as basic soil stablilization while the land use issues are being worked out. The cemetery has been and continues to be maintained as well as upgraded with new pavement and fencing. There is no question of this. [continued...]
Sonny Cohen February 27, 2012 at 03:02 PM
[continued] There is no intent to build a structure for weddings and concerts. These were already taken out of the golf course/open space hybrid plan. Nobody is advocating for them to be added back into the plan except those who would choose to spread fear, anxiety and mistrust. As far as plans going forward, I think we've all noted the educational Hawk's nest, the nod to the land's history with the model artillery bunker, the disability-accessible asphalt path. There has been no suggestion of tacky. We have the makings of a remarkable, beautiful facility that will add tremendous value to the neighborhood and be a freely accessible public asset for everyone. It is and will be nothing short of spectacular. I'm sorry you seem to want to see this fail to prove your point and be right. For my part, if this is the Kool Aid I'm drinking, pour me another glass.
Lisa Marea February 28, 2012 at 03:24 AM
Sonny, you are remarkable. You have spent a considerable amount of time and energy fighting the building of the golf course both in enthusiasm and in the written word. You are an incredibly good author and able to say touché' at the end of every one of your pieces. I am not as artistically talented as you; I am unable to connect the Ten Commandments, women's suffrage and civil rights with the building of a golf course. You are a brilliant author. Still, after all the exceptional repartee there are so many questions left unanswered about the 250 plus acres of land at Fort Sheridan, donated to the Lake County Forest preserve and the people of Lake County, because of the remarkable 10 year effort (and foresight) of the 3 communities that surround it. Questions like: 1. Has the county been successful in discovering how they will release themselves from the covenant with the Army? Do they risk having to purchase the property or give the property up if the covenant is not met? If they haven’t… 2. How much will the law suit cost the tax payers of Lake County to disengage themselves from the binding covenant with the Army? 3. Since you are professing the county is doing good government by not building the golf course, what plans have they made to replace it? Good government is, after all, planning for the future with figures and facts. How many years does the forest preserve intend to let this incredible property sit undeveloped (and weed enriched?) (cont.)
Lisa Marea February 28, 2012 at 03:27 AM
4. If there is no funding source (golf income, catering site etc.) what will the cost be to develop the secret plan? 5. As there is negligible maintenance performed and as you pointed with some 15 years passing very little has been developed what will the cost be to continue to do next to nothing? 6. How will the maintenance of this property be paid for in perpetuity if there is no income generated? 7. What happened to the money that was passed in the referendum several years ago for the development of the Fort? Is there any money left or has it been spent on other county facilities? 8. Were the scraggly plants that were 3 feet high growing on the parade ground and along Sheridan Road and elsewhere really well maintained prairie flowers? Your writing is delightful and I enjoy hitting the birdie back at you, but after all this time, I would much prefer intelligent responses from the elected officials. I would like to know if they can answer ALL of these questions.
Sonny Cohen February 28, 2012 at 04:56 AM
Lisa, There are answers to many of your questions. But not all. And these are good policy questions begging intelligent responses. I had hoped the recently convened advisory committee might have dug into this. But the subject was so charged that they were "facilitated" into their loser non-consensual recommendation rather than exploring options in a productive way. It was great theater but terrible public policy - again. Permit me, at the risk of touche'ing you to death, comment on a few points. 1. What law suit? Who is the plaintiff? I don't want to bait anyone. But that is not going to happen. Wealthy people don't throw money at losing propositions. That's why they are wealthy. And the municipalities like HP not only don't have the consensus to get behind a lawsuit but are drowning in their own surplus golf course inventory. 2. Referendum money is for land acquisition. Not maintenance. 3. The forest district is actively opening new preserves: Dutch Gap, Mill Creek, Kestrel Ridge, etc. Development & management of these properties is what they do with their budget, in part. Conceivably Fort Sheridan development plans would be part of this with budget allocated. I don't believe they are hunting for money to manage the properties they are acquiring. I do believe they are not acquiring them as they might due to budget constraints. Thanks for comments regarding writing. My goal has always been to build visibility and explore the issues, not to be impressive. <Blush>
Lisa Marea February 28, 2012 at 05:23 AM
Blushing aside Sonny, it is 15 years past the transfer of property. The only thing you can tell me is that your betting rich people won't sue the Forest Preserve because they won't bet on a losing horse (keep stirring the east/west debate Sonny...its whats fueled this horse all this time!) The Forest preserve board has been too busy to make any concrete plans ffor the last 15 years because they are busy making theatre...they only thing they have decided is that they don't want a golf course (even though...once again...there is that sticky little thing that goes along with the free donation of the land called a covenent.) The referendum that was sold (at least in this area) that the funds would be used to redevelop the golf course was not REALLY ever intended to be used for that (imagine that another bit of LCFP drama!) I thank you for trying to inform me and the rest of Lake County about what you beleive, but again, you are not an elected official (just for the record for your readers I was and sat on the Joint Plan Commission that voted on the land use plan) and you are answering for a board that should not so easily be let off the hook. Let me direct this question to candidates. If you do not support a golf course, what do you plan to build at Fort Sheridan? Where will the money come to build it? What are you planning on doing in the meantime and how is that funded? I would love an answer from someone who actually has a vote or would like one!
Anthony Soler February 29, 2012 at 12:15 AM
I am Anthony Soler the only candidate that has taken the position that a golf course should be built on the 250+ acres at the Fort Sheridan property. For the record I own a set of golf clubs but would not consider myself a “golfer”, in fact I did not play a single round of golf in 2011. Most recently the Lake County Board requested bids, for a 9-hole golf course combined with a nature preserve. The Advisory Committee that was appointed in 2009 was misguided and by their actions alone did not seem to understand the guidelines that they had to work under. Instead of finding a solution to reducing the cost to build the required 18-hole golf course that the citizens of Lake County were promised. The Committee attempted to circumvent the legally binding Deed with a 9-hole concept and nature preserve that was destine to fail (and did).First and foremost the Deed has very specific language. To quote from the deed (page 3, item 3) "the property shall be a golf course and recreational open space in perpetuity and not devoted to another use, all in accordance with the Fort Sheridan Joint Planning Commission Concept Plan, dated September 30, 1994." The plan specifically calls for an 18-hole golf course. Nowhere does it have anything about an option for a 9-Hole golf course. Yes the numbers of rounds of golf played each year have been down. The economy has an instrumental part to do with people having less expendable cash for leisure.
Anthony Soler February 29, 2012 at 12:16 AM
(cont..) But that recurring argument is straying from the fact that the deed has a very specific restriction. I believe in keeping promises, and I believe in responsible government. Unless the deed is changed, there should be no discussion on what to do with the land besides how to build an 18-hole golf course (as legally required). Please don’t construe my position as being pro-golf and anti-preserves. That is simply not the case. I am a huge advocate of open spaces and feel that they are necessary to preserving our environment and also key in reducing the burden on our infrastructures. My position is based on keeping promises and abiding by the legally binding deed. Government should have to follow the same regulations and standards that everyday citizens are held to.

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