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Lake County Forest Preserve Seeks Dishonorable Discharge

Board voted 22-1 to walk away from a legal commitment to maintain a golf course at Fort Sheridan Preserve.

On Tuesday, the residents and voters of Lake County learned that our elected officials feel no responsibility to their obligations. 

The Lake County Forest Preserves Board voted 22-1 to walk away from a legal commitment to maintain a golf course at Fort Sheridan Preserve. LCFPD will, based on Tuesday's vote, approach the US Army and seek to remove the deed restriction included with the land transfer from the former Army base which stipulated that the land would be a "golf course...in perpetuity."

Thus ends the latest chapter in a decade-long charade perpetuated by LCFPD. During base closure, LCFPD approached the Joint Planning Commission (JPC) with an offer to buy the golf course and surrounding land for $10 million. In what was envisioned as a shining example of public-private partnership, the JPC instead granted the land to LCFPD at no charge, in exchange for LCFPD maintenance of the military cemetery and the commitment to upgrade the public golf course. The future residents of the Town of Fort Sheridan would benefit from being part of a community with numerous amenities, but as a County Forest Preserve property, those same amenities would be available to everyone, not just the neighborhood.

Over the last decade, LCFPD has reversed course in a painful display of political filibuster. First, they put the project out to bid in 2004 with so many orthogonal requirements that the bids came in millions of dollars over budget. Meanwhile, LCFPD removed the existing golf course, at the time claiming it was to prepare for the new one. Then LCFPD decided to make a mountain out of a molehill, literally, and litigated with the Town of Fort Sheridan developer over a pile of dirt that LCFPD could easily have prevented from being created in the first place. Once the litigation was resolved, LCFPD formed an advisory committee out of a curious mix of representatives, who ultimately made the weak recommendation to compromise on a 9-hole golf course and open space. LCFPD still didn't think that was enough of a death knell for the effort, so they authored a request for proposal (RFP) which created such unfavorable conditions for bidders that none of over 900 golf course developers who received the RFP would consider submitting a proposal.

Tuesday's meeting was filled with political theater and revisionist history. Claims included: The old golf course was closed because of the dirt pile litigation; the LCFPD golf courses are losing money; nobody bid on the RFP because of the climate for golf; that it would cost anywhere from $10-$24 million to build a golf course on the site. Over the years, all of these claims have been refuted with facts. The opposition's frequent argument that another golf course at Fort Sheridan would harm neighboring courses also surfaced again, as if LCFPD ever weighed competition in developing other County properties in the past. 

In short, the behavior of LCFPD elected officials and staff yesterday was worse than a child caught in a lie… they continue to this day to stack one half-truth upon the next in the story of Fort Sheridan.

In my very first Patch column 15 months ago, I asked the question "" I believed, then as now, that if LCFPD was going to renege on the commitment to build a golf course, at least they should develop an alternative site proposal for this lakefront property, rich in history. Over the last year, I have suggested they , who have built a wonderful preserve at Fort Sheridan - just a few blocks south of the Lake County property. Instead, LCFPD voted Tuesday, in my opinion audaciously and dishonestly, to approach the US Army to remove its legal commitment to operate a golf course at Fort Sheridan -- without a plan B. According to Commissioner Anne Bassi, a new master plan for the site would be developed if the LCFPD is successful in removing the deed restriction.

As a resident of the Fort Sheridan community that is upholding its end of the deal -- privately maintaining historic buildings, open space and even ravines -- this is the ultimate slap in the face from LCFPD. By its action, LCFPD is saying that they need not worry about what the residents think or anyone else -- they just want permission to walk away from a contract. Today it is the golf course at Fort Sheridan; what existing commitment will they renege on next? Will they continue to maintain the military cemetery? Can we expect the Parade Ground to be mowed this summer? Will the beach access be cut off? Where else in Lake County will the LCFPD staff and board consider walking away from legal obligations?

It would be so much easier if the LCFPD had invested half the energy they've used getting out of the golf course into a consensus plan for what to do with the land instead. I still think the site can be a successful and profitable golf course, especially if combined with a banquet facility/clubhouse overlooking Lake Michigan. But instead of bringing my ideas or anyone else's forward to the Army as a consensus community roadmap, LCFPD has simply said they will worry about what comes next later. 

Given its decade-plus track record of failed promises on this property, I don't see how anyone -- including the US Army -- can trust the LCFPD intentions. Everyone in Lake County, for or against the golf course, should be extremely concerned about the precedent set by voting to walk away from this commitment. If our own Lake County elected officials refuse to stand up for their own honor and promise, perhaps the best outcome now would be for the US Army to act as a parent, and take back the toy from the child who has misbehaved. 

Clearly there are better stewards for this property than LCFPD.

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Bob Levi March 16, 2012 at 02:18 PM
To both Johns regarding their posts about a gun range at the Fort: You may not be aware that a number of years ago the City of HP held some nine years of hearings with the residents about what to do about "our" deer herd. Too many folks were concerned about personal and propery incidents involving licensed sharp shooters twho would be hired to cull (read kill) some of the deer. To my knowledge, I've never heard of any incidents in other communities due to culling deer using shooters firing down from trees where deer bait has been placed at the bottom of the tree and stones cleared to reduce the likelihood of richochets.. Guns are not a popular subject in our fair city. However, I have a friend who is the past president of an Isaak Walton League of America conservation group with a beautiful 53-are facility in a populated suburb of Washington, DC. They shoot skeet and have a gun range. Have you check with any local IWLA chapters for a gun range?
Lake County Conservative March 16, 2012 at 02:56 PM
I too personally would love a gun range added to Lake County including at Ft. Sheridan. But that's a personal want. I think the point here is the deed when it was legally transacted clearly required a golf course to run with the land. It's not about what I or others want. It's about what the deed called for when people bought their properties in the area and the legal commitment of the property owner when the mental midgets bulldozed the existing course.
Lake County Conservative March 16, 2012 at 03:10 PM
Let's put it this way. If the deed had originally called for a gun range and some had bought in the area for that purpose, then the county officials renegged on that commitment asking for the Army to after-the-fact remove that deed restriction simply because those who had destroyed the existing range no longer wanted to pay for it, people would literally be up-in-arms. And they'd be right.
Thomas Holmes March 17, 2012 at 08:37 PM
Ah - I agree with the Johns - a nice gun range for all the Lake County residents to use - there is a range going in at crystal lake with a $250 membership fee, imagine 1000 members at Ft Sheridan for the same price - $250,000 a year and you can even have the membership maintain the course, and the membership would provide the range officers - so Lake Co could pick up an additional $250,000 plus a year for basically nothing - toss in a nice archery range and I am sure another 100,000 or so could be garnered - but with 10% of the County owned by LCFPD there just does not seem to be enough space for a small gun range or archery range. Time to vote out the anti-gun board members and get some pro-gun activity going here, so that not only do the joggers and walkers get their access but everyone else that pays for it gets theirs as well.
Thomas Holmes March 17, 2012 at 08:42 PM
BTW - was it mentioned that LCFPD got the land for free - all that was required was the golf course and the cemetary - so easy that no on could muck it up - but it just reaffirms my faith in politics as the board managed to muck it up big time (most likely intentionally!) - Bulldozer BTC at the helm. Time to VOTE - take a look at each and every board member that voted to renege on the deed and Vote Them OUT!! Also I hope the Army takes back the land and resells it to someone else under the same obligation - Lake Co does not deserve the land.

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