Kadner: Cook County’s land grab costly to Orland Park
By Phil Kadner firstname.lastname@example.org October 17, 2012 5:08PM
The Orland Grassland near Orland Park. The village is upset over the Cook County Forest Preserve District's purchase of adjacent land that will be used to expand the Grassland.
Updated: November 19, 2012 3:13PM
Orland Park and other local governments stand to lose millions of dollars in tax revenue as a result of the Cook County Forest Preserve District’s purchase of 161 acres of farmland adjacent to the Orland Grassland preserve.
In a strongly worded letter protesting the land acquisition (obtained under the Illinois Freedom of Information Act), Orland Park Mayor Dan McLaughlin states his village was never consulted about the purchase.
The letter was hand-delivered on Oct. 2, but Cook County officials ignored Orland Park’s plea to reconsider and finalized the land deal Oct. 5.
“This is one of the last largest parcels of land available for development in the Village of Orland Park,” McLaughlin stated, noting that it was zoned for residential development, not open space, and part of the village’s long-range planning process.
“Given its proximity to the I-80 interchange, LaGrange Road and other existing residential development, the long term development potential for this property remains high.”
“We estimate that nearly $200,000 per year in future real estate taxes will be foregone by both the Village and the County,” McLaughlin wrote.
“Nearly $1 million in annual property taxes would be lost by (Orland) School District 135 and over $700,000 to (Consolidated High School District) 230.
“In addition, based on the approved development plan, we estimate nearly $7.5 million would be lost in development fees for the school district, the village and the library (district).
“None of this takes into account the many construction and development jobs that would at some point be created from development of this parcel.”
The property, obtained for $8 million by the forest preserve district, is bordered roughly by 179th Street on the north, 183rd Street on the south, LaGrange Road on the east and 104th Avenue on the west.
Directly to the north, across 179th Street, is the existing 960-acre Orland Grassland preserve.
Arnold Randall, general superintendent of the forest preserve district, said by buying the property the district assured it will remain open land for the enjoyment of people in Orland Park and beyond.
“The property had been on the market for years, was adjacent to the Orland Grassland preserve and was available to us at a very good price. If we hadn’t purchased the property, it is likely someone else would have bought it,” he said.
“It’s not like we came in out of nowhere to buy the property. It had been fallow and for sale for years.”
“We would not consider selling the property,” Randall said.
Although McLaughlin (a Democratic committeeman) and Cook County Commissioner Elizabeth Doody Gorman (R-Orland Park) have butted heads in the past, village officials refused to point the finger at Gorman for failing to represent their interests.
“The mayor and our county commissioner have a good, respectful relationship and she has a good relationship with the village,” Orland Park spokesman Joseph LaMargo said.
Gorman said county board members received McLaughlin’s letter on Oct. 2, a day prior to an Oct. 3 forest preserve district board meeting, and her efforts to get the board to reconsider its vote on the land purchase failed.
“Generally, if you have 48 hours notice you can get an item on the agenda,” she said. “But I didn’t have enough time.
“Still, there might have been a possibility of doing something, but (Commissioner) Larry Suffredin (D-Evanston) used all the legalese he could muster to prevent reconsideration.”
Gorman said the full county board had voted on the land purchase at its Sept. 11 meeting and she was a “yes” vote at the time.
“Listen, I wanted to get this reconsidered because obviously there was a serious error, by the village or whoever, and this is going to cost the village a lot of money, in addition to the school districts, fire protection district and ultimately taxpayers.
“If they would have notified me earlier I believe I could have gotten a vote to reconsider.
“But (Orland Park) village manager Paul Grimes didn’t contact me until the Friday before that Tuesday (Oct. 3 forest preserve board) meeting. I understand the mayor contacted other county commissioners before they called me. If they had notified me earlier, I might have been able to help.”
Asked if there was now any possibility the forest preserve district would sell the land back to Orland Park, Gorman said, “No.”
“I talked to them and it is a longstanding policy of the forest preserve district not to sell land it has acquired. They just won’t do it.”
I also wondered if it was standard practice for Cook County and the Forest Preserve District not to notify local municipalities when they are considering buying land.
“You don’t notify a potential competitor when you’re negotiating a land purchase,” Gorman said.
McLaughlin noted in his letter that the former Lauffer Farm was part of Orland Park’s long-term planning and that in 2007 the village approved annexation, with expectations of a 406-unit subdivision.
As part of that plan 53 acres would have remained open space and a 2.5-acre park would have been developed.
“Due to the economic recession and the impact upon new residential development, the annexation agreement was not executed by the property owner and the proposed development did not move forward.
“We see little value in taking highly attractive developable property off the County and Village tax rolls for a questionable benefit — and paid for out of bond proceeds,” McLaughlin wrote.
“Had the Village been consulted at the outset, we would have made this clear long before this late hour.”
In addition to the residential development, Orland officials told me they anticipated high-tech and office development on the property as part of an I-80 corridor plan.
Orland Park officials said in addition to the loss of potential tax revenue, the village spent $6.4 million on Orland Parkway, which it intended to recover through impact fees when the former farmland was developed.
Orland Park officials emphasized that the village is already surrounded by 5,000 acres of forest preserve district property, has 266 acres of its own open lands and has been aggressive in pursing a policy to preserve such spaces.
It’s likely any development of the controversial property might have been years down the road.
But it’s easy to foresee how this communications blunder among government officials could prove costly to local taxpayers down the road.