Park District takes steps to turn acquired property into green space

Environmental studies have been completed on Old York Road, Hampshire Avenue sites

(Image courtesy of Elmhurst Park District)

ELMHURST — With freshly acquired property in its portfolio, Elmhurst Park District officials are in the beginning stages of exploring how best to separate parcels of land on Old York Road and Hampshire Avenue.

In January, the district purchased a 0.63-acre parcel of land at 207 N. Hampshire Ave. Last month, officials purchased on additional 3.41-acre plot of land at OS761 Old York Road.

The histories behind both properties are vastly different, but they will share a common bond in the future as new parkland that officials hope will compensate for the reduced footprint at Golden Meadows Park, 133 N. Hampshire Ave.

In April, parks officials deeded portions of Golden Meadows Park to the city of Elmhurst in an overture aimed at helping the municipality with its stormwater management efforts.

The park district paid $415,000 for the Hampshire Avenue property, which was a single-family home. Officials purchased the Old York Road site, once home to a trailer park, for $1.55 million.

In an interview with The Elmhurst Titan, James Rogers, executive director of the park district, said a timeline for developing the properties is not etched in stone at this time because a number of steps within the state approvals process need to be realized.

“We’re in the midst of seeking approvals from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources,” Rogers said.

The Old York Road acquisition, in particular, drew scrutiny after the property was closed last month. The park district’s board was not unanimous in the land purchase because of the price tag.

Earlier this year, a residential development company known as True Homes LLC purchased the site for $1 million with plans of eventually building nine homes. The park district, in turn, paid True Homes $1.55 million for the land.

Rogers defended the purchase price, pointing out that True Homes did make improvements to the land, which has hosted a dilapidated, boarded up office structure and garage. Much of the land is overgrown with vegetation – the result of at least eight years of abandonment.

The $1.55 million price tag, Rogers said, is a reflection of the value the homes would have had if the parcel was developed for single-family residential use.

“We had looked at a number of properties,” Rogers said. “This was the second least expensive.”

IDNR is intricately involved in the transactions for several reasons, most notably reviewing environmental conditions at the two sites.

The park district, in doing its due diligence, recently enlisted ECS Midwest LLC, a firm specializing in environmental consulting services, to examine the two sites.

Although ECS officials recognized there were so-called data gaps in their historical analysis of the properties, no irregularities were noted at either location. Environmental conditions at nearby properties were included in the analysis.

The timeline for developing the parcels is one of two unknowns. The other is how specifically the land will be used.

“We have not identified anything specifically, but the DNR does require us to use the land for public outdoor use,” Rogers said. “We won’t be putting any buildings on the sites, other than, possibly, bathrooms.”

The park district held a public hearing July 27 on future land use possibilities. Rogers said about 30 people attended the hearing and offered up generally positive feedback on the land acquisitions.

Rogers said several recurring themes surfaced during the hearing. Some attendees, for instance, expressed interest in a dog park, while others desired a traditional playground structure at one of the locales.

Another group of hearing participants expressed interest in using the land as a purely natural area with walking trails that could tie into a fitness theme.

Public Hearing Presentation by The Elmhurst Titan on Scribd