The Misunderstood Fort Sheridan Deed Restriction

Fort Sheridan Forest Preserve
Quick-growing grasses at Fort Sheridan Forest Preserve will soon make the area accessible to the public

The entire debate about the Fort Sheridan Forest Preserve land use hinges on a restrictive covenant jointly negotiated between the US Army and the Joint Planning Commission, a community-based group. The deed restriction was not part of the Federal law that passed this land from the US government to the Lake County Forest Preserve District government. This is contrary to uninformed statements made by many residents of the Town of Fort Sheridan and disingenuous policies & statements issued by the cities of Highwood and Highland Park.

Here is the relevant portion of the deed conveying the land:

IV. Restrictive Covenant on the Use of the Property

The land herein conveyed 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.

Nobody questions the existence of this restrictive covenant. More accurately, almost every person involved in this discussion agrees that if the words “golf course” did not appear in this paragraph, this unimaginable waste of time and resources would not be taking place and a golf course wouldn’t even be considered. So, one must ask themselves, why did the Secretary of the Army dictate that this land should be a golf course until the end of time? What, exactly, did the Secretary of the Army know about forever? And why does the Secretary of the Army care?

In fact, the Army merely intended to oversee the orderly transition of this property to the local governments. From the Army’s perspective, if the Joint Planning Committee could agree on the land use consistent with the Act of Congress, it was fine with them. The Army couldn’t give a flying filibuster about a golf course. They don’t care.

So who cared? The Joint Planning Commission, constituted in 1994, cared. And I’m not going to second guess them.  A lot of good people spent a lot of time divvying up some of the most prime acreage in the country. And I have no doubt some horses got traded.  Among those were the interests of the property developers who saw a golf course as an attractive amenity that might boost sales and the County who, 16 years ago, was enjoying positive cash flow from its municipal golf course operations.

So it was the Joint Planning Commission, representatives of local governments, who dictated these restrictions in the restrictive covenant. It was not, as many would have us believe, an Act of Congress. And just as easily, it is the local governments who can lift this restriction. In light of today’s realities, as well they should.

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