Lake County Forest Board Confronts Fort Sheridan Land Dispute

Lake County Forest Preserve Board to consider Fort Sheridan land use dispute May 10, 2011 and June 14, 2011.

 In our attention deficit world of news sound bites and 140 character tweets it is not surprising that many people believe the Fort Sheridan land dispute is not only a settled issue but that the golf course proposal is dead.  Well, it should be. But this is not the case. The issue is very much alive. The development of a golf course is a very real possibility. And the main event may very well be occurring in the next few weeks.

Following is an email summary recently distributed by County Forest Board Commissioner Anne Flanigan Bassi:

from countyafb@comcast.net
to
date Mon, Apr 11, 2011 at 8:48 AM
subject Ft. Sheridan Forest Preserve

The Ft. Sheridan Forest Preserve property is an environmental, educational, recreational and historical treasure for the Residents of Lake County.  Over the course of the next few months, Forest Preserve Board will be discussing the next step in the process of developing this unique preserve at the following meetings:

Forest Preserve Board meeting April 12, 2011, County Building, 10th Floor, 11:00 a.m., or 30 minutes following the County Board meeting, whichever is earlier:

  • Executive Director Hahn will give a brief presentation of the Fort Sheridan project history to the board for the benefit of new Board members.

Forest Preserve Board meeting May 10, 2011, County Building, 10th Floor, 11:00 a.m., or 30 minutes following the County Board meeting, whichever is earlier.

  • Advisory Committee Facilitator Susan Parks will present a summary of the Fort Sheridan Advisory Committee Report to the Board of Commissioners during its regularly scheduled board meeting.
  • Staff will review the financial aspects and implications of the project will be presented by District staff.

Forest Preserve Board meeting June 14, 2011, County Building, 10th Floor, 11:00 a.m., or 30 minutes following the County Board meeting, whichever is earlier:

  • The Board of Commissioners will continue discussion regarding the Ft. Sheridan Advisory Committee plan, options and financial issues at its regularly scheduled board meeting.  Potentially, the board could reach a decision at this meeting regarding the next step in the process.

Fort Sheridan Forest Preserve History

The 259 acre Fort Sheridan Preserve, which included Lake Michigan beachfront, bluffs, ravines, open space and golf course, was transferred to the Forest Preserves District by the U. S. Department of the Army in three increments between 1999 and 2001, and the District received the final deed in 2002.  The property was accepted by the Forest Preserve District on behalf of Lake County residents, and the transfer was subject to a deed restriction stipulating that use of the property is restricted to public open space and a golf course.  Forest Preserve maintenance of the Ft. Sheridan Cemetery was also part of the transfer agreement.

We are fortunate to have received this valuable property from the Army.   For more information of the site’s history and characteristics, please visit http://www.lcfpd.org/preserves/index.cfm?fuseaction=home.view&object_id=163&type=SF

Forest Preserve referenda in 1993 and 1999 allocated $5.5 million toward public access, road and restoration improvements on the property.  Over the years, other funding from the Land Development Levy, Insurance Fund, grant funding and litigation settlement has been added to the $5.5 million.  To date, approximately $7 million has been expended on restoration of Hutchinson Ravine (for which the District won national awards), Janes Ravine, roads, trail bridge, a Lake Michigan bike/walking trail connecting to the McClory Trail, a wood chip trail along the wooded ravine, a stormwater management channel to protect the restored ravines from future erosion, demolition of structures, dirt pile remediation and litigation costs.

Completion of the initial ravine, trail and public access work in the spring of 2006 provided Lake County residents with access to the Preserve’s wooded ravines and Lake Michigan beaches and bluffs, among Illinois’ most unique natural resources.

Golf Course:

In the fall of 2003, with declining revenues and deteriorating course conditions, the District closed the old golf course anticipating, in good faith, that the reconstruction of the course would begin in 2004.

The bids received in 2004 were more than $5 million over the budget estimates supplied to the Commissioners at the time they approved the project.  While the voter-approved referendum funds are specifically designated for public access and restoration improvements, all Forest Preserve golf courses are accounted for in an Enterprise fund.  Golf operations, including operating expenses and debt service to retire loans incurred to develop the course, are financed from course revenues.

Litigation:

During the course of bidding on the project, the District was also working aggressively toward closeout of the agreement with the residential developer, the Town of Ft. Sheridan, LLC (TOFS), to remove the illegal “open dump” of 235,000 cubic yards of dirt that TOFS had stored on the Forest Preserve property, and to demolish structures in accordance with our contract with TOFS.  Since these stockpiles have a major impact on the design, budget and construction of the course, the District was unable to move forward on evaluating golf course options until the litigation was resolved.

Public Access & Restoration 2005-2006:

While the lawsuit was in process, the following public access improvements moved forward and opened to the public:

• Trails and parking opened

• Natural areas improved

• Trailside exhibits installed

• Educational curriculum completed

• Military cemetery enhanced

Post-Litigation 2008-2009

The lawsuit settled following 3+ years of negotiations.  The Forest Preserve District used funding from the settlement to help pay for processing the stockpiles, separating debris that requires disposal from usable, clean fill. Remaining clean fill was used to:

• Sculpt the surrounding landscape of the old airfield

• Reroute storm water

• Support future use of the site: The recently completed earthmoving was designed to support use of the area for a golf course or other public use.

In June of 2009, the Forest Preserve Board of Commissioners considered resolutions to prepare specifications to re-bid the Ft. Sheridan Golf Course.  Under consideration were two options:  (1) the existing master plan course originally bid in 2004 (which had come in almost $5 million over budget five years earlier) and (2) a scaled-down, value-engineered course.  The cost to prepare bidding specifications for architectural, engineering and construction contracts was estimated to be approximately $250,000 for either option.

Given division on the issue among the Commissioners and the communities, the Board of Commissioners voted not to proceed with re-bidding the course at that time and instead appoint an Advisory committee of stakeholders to work with a planner to consider uses for the property.

Planning Advisory Committee 2009-2010

A Fort Sheridan Master Plan Advisory Committee was created to make a recommendation about the fu­ture of the golf course and other public uses at the Fort Sheridan preserve.

• Committee members included representatives from neighboring cities and park districts, Forest Pre­serve Commissioners from those communities, the Fort Sheridan Homeowners Association, the U.S. Department of the Army and the 10th District Congressional office.

• The committee held a series of six public meetings to discuss various options.

• In early 2011, the Advisory Committee submitted a report of its findings to the Lake County Forest Preserves Board of Commissioners. The report included a compromise recommendation reached by the commit­tee and summarized the public input it received on the issue.

A copy of the report is attached.

The Committee’s recommendation will be discussed at the May 10 and June 14 Board of Commissioner meetings.

Anne Flanigan Bassi
Forest Preserve Commissioner
District 23
847-432-6291

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