Several weeks ago the Lake County Forest Preserve Board voted 12-10 to accept their advisory committee’s recommendation to privatize their golf course obligation at Fort Sheridan. Although I was probably the first to break this news with a Tweet from the county’s boardroom, I had to think a little about this latest move in the chess game that Fort Sheridan Forest Preserve has become.
The issues that seemed important to consider included:
- Does this mean a golf course will be built at Fort Sheridan?
- Why did the board vote the way it did?
- And what happens now?
What Happens Now?
Here’s the plan as I understand it:
- Now till August ish: The Board has allocated up to $70,000 to develop the legal and functional requirements of a request for proposal (RFP) for a nine-hole golf course.
- Augustish to Octoberish, 2011: The RFP will be published and responses will be solicited over a 60 to 90 day period.
- Novemberish to January ish: Responses will be evaluated by LCFPD staff with recommendations to the board
- February, 2012ish: The Forest Board will vote to award a contract to the successful proposal. Or to not go forward with a contract award (!).
Does this Mean a Golf Course Will be Built at Fort Sheridan?
Well, that depends on what you mean by “means”. But, no, the golf course is not a sure thing for a couple reasons.
“This doesn’t mean that there is going to be a golf course. It means the Forest Preserve District board is following recommendations from the Fort Sheridan Golf Course Advisory Committee to put proposals for a 9-hole golf course out there to private entities.” – Tom Hahn, Executive Director LCFPD
Take my golf course. Please.
First, there has to be a bidder . One that will accept the terms of the RFP. Some of these terms are, well, onerous, at best. The financial requirements and commitments the Forest Board is requiring would be tough even if golf were a thriving enterprise. But golf isn’t thriving, its struggling. In the desperately failing municipal golf market the requirements stipulated by the Forest Board are downright appalling to any business person focused on their bottom line.
We don’t need no stinkin’ golf courses.
Second, the county has clearly and finally signaled that it really does not want to build a golf course at Fort Sheridan. Like any vote, the razor thin margin of 12-10 that approved seeking the RFP doesn’t reveal the greater story. In the “aye” column were three votes cast, quite vocally, under protest. Citing “advice from counsel” three commissioners who are opposed to the golf course voted to go forward with the RFP. That’s right. Opposed to the golf course but voted to pursue the golf course. Go figure.
The “No’s” have it.
The count, therefore, is 13 Forest Board commissioners against the golf course with nine for it and 1 absent for the vote. How they vote when or if this comes before them in 2012 can’t be known, but right now the majority are against a golf course being developed at Fort Sheridan. No, the golf course is not a sure thing.
Why Did the Board Vote the Way it Did? – It’s about the process
Nine commissioners voted to go forward with the golf course RFP without reservation but not necessarily with great enthusiasm. This includes people like Michelle Feldman who previously called the golf course a “bad business idea.” Also included is the initiative’s chief sponsor, Anne Bassi, whose district includes Fort Sheridan and previously stated, “we don’t need a golf course at Fort Sheridan.” Avoiding either supporting the golf course or opposing it, Anne supported the “process” of following through on the advisory committee’s half-hearted recommendation.
Ten commissioners courageously, and against the advice of their corporate counsel, recognized the Fort Sheridan golf course for the dumb idea that it is and voted to not seek an RFP. Or as heroic Commissioner Cunnigham said, “I been from the jump street. I’ve never been for building nothing.” No ambiguity here.
Regrettably, three commissioners simply ceded their policy preference to the advice of the Forest Board’s lawyer. The lawyer’s advice was, as best we can determine having not been provided this information first hand, that the county would be in a better position to seek an amendment to the deed restriction requiring the golf course if they explored every option which proved this golf course could not be built without creating an economic hardship. Also implied, but perhaps not specifically stated, is that this process might forestall a lawsuit.
So the proposed Fort Sheridan golf course continues to fester like an open sore, bleeding another $70,000 in engineering and legal costs to prepare an RFP. And then there is the collateral damage. Ed Brill, a resident of the neighboring Fort Sheridan subdivision, told me that realtors won’t show people property in his community. He said as long as the land use matter remains unsettled, it makes prospective buyers uncomfortable. Brill also has characterized the prairie grassland as a weed field and, with other residents, has been vocal about the disrepair of adjacent Forest Preserve managed property. So, in an already tough housing market, the Fort Sheridan subdivision has been declared toxic by its own residents. Home sales stagnate.
Once again the Forest Board kicks this issue down the road. The golf course may reappear on the County’s agenda in early 2012. Plenty of time to tell your county commissioner just what you think.