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So, there is an Altenheim plan

Opinion: Editorials

July 7th, 2020 1:33 PM

It hasn't been straightforward or transparent. Our suspicions were that a plan was unspoken but not non-existent. Turns out we were right.

Something is in the works at the village-owned Altenheim property.

Forest Park's mayor, Rory Hoskins, and his village government have an appraisal of the 11-acre green jewel underway. That assessment of the value of the land will be in hand by the end of July. If things go as hoped, that will correspond with the long-overdue demolition of the five derelict buildings still barely standing on the grounds of the fabled German old people home. Funds from a state grant are expected almost momentarily and will fund most of the cleanup and demo costs.

Hoskins has, from back in the campaign, always focused on the demolition as what he called a first step priority on the future of the Altenheim. When the Review and others called for an active public planning process for the future of this key site in anticipation of the demolition, Hoskins insisted that was backwards.

We're still not buying that.

The worry, clearly affirmed in our reporting today, is that at least the bullet point version of the future of the Altenheim site has been nearly chiseled. While most parties interested in the property's communal future have for several years aligned behind the idea of selling off the two acres closest to Madison Street for commercial development, Hoskins seems ready to turn the southernmost portion of the parcel over to residential developers.

That would leave, perhaps, five acres in the middle that could be retained for the public good in this land-locked village. Or not. Citizens are not yet privy to the thinking of leadership.

We have always credited Tony Calderone, the former mayor, with an out-of-the-blue visionary moment when he led the village in snatching the 11 acres from almost certain redevelopment as townhomes. Calderone recognized it was, most certainly, Forest Park's last chance at retaining its single biggest green parcel for the future of the village and its residents.

What has followed wasn't so much a vision as an unexplainable dereliction of public planning. So now with the loan that funded the purchase nearly paid off, will there be a public process to set the future of this gem? Or will we watch as it is sold off in chunks for predetermined use that will bring in some necessary cash and future tax flow but which narrowly proscribes future use of any open land left over? 

We do seem to have heard a long-missing voice from the Park District of Forest Park. Always an obvious partner in the open space planning, the park district now says it just might be interested in a portion of the site but only if it is gifted to the parks by the village. Makes a certain sense as taxpayers have been forking over $300,000-plus each year for nearly two decades to pay for the property. They won't want to pay for it again in an obligation to another taxing body.

And what about the Cultural Park initiative? A lot of work has gone into that process.

Whatever the plan may be, it is past time to spill the beans on the future of the Altenheim property.

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