After having lunch the other day with my father, who just marked the 50th year of living in the same River Forest home he and my mother purchased to raise their growing family, it dawned on me how few people in the community are aware there are several homes — and families — entangled in the recently announced Madison Street TIF (tax-increment financing) district.
My father, who has always subscribed and seems to memorize both of the local papers, was certainly aware of the created Madison Street TIF and knew of the recently resolved TIF at Lake and Lathrop, and even the TIF proposal waiting in the wings for North Avenue.
Regardless of his opinion on the multiple TIFs in our 2.5 mile-wide town of 11,000 people, this bright and community-minded resident hadn’t a clue that families — 96 housing units to be exact — in our community are rightfully fearful their homes may be eyeballed by future developers hoping to cash in on the incentives afforded by the proposed $25 million TIF.
And to build what, exactly?
The village says there are no hard and fast plans, but the village’s Corridor Study and local trends are likely pretty good indicators as to what is possible. Link to study here: 2010 Corridor Plan
Few, if any, among the TIF are opposed to developing Madison Street into a thriving business district and they welcome sprucing things up. Really, residents along the South edge of town could be the greatest customers for such a business niche as they are already walking into the restaurants, shops and services in Forest Park.
Instead, the concern is whether the village is sacrificing families for financial gain, or worse.
Residents who live either in the TIF district or near it are families who have deep love for their homes, neighborhood, and all of the memories created therein. They — and sadly with good reason — fear they could be swallowed whole by the ambitious and often gluttonous jaws of development.
At a two-hour, standing-room only, public meeting April 28, which somehow missed news ink and thereby left mindful folks like my dad in the dark, residents spoke out about their concerns of eminent domain. Link to audio here: April 28 Public Meeting
As well, they questioned the validity of the village’s required Housing Impact Study created by the outside firm of Kane, McKenna, and Associates, Inc. This “official” housing study poorly thought to use housing prices from Oak Park and Forest Park as comps. Not one of the River Forest homes was fairly or accurately evaluated with comps from within its own community — a community as we all know is most often sought because of its Blue Ribbon schools, a point which adds a great deal to home values.
They questioned how anyone could compare homes of one town to homes of another and think they are the same place simply because they had the same number of bedrooms or square footage. This point made zero sense to residents who were ultimately low-balled their home values, after already getting sucker punched with the notion their homes may become part of a new three to four-story condo or apartment building with a Quizno’s or Chinese take out down below.
As well, the “study” found here failed to explain the demographics of the area impacted. It failed also to recognize much of this housing stock is among what is more modest and affordable housing in town — a sore point for the village that has already been chastised for consistently not meeting its quota per state mandates. Such mandates allow professionals like teachers, social workers and police officers an opportunity to live in a community with home prices normally out of reach for their often discounted salaries.
But some at village hall keep down-playing the threat of eminent domain, which is when a government can take over private property, and these same officials claim it will never be allowed to happen.
Community members Nick and Susan Altier of 12 Ashland happen to live in Nick’s childhood home, and one of the many homes on the chopping block. They could simply cling to the hope eminent domain won’t happen as some at the village say and they can trust that all of the village officials will go to bat for them, or that it would even be possible for them to do so.
Or they, along with Bob and Maureen Gorman, Teresa and Derrick Peavy, Derrick and Melissa Mitchell, Mike and Annette Madden, Cal Davis, Giene Maloney and so many others can work to ensure their homes are removed from the TIF district boundaries so there is no threat they will be forced from their homes or to have their beloved homes absorbed into a 23-year TIF project that may or may not be successful.
Selling Out Neighbors
Village President Cathy Adduci was asked if the homes and their specific addresses could be removed from the TIF boundaries as it would create a great deal of relief, but she said that it would deter developers because a larger parcel is more attractive as more can be done. Of course this also means more TIF dollars are potentially spent buying out neighbors’ homes, something that smacks of putting up people and their property out to market as some sort of commodity.
Adduci also explained the developers might offer some of these homeowners far more than their homes are worth on the market — a possibility that homeowners in the TIF say they could care less about. Residents in the TIF say their homes, memories, and option to hit their own 50-year anniversary are not for sale — at any price.
What Adduci says about future developers’ interests is probably true as a larger parcel would bring more bang for its buck for an investor, especially if the development(s) are dense and pricey condo units and luxury apartment buildings that seem to be the latest trend — really an odd plan to swap housing for housing at the sake of sweetening the deal for developers.
It makes sense economically and surely we know a business district would more likely thrive with more density –that at least is Oak Park’s theory with its multiple suburban skyscrapers so close to their already congested downtown area. (And clearly there appears to be no end as the Oak Park Village Board approved plans Monday from Lincoln Properties to build a 12-story, 263-unit apartment building at South Boulevard and Harlem Avenue as well moving forward with a 28-unit condo building at Lake Street and Euclid Avenue – the former home of the legendary Tasty Dog. But I digress, not even mentioning the latest data that shows not only are people moving out of Chicago, but Cook County and Illinois overall).
While it makes sense on some level, it is also how “business” too often works. It’s also probably why I chose journalism and education as vocations. In my humble opinion, unless these homes were somehow neglected or abandoned, I see no reason to put them in harm’s way of an 8,000-pound wrecking ball — and clearly there is no price tag for what these neighbors call, “the best block in America.”
South Side Residents are Central
These homes are not only occupied by loving families and children, but these very River Forest residents living on the South edge of town are central to the community.
Collectively, these particular community members — not even including the dozens of other residents among the TIF district not mentioned here — are active members of the PTO for Lincoln and Roosevelt Schools, PTO officers, thankless Fun Lunch organizers, yearbook editors, classroom volunteers, River Forest Youth Soccer board members, church goers, volunteer coaches to virtually all sports at all levels, Cub Scout leaders and countless other efforts that many other residents quickly pass on.
Efforts are underway to ask for support from the rest of the community to ensure these homes — more importantly, these families — are kept free from the Madison Street TIF district.
Concerned residents are encouraged to write a brief email to village trustees with a message simply to: “Leave Homes and Families out of the Madison Street TIF.” A link to send emails to the trustees and president can be found here: here
The next public meeting is at the Village Hall Friday, June 3 at 2 p.m. Yes, this is inconveniently set for the last day of school just before summer vacation begins.
Public presence and comment are always welcome at the meetings.
It is worth remembering the plans for a large-scale apartment complex at Park and Lake, as well as the wishes of testing lab EMSL Analytical, Inc. to open its doors in a residential area were both squarely squashed because the community came together from all corners and spoke out to elected officials. Such thoughtfulness is required by all residents now… and you can’t say you didn’t know.