Passionate Residents Get Compromise of TIF Language to Ensure Greater Protection of Homes

I remember Mr. Silver, my sociology teacher at OPRFHS, told our class that compromise ultimately causes divorce.  

Seemed like an odd statement to me then as I felt like it was a regular dictum preached by parents to siblings everywhere, but he explained it leaves both parties without the whole of what they were ultimately wanting or needing and later each party often harbors resentment toward the other.

Compromise is what was offered to village trustees by residents of the zero-hundred block of Ashland Avenue and what was accepted by the majority of the elected officials.

So if Mr. Silver knew anything about social outcomes, it may still be a tad unclear if last night’s meeting was a victory or a splinter for residents snared in the Madison Street TIF (tax-increment financing) district.

Afterall, and what some may not fully realize, is that homeowners defended themselves spending countless hours consorting with their own lawyers, researching TIF law and just as many hours worrying and wondering if their cherished family homes and friendships would be safe from unknown developers. They also kicked off their summers spending money and waging a community-wide campaign, hardly what their young families had in mind for summer vacation.

So victory — within compromise — may not really actualize and it is likely only time will tell the ending.

Silver Lining?

Perhaps one victory, or silver lining, of last night’s decision as to whether to accept the language of concerned residents to rewrite the proposed Madison Street TIF to keep single family homes out of harm’s way of the drastic potential of eminent domain was not simply that the majority of elected officials agreed and voted in their favor, but that community members both directly impacted and those blocks away from the TIF district came together in another demonstration that River Forest residents know how to band together for the greater good of their community.

And it would seem in the last two years, River Forest residents are becoming quite experienced in grass-roots community organizing within and on behalf of their own village (EMSL, the Roosevelt Exterior Project, the eight-story apartment building across from Lincoln Elementary School, etc).  Perhaps it’s worth examining or pondering — by both elected officials and residents — why this is happening at a seemingly more frequent pace.

When so many within the larger electorate are labeled apathetic or ignorant, this standing-room only gathering of easily 100 residents packed into the village hall Monday night showed not only are River Foresters actively seeking information and to be involved, but they are willing to show up and stand together and collectively question and make sure elected officials are held to task.

Ultimately, River Forest officials showed they were not only willing to listen — even among some moments of intense contention — but they acknowledged the rights of residents needed to be preserved. The vote was not unanimous, but the majority of trustees agreed to language endorsed and sponsored by residents of the zero-hundred block of Ashland and the entire project will see a do-over as a result.

The Compromise

Residents snared in the TIF net offered the village a compromise in that they would accept that their homes are woven within the TIF boundaries in exchange for clear and explicit language that eminent domain — a government’s ability to seize private property — may not be invoked for the life of the TIF, without following a clearly delineated process to amend the TIF ordinance.  This means the village retains the right to exercise eminent domain, but it restricts the ease in which they may invoke the right.

In essence, these community-minded residents are aware that without their property taxes generating money for the TIF pot, there would be very little to work with for the development of Madison Street. While successful, there are only a handful of businesses within the TIF, which is not much of a tax base to grow the pot to the proposed $25 million budget anticipated for the development project.

“The only reason that we have agreed to the compromise language is because we do not believe the board will agree to remove our homes from the TIF boundaries because they have never responded to our request to have our home removed,” said Melissa and Derrick Mitchell, who live with their four children at 15 Ashland.  “Therefore we feel this is the only way to provide some protection for our home and our family.  It is not ideal and we would prefer to have the boundary lines redrawn.”

Trustee Tom Dwyer was the lone “no” vote at the meeting and the Mitchells and others disagreed with his reasoning.

“There was one dissenting vote last night and his argument was that including our proposed language does not protect us from eminent domain because the village has the authority to invoke eminent domain at any time on any home in River Forest,” Melissa said.  “I want to clarify that the village does not have the authority to invoke eminent domain at any time – an ordinance has to be put in place for that to occur.  The TIF ordinance (without our requested language) would be the ordinance that allows the village to invoke eminent domain.”

Dwyer, along with Roma Colwell-Steinke and Tom Cargie are the trustees up for re-election next spring. President Cathy Adduci is also up at that time.  Cargie was absent from the meeting and therefore did not vote.

The Mitchells and families within the TIF wanted to express their thanks to the “overwhelming” response from residents throughout the community who came out, adding they were “touched” by their support.

Maureen Gorman, an attorney, lives with her husband and three children at 11 Ashland and was instrumental in studying the assorted statutes surrounding eminent domain and TIFs and had the following comment:

“I am happy that the village trustees voted for the residents. Our village will show that creativity, passion, love for tradition and each other are the things life is made of. We will be the redevelopment envy of Chicagoland when we prove that true conservation means development not destruction of businesses, homes, neighborhoods, families and friends.  River Forest is and will be a model community for the next generation of citizenry.”

A link to a well summarized and fairly reported article in the Forest Leaves may be found here.

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