On the same evening it looked back on 125 years of village history, the River Forest Village Board of Trustees gave Dominican University a green light to move into its future. Village trustees voted 6-0 Monday to approve Dominican's $45 million campus improvement program, which includes a new 550-car parking garage and a 4-story, state-of-the-art classroom building. Following demolition of an existing building, work on the garage is scheduled to begin next May and completed in March, 2007.
The new classroom building, which will be finished by August 2007, will be known as John C. and Carolyn J. Parmer Hall, in honor of their roles as both fund raisers and as major donors. Carolyn Noonan Parmer is a 1952 Alumna of Dominican's predecessor, Rosary College who served on the university's board of trustees from 1988 through 1997. John Parmer served a total of 23 years, and was chairman from 1983 to 1985. He co-chaired the Campaign for Rosary that culminated in 1992.
University President Donna Carroll and Vice President for Business Amy McCormack each stood at the podium to give scaled-down versions of the fuller presentations they previously made to the village's Development Review Board in September. Carroll made a point of commenting on a letter to village trustees from Cook County commissioners Larry Suffredin and Mike Quigley that "strongly object(ed)" to any action by River Forest on the university's application.
"They ask you to delay this hearing," said Carroll. "I ask you not to." Calling the Thatcher Avenue access through a small section of currently forested land critical to the timeframe of their proposed projects, Carroll said the university had "demonstrated legal ownership." Any delay, she said, would seriously disrupt their construction schedule.
"We've talked for 18 months," Carroll concluded. "I ask you to cooperate in moving this project forward."
Dominican's case was solidly bolstered by an opinion from Village Attorney Jon Gilbert, who wrote in a memo that the proper forum for any legal dispute involving the Thatcher Avenue land was in a courtroom, not before the DRB or village board.
"The village's zoning process is not an appropriate forum to adjudicate a disputed land title. The village is only making a determination as to whether or not proposed land use is appropriate at this location," he wrote.
As for claims made by Suffredin and Quigley that the Forest Preserve had established a claim to the land due to providing maintenance over the years, Gilbert wrote, "I am not aware of any basis to claim title to land simply by maintaining it."
In an earlier e-mail to Village Administrator Chuck Biondo, Gilbert noted that while Suffredin and Quigley sought a delay, Commissioner Peter Silvestri, with whom the village enjoys a close working relationship, supported Dominican's position.
"It's difficult to justify any delay unless there is some basis directly related to merits of the zoning application," wrote Gilbert.
The trustees were more than willing to cooperate, asking few questions, seeking clarifications of minor points. All other comments were overwhelmingly positive.
After the vote, Village President Frank Paris himself took a moment to comment on the long-disputed parcel of land west of the university's campus. Calling statements in Suffredin and Quigley's letter "misguided," Paris said, "In all my years as president, the village has been responsible for maintaining that land. And for all the years I've lived here, the village has maintained the sidewalk along Thatcher Avenue."
n The action on Dominican's development application came after an hour of cake, coffee, a historical reenactment and a series of congratulations on the occasion of the village's 125th birthday. There were two dozen guests of honor?#34;the members of the 125th Anniversary Committee. One by one, each walked up to the trustees' table as Biondo called their name, to receive a framed proclamation and a personal thank-you from Paris.
The sheer number of committee members prompted Trustee Michael O'Connell to refer to the old adage that a committee's IQ drops in inverse proportion to the number of people on it. "That's been disproved by this group," he said.
The audience applauded each person, but the biggest applause was reserved for Chairwoman Laurel McMahon, who also received flowers and several gifts from both the board and the committee itself.
"No, I'm not speechless," McMahon told the crowd with a big smile. After expressing gratitude for the opportunity to serve with her colleagues on the committee, McMahon looked at the trustees.
"History matters," she said. "For 125 years, dedicated people served on boards and committees to build River Forest into what it is today." Saying that it's important to build a vision for the future, McMahon urged the trustees to take every opportunity to celebrate anniversaries on significant village events.
? For the second board meeting in a row, the trustees voted on a motion, not on the agenda, to go into executive session to discuss pending litigation.