Developer getting closer on Lake and Lathrop site

Second property acquired but final seller wants assurances over liability

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By Deborah Kadin

The long-standing redevelopment at Lake and Lathrop took a major step forward last week as Keystone Ventures finally hammered out an agreement to buy the property at 7602-13 Lake St., owned by the estate of Edward Ditchfield.

Trustee Tom Cargie confirmed the news in an email to Wednesday Journal last week. The sale also was confirmed by Village President Catherine Adduci.

The lone property that Keystone's owner Tim Hague will need to buy is 7617-21 Lake St., owned by Ali ElSaffar, Oak Park Township's assessor, and his family.

Three properties are needed to make Hague's project work. The third, and the least important parcel, 423 Ashland Ave., was purchased in September from Forest Park National Bank.

With the Ditchfield property sold, Hague and his partner, Marty Paris, will talk with his four tenants about the next steps, Adduci said.  Nothing else will happen until they complete the assembly of all the properties, she added.

"I believe there is a fair proposal from the developers with ElSaffar; there's still one issue remaining they need to resolve," said Adduci, who could not comment further, but hopes that a reasonable solution can be negotiated.

Hague had until mid-March to buy all of the parcels. But now, with purchase of one property still looming, Adduci said Hague can finish up negotiations.

"At this time, we won't give another extension," she said. "He's showed good faith to close on Ditchfield. I hope we're close on ElSaffar."

But in a statement emailed to Wednesday Journal on March 13, the ElSaffar family indicated it wants assurances that they won't be held liable for any claims that might arise in the future over contaminated soil.

Over the years, a big issue during discussions with Ditchfield was cleanup of the site. As far back as 2001, the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency found that the property, which had housed a dry cleaner since 1922, was contaminated.

Ditchfield operated River Forest Cleaners on the site. Ditchfield's property contaminated ElSaffar's property and the parcel at 411 Ashland Ave.

"We do not believe we should incur any liability caused by our neighbor, and stated this in our response to the developer's first offer last July," said Ali, Dena and Amir ElSaffar in its statement to the Landmark. "By late October, we believed we had reached an agreement in principle with the developer on price, liability and all other issues, and expected to close by the end of December."

But when Keystone Ventures sent a full contract just before Thanksgiving last year, the provision regarding liability was missing, according to the ElSaffar family.

"Since Thanksgiving, we have sought to find alternative ways to resolve the issue of potential environmental liability," the ElSaffars said. "This issue is not yet resolved, but we are still seeking a solution."

Redevelopment of the site has been fraught with problems almost from the time Hague, in 2010, was tapped by the board at the time to build a project there. The village president was John Rigas. Adduci, Susan Conti and Mike Gibbs were trustees at the time.

Under that redevelopment agreement, the village board granted Hague $1.9 million from the 2010 Lake Street Tax Increment Finance district for property acquisition and environmental cleanup of the site.

Hague has until mid-March to buy Ditchfield's and ElSaffar's property. He received a default letter on Feb. 1 – his third -- for failing to come up with an initial development agreement. The initial agreement on the contract was signed on March 23, 2016.

A redevelopment application was filed late last year, but it had to be scrapped because a partnership between Hague and Inland Real Estate Group, which had been involved in the residential component of the project, fell apart, Hague told the board in January.

Hague and Inland parted company and he found another partner, Sedgwick Partners, to work on the project with him. Sedgwick is owned by Marty Paris, a River Forest resident and son of former River Forest Village President Frank Paris.

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