The River Forest Development Review Board heard Domincan University’s case for its planned $45 million improvement project last Thursday evening. Beyond seeking village approval for a driveway off Thatcher Avenue, and permits for a 550-car parking garage and a new 4-story classroom building, university officials tried to assure the DRB that the issue of ownership to a disputed parcel of land along Dominican’s western border had been settled. Dominican’s vice president for Business Affairs, Amy McCormack, said that the university has a letter from a Forest Preserve attorney stating that the Forest Preserve does not have ownership of the property.

McCormack introduced real estate attorney Mike Igoe, who testified that he had thoroughly researched the issue, and stated that his research indicated that Dominican owned the needed 30 feet of property west of their campus. Igoe added that he and McCormack had met with the Friends of the Forest Preserve to discuss his findings, and that there were no objections.

“I don’t think there was any disagreement with the legal findings,” said Igoe. The only issue in the event would be the Village of River Forest granting a right-of-way across their legal easement on the property.

However, Vic Guarino, a vocal opponent of the university’s handling of the property, who had signed up to speak last Thursday, said Tuesday that the issue over ownership of the property remains an open issue.

“It’s up to the President and the Cook County Board of Commissioners,” said Guarino. “It hasn’t been settled yet.”

Guarino said that as far as he knew, the County board had retained a lawyer to either litigate or negotiate the issue. Guarino charged that the university had not taken any role in maintaining the property under question for “three quarters of a century,” which, he said, brought up the legal issue of “adverse possession.”

“Dominican University has never done anything in managing that area,” he said.

Guarino will have to wait until Oct. 6 to formally speak before the DRB, however. Chairman pro-tem Dennis McMahon, substituting for absent DRB chairman Frank Martin, cautioned the audience at the start of last Thursday’s meeting that the 10 people who had signed up to make public comment might not be heard that night, as the meeting would not go past 10 p.m. Guarino and the other nine individuals were invited to return for the second DRB meeting Oct. 6. At that time the board will hear all public comment, then deliberate on the testimony presented and hopefully make a formal recommendation to the village board.

The only other significant glitch in Dominican’s plans came when Fire Chief James Eggert noted that the parking garage would likely need to be moved at least 30 feet to the west or otherwise be reconfigured to allow access to fire vehicles on the east side of the structure.

The assessments of village staff and several outside consultants were otherwise uniformly positive on the appearance and impact of both the garage and classroom buildings, though concerns were raised by several board members, including David Berni and James Levy, regarding possible light pollution from the 4-story parking garage. However, consultant John Houseal stated that the height, placement and design of the garage lighting would assure that any illumination would be all but invisible from the residential neighborhood to the north across Greenfield Street.

Board members also expressed concern that the planned Thatcher Avenue entrance and exit would create traffic problems on that street. In addition to installing a driveway entrance/exit off of Thatcher, Dominican’s plan calls for eliminating a current access onto Greenfield to the north, and limiting east-west access on a road exiting the campus onto Park Avenue.

Michael Worth, of traffic consultant KLOA in Rosemont, presented Dominican’s traffic plan. He said that the end result of those changes would lessen the traffic load from the Thatcher Avenue driveway and help smooth the traffic flow on campus. He also stated that any exit out of the campus onto Thatcher would not cause any traffic backups, as only some 15 vehicles per hour would be turning left (south) onto Thatcher during peak periods.

Bonnie Flock of the village’s traffic consultant, DeWalt-Hamilton, said her firm largely concurred with KLOA’s assessment, but disagreed with KLOA’s opinion that left-hand turns should be allowed from the Thatcher Avenue exit.

“We agree to disagree on that issue,” she said.

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