The River Forest Development Review Board voted 5-0 Thursday night to recommend approval of Dominican University’s $45 million campus improvement plan to the village board. The recommendation is a key step toward the university receiving a final OK for the construction of a new academic building, 550 car parking garage and a new driveway connecting that garage to Thatcher Avenue.

The design and impact of the garage and academic building drew no opposition. However, two groups that have staunchly opposed the driveway construction on environmental grounds say that the issue of ownership of the property on which that driveway would sit is still not legally settled. They produced a letter Friday from Forest Preserve General Superintendent Steven Bylina dated Oct. 6 and addressed to members of the Forest Preserve Board of Commissioners. The letter states that a special counsel has been formally appointed to look into the issue.

The approval vote came after DRB Chairman Pro tem Dennis McMahon suggested placement of two amendments on the motion to approve. The DRB’s approval stipulates that traffic on Thatcher will be monitored by village staff to determine if a proposed outbound left hand turn lane causes any significant traffic problems over the next year. Additionally, board members made formal note of numerous and pointed neighborhood concerns over pedestrian safety on the 1200 and 1300 blocks of Park Avenue, recommending that the village assess parking and traffic ordinance enforcement issues relative to Park Avenue one year out from completion of the parking garage.

Sixteen people addressed the board, with the majority urging approval of the project. Many of those supporting approval lived on or near Park Avenue, and said they saw the new garage and planned campus traffic restrictions off of and onto Park as an urgently needed solution to the growing threat posed by heavy traffic on the street.

“I’m here to tell you that the amount and speed of traffic has already reached a crisis level,” said Rose Loiaicono, who lives with her husband and children on Park. “Garbage trucks, delivery trucks, soccer moms dropping kids off, students.” Loiaicono told the board that their decision will not affect the daily lives of driveway opponents, but that “it will affect mine.”

Four individuals spoke against allowing the connecting driveway to be built, all of them arguing that the issue of ownership of the strip of forested land directly west of the Dominican campus had not been decided with finality.

Oak Park resident Victor Guarino, who said he is a steward of the 4-plus acre “green triangle” of disputed land directly west of the Dominican campus, referred to a famous Mark Twain quip.

“Reports of Dominican’s ownership of the “green triangle” have been greatly exaggerated,” he said. Saying that the issue of ownership would be ultimately decided by a judge, he told the board, “We adamantly oppose Dominican University’s access road proposal.”

Dominican Vice President for Business Amy McCormack said Friday she was aware of the appointment of special counsel George Leighton, a retired federal judge. The university, she said, sent numerous documents related to that parcel to the Forest Preserve attorney within the past 10 days for Leighton’s review.

“He has been asked to review the documents,” said McCormack, adding, “We’re confident his findings will agree with ours.”

Both the DRB and Village Attorney Jon Gilbert said they saw the land controversy as basically a non-issue.

“The applicant has made a showing that they–on the face of it–they own the property,” said Gilbert. “The argument is between the university and a party that doesn’t have a (legal) interest in (the property) who says that a third party owns it. “(But) that third party has not claimed title to the property.”

“There’s no dispute,” he concluded. “It’s not an issue.”

The DRB will consider a formal of findings of facts to be prepared by Gilbert on Oct. 20 before formally forwarding its recommendation to the village board for its deliberation.

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