River Forest
Sixty people jammed into the Community Room of the River Forest Village Hall last Thursday evening to observe the Development Review Board hearing on the installation of lights at Keystone West. The clearly polarized crowd listened as park district officials presented their case for approval, village staff weighed in on the issue, and the first eight of a total of 42 residents gave public comment. With 34 people still waiting to speak at 10 p.m., DRB Chairman Frank Martin adjourned the board until Nov. 3, at which time the remaining speakers will be heard and the board will deliberate the issue.

The DRB unanimously rejected the park district’s first application for lights at Keystone West in July, 2004. A subsequent finding of fact stated that the park district’s proposal failed to meet six of 13 standards set by village code. Key objections were that lights might “impede the development and improvement of surrounding properties,” diminish property values in the vicinity, not be consistent with the character of the village, and that the district plan did not adequately consider the relationship of the proposed use to the surrounding area, particularly any visual impact.

The park district formally withdrew its application at a subsequent village board meeting two months later, after a motion that the board accept the DRB’s recommendation to reject the application, and it appeared the board was set to concur.

Thursday, Park Board President Steve Dudek outlined his board’s reasons for seeking an additional lighted sports field and reviewed the list of DRB concerns that the park board believed it has now adequately addressed. Dudek said the park district must plan for future growth of demand for services, not unlike he said, what the village does with its Comprehensive Plan. River Forest, he said, is well below the state standard for park acreage per 1,000 residents. With 700 youth baseball and softball participants and 900 to 1,000 youth soccer participants, the park district needs to make as full use of its fields as possible, he said.

Dudek said he believed the park district was now in “full compliance” with the requirements stipulated by the village for planned developments, and that lights on the west field would be consistent with the Comprehensive Plan. Lights, he said, would enhance, not diminish property values, would have no negative impact on the surrounding area, and would not affect the comfort level of nearby residents.

“There is no evidence of any kind that lights have diminished the value of any property,” Dudek said. “In fact, quite the opposite.”

But the village’s code consultant, John Houseal, who was not present Thursday, flatly disputed several of those claims in an Oct. 13 memo to the village. Noting that the park district’s claim of property appreciation referred to open space and parks, not field lighting, he wrote “not one” of the articles referred to by the park district, “state or provide evidence that installing athletic field lighting to an existing park increases or has no negative impact on adjacent/nearby residential property values. In fact, just the opposite is true.”

Houseal urged the DRB to take several factors into consideration when determining the appropriateness of lights at Keystone West, including among others the impact on adjacent areas, lack of adequate screening, the glare from the lights, and the fact that the park district is currently not using their existing lighted fields to full capacity.

Dudek aggressively attacked Houseal’s memo, calling it “hyperbole.” Dudek said Houseal was “back-pedaling” from his previous support of lights on the east field, and questioned his objectivity on the issue, due to the fact that Houseal lives adjacent to the park.

Houseal’s partner, Dennis Lavigne, refuted Dudek’s allegation, saying that Dudek was referring to Houseal’s memo of April 23, 2003, in which he makes several statements that might be construed as supporting lighting, but in fact do not. “Houseal wrote in his Oct. 13 memo that those statements were “observation(s), not an endorsement,” he said. Lavigne also said that Houseal was in fact not back-pedaling, that the 2003 memo referred to the Keystone Park Master Plan, which didn’t mention west field lighting.

Houseal wasn’t the only person Dudek challenged. Dudek sparred with committee member Dennis McMahon on several occasions, interrupting him when interrupted, and appearing to lecture the DRB. When McMahon interrupted with another question, Dudek retorted, “When I’m finished, you’ll know.” When McMahon pressed his questioning, Dudek appealed to Martin to overrule McMahon’s questioning. Martin, though, was having none of it, admonishing Dudek, “We’ll conduct the meeting.”

Martin also seemed displeased with Dudek early on when, after pointing out that the park’s application noted a total of 20 lamps or “luminaries,” Dudek replied that that must be a mistake, that the total was just 18. “We get a credit,” Dudek then quipped.

Looking unamused, Martin replied, “Are there any other mistakes in your application we should know about?”

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