After more than three years of negotiations and over a lone commissioner’s adamant last stand, Forest Park has sold nearly eight acres of vacant land on the west side of town with the promise that a multi-million dollar recreation facility will not be far behind. The $4.3 million deal with the West Cook YMCA was sealed with a 4-1 vote at Tuesday’s village council meeting, and effectively serves as the starting gun for a massive fundraising and construction effort on the part of the nonprofit.
It also may intensify discussions of the future of two YMCA parcels in Oak Park.
YMCA President Scott Gaalaas attended the council meeting and bore witness to the somewhat heated exchange that erupted over the proposal. Despite the arguments made by Commissioner Martin Tellalian against selling the land to his organization, Gaalaas said he still expects to be welcomed warmly by the community.
“There’s bound to be in every community one-half of 1 percent of people who are not logical and not bound by common sense,” Gaalaas said of the commissioner’s criticisms.
Those biting words are indicative of the frustrations felt on both sides of the negotiating table as talks to reach this point have labored on. In recent months commissioners began speaking publicly of their concerns and often accused the YMCA of stalling the process.
With a vote on the sale finally at hand Tuesday, Tellalian accused the village of undercutting the price, possibly in violation of state law. Illinois statute obligates the municipality to recover at least 80 percent of a parcel’s market value when negotiating a sale. The $4.3 million price tag, which was agreed to in January in part because it was nearer to a $4.6 million valuation than previous offers from the YMCA, conflicts with a 2005 appraisal of only six acres that valued the land at $5.75 million, Tellalian said.
However, a third appraisal handed to commissioners moments before Tuesday’s vote put the value of the land in question at $5.3 million. The negotiated sale price of $4.3 million represents 80 percent of that figure.
Tellalian balked at the timing of the document’s release and characterized the report’s conclusions as convenient.
“The price of the land changes and the size of the land [to be sold] changes, but coincidentally the price is $4.3 million,” Tellalian said. “Is that what we’re to believe?”
Village Administrator Mike Sturino said commissioners were e-mailed a copy of this last appraisal in July and were aware of its contents. The final draft handed to commissioners prior to Tuesday’s meeting saw no changes from what was first distributed, he said.
As for the fluctuations in the appraised value, Sturino attributed that to the moving target appraisers were being asked to hit.
“At some point the Y was only talking about buying two acres, but we weren’t sure which two,” Sturino said. “The assumptions changed.”
The terms agreed to on Tuesday gives 7.77 acres located at 7824 Madison St. to the YMCA for $4.3 million.
Calderone defended the deal on two fronts, arguing first that a lengthy negotiation shouldn’t render an agreement on the sale price moot. That figure, and the project as a whole, has withstood the scrutiny of two village councils and a handful of attorneys, Calderone said.
Further, if residents were unhappy with the deal they have not expressed that in the more than three years this process has taken.
“Where is the public outcry,” Calderone said as the debate escalated. “We even have an advocacy group in Forest Park. They could have bombarded the council. They could have marched on village hall.”
Commissioners Rory Hoskins and Mike Curry spoke favorably of the terms and pointed to a host of intangible benefits the village can expect in playing host to the YMCA. The $19 million facility is slated to include an indoor swimming pool, an indoor track, and indoor basketball and volleyball courts.
Gaalaas, the YMCA president, said host communities often see a rise in the property values for neighborhoods surrounding YMCA facilities.
“People want to be around those things,” Gaalaas said.