As the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. EPA continue their investigations into contamination around Lake Street and Lathrop Avenue, the River Forest village board has taken the first step toward redevelopment of the site.

Any development of the properties on Lake between Lake and Lathrop is complicated by environmental contamination from both a dry cleaners and a former gas station. The properties, which are owned by three different parties, are being assessed by the village and the Environmental Protection Agency at both the state and federal levels.

The Illinois EPA is currently working with property owner Edward Ditchfield, who owns roughly the eastern third of the block, on what’s called a “site remediation plan” for the property. The process includes an extensive assessment of chemical contamination caused by the dry cleaning solvent tetrachloroethylene, or perc, from a drycleaners at 7615 Lake. The successful implementation of such a plan and formal approval by the Illinois EPA is required prior to any sale of or redevelopment of the affected properties, including three storefronts owned by Oak Park Township Tax Assessor Ali ElSaffar and his family.

There is reportedly minimal perc contamination at the two-story commercial building at the far western end of the block, which is owned by River Forest businessman Ronald M. Kaine.

St. Luke’s school, My Space Gym OK

Following results of testing done by the village and the Illinois EPA, the U.S. EPA tested the soil underneath and inside St. Luke’s School, which is across Lake and under the east end of Kaine’s building at 7623-25 Lake, and inside My Space Gym, which is at 6725 Lake.

On Thursday, the U.S. EPA announced that no contamination was found under or in the St. Luke’s property, and that none was found under the My Space Gym property.

St. Luke’s principal Barbara Rasinki expressed satisfaction Friday at the clean bill of health, saying it was all she was looking for.

“All I wanted was to make sure the students and teachers were safe,” she said. The entire school body and parents were formally notified by letter Monday afternoon.

Brad Benning, of the U.S. EPA’s Chicago office, said there were minimal amounts of perc in the My Space area, despite finding none under the building or in the basement. “There’s something there, but it’s below our screening levels,” said Benning. He called the likely source “carryover,” meaning anything from a dry cleaner dropoff site adjacent to the gym space to a dry cleaned garment carried through the space. Benning said the U.S. EPA plans to talk with Kaine or property manager David King about the issue.

Meanwhile, other properties remain to be tested.

“We’re not done yet,” said Benning, who noted that the EPA would likely test “more locations to the east and to the south,” as well as possibly two frame houses on Ashland (423 and 419). It’s all but certain that those buildings will be purchased and demolished for parking. “We feel we need to do a little further investigation to be confident. Before we can say vapor intrusion is not there,” Benning said.

Village officials are doing the same.

Monday night trustees approved an additional $9,000 for environmental consultant Tetra Tech to assess confirmed significant chemical contamination along a sewer line under the west side of the Lathrop Avenue right of way by Annie’s Italian Beef, at 7601 Lake. Five additional borings will be drilled to collect soil samples as part of a second phase in an environmental assessment.

The soil samples will be field screened, looking for any “visual and olfactory” evidence of contamination, as well as laboratory testing of the soil samples. The additional work brings the total amount spent by the village on environments studies on the Lake and Lathrop site so far to $28,714.

U.S. EPA spokesman Mick Hans said that while his agency “doesn’t have oversight per se” and is not directly involved in the overall Lake and Lathrop site remediation, it will remain in contact with the Illinois EPA through the remediation process.

Lake and Lathrop, Lake and Park RFPs approved

Village trustees voted 5-0 Monday to accept the board’s planning and development committee’s recommendation to take the first step toward possible redevelopment of the property

John Houseal of Houseal Lavigne, will craft a request for proposals on possible development of part or all of the properties on Lake Street between Lathrop and Ashland Avenue. Houseal said the RFP, which he expected to take a month to craft, would provide “a creative envelope of parameters” for developers, giving them a sense of what the village would and wouldn’t accept.

“Crafting this initial thing is really about what is the vision for this, what are our expectations, what do we anticipate, where’s the flexibility, what’s the level of quality,” Houseal said.

Houseal’s colleague, Dan Gardner, said the RFP, or Request for Proposal, would include the village’s goals for the site, background on and environmental details about the site, information on the environmental conditions of the site, and a general description of the type and scale of development sought for it.

“We’re asking the board to approve developing a simple RFP for the property that we can first present to the owners, and then send out to the developers sometime after the beginning of next year to see what responses we get,” said trustee Susan Conti.

While he voted to approve the consultant’s contract, trustee Steve Dudek objected that the board should be arranging to put out request for development proposals on all three properties that have been considered for development since June, including also the west side of Town center II and the village-owned parking lot at Lake and Park.

“We need to broaden the net,” said Dudek.

“The process was to contact the owners of the properties in question within the Lake and Lathrop area prior to beginning this process,” said Village President John Rigas. “That probably will be discussed in executive session.”

Dudek also alluded to a contention voiced frequently by fellow trustee Steve Hoke, as long ago as November 2008, that a development at Lake and Lathrop has been in the works behind the scenes for some time, and is a fait accompli.

“You’re focused on one thing,’ said Dudek. “It’s been that way for a long time now.”

“Why don’t we just include it,” Trustee Cathy Adduci later asked. Rigas saw no problem with that, noting that half of the text in any request for proposal or qualifications is “boiler plate” wording included in every RFP.

“You can direct me to have a proposal (for Lake and Park) at the next meeting,” Village Administrator Steve Gutierrez said.

Rigas said Tuesday that a “wide range of properties” would be included in the RFP. Not all those properties, he said, are located on Lake Street. Once the board hears back from developers, he said, “I think we’ll have a pretty good idea of the (development) envelope.”

Houseal said last week that the process of identifying qualified developers and that selecting one with whom to negotiate will be a long and involved process, one he expected would be “12 to 14 months before we’re actually sitting down with a developer.”

Rigas said Tuesday he wanted the basic RFP process accelerated, with a conclusion “by third quarter 2010.”

He acknowledged that the board’s preference and the recommendations of experts consulted are that any development be mixed use, with service or retail on the first floor and residential or office spaces on upper floors.

That said, he stressed he didn’t “want to put a box around someone’s thinking.”

“My view of the board’s view is we don’t want to put too many parameters on the property, so we don’t stymie a developer from doing something we’ve never thought about.”

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