The death of the key owner of property at Lake and Lathrop will have no direct impact on what the village is doing now to get a long-standing development off the ground, River Forest’s village administrator said Thursday.
Hillside resident Edward Ditchfield, who owned the commercial property at 7613 Lake St., died Oct. 4 at the age of 86. The property is a key piece of a proposed mixed-use development for the block.
Despite Ditchfield’s death, River Forest’s focus is on pinning down details for a redevelopment agreement with Keystone Ventures, and its owner, Tim Hague before the end of 2015, Village Administrator Eric Palm said.
On Dec. 31, a commitment for Keystone Ventures to use $1.9 million from the area’s dissolved TIF fund to buy property, clean up the site and offer incentives to bring in tenants, is slated to expire unless it is extended by trustees. Two extensions have been granted since the initial agreement was signed in 2010.
“We are working as diligently as possible,” Palm said.
Once that that agreement, which sets out the nuts and bolts and other responsibilities, is concluded or close to being done, “then ongoing discussions [on Ditchfield’s property] can resume,” Palm added.
Officials say they want to wait and see how the estate of Edward Ditchfield is settled before negotiations on purchasing the property can take place, Village Attorney Lance Malina said.
Years ago, Hague submitted plans for the site that included demolishing much of the block and building a structure featuring shops on the first floor and condos above. He had been trying to buy the multiple parcels that make up the site, but disagreements with Ditchfield have prevented a purchase.
In recent years, talks had not been productive, village officials said. Late in 2014, the village unsuccessfully offered to help Ditchfield remediate his property, which is home to a dry-cleaning business, by offering part of the $1.9 million from the closed Lake Street TIF to do the work. Ditchfield never came back with a counter-offer; negotiations ended late last year, village officials said.
As far back as 2001, the state EPA found 7613 Lake St. had been contaminated with carcinogenic dry-cleaning chemicals. The property has housed a dry cleaner since 1922, according to John Kennelly, Ditchfield’s attorney. Ditchfield operated River Forest Cleaners on the site.
In 2013, Ditchfield settled a long-standing lawsuit with Forest Park National Bank to dig up and remove contaminated soil from the site of a two-flat at 449 Ashland Ave., which is owned by the bank. The building has been removed and the property needs no further remediation. Other property in that area includes a building owned by Oak Park Township Assessor Ali ElSaffar.
Earlier this year, the village established a business district from Lathrop Avenue west to Ashland Avenue, which officials said could allow them to take more aggressive steps, including declaring eminent domain, to get the project off the ground.
Village President Catherine Adduci said redevelopment of Lake and Lathrop continues to be a high priority as the village continues to find ways of boosting its tax base.
“We are confident that the project is being planned will bring vitality to our downtown business district,” Adduci said.
Efforts to reach ElSaffar and Kennelly were unsuccessful.