Environmental cleanup may be the only remaining detail that the village needs to nail down in a redevelopment agreement for Lake and Lathrop before the end of March, officials said last month.

The village and preferred developer Tim Hague’s Keystone Ventures are trying to draw up scenarios on the extent of removing carcinogenic chemicals at 7613 Lake St., a dry cleaners owned by the late Ed Ditchfield. There also are discussions between the village and Hague over which entity might pay the costs for the work if it is more extensive than initially anticipated, Village Administrator Eric Palm said.

Ditchfield’s property is the key parcel, though not the only one, that Hague’s Keystone Ventures needs to purchase to construct a condominium/retail project. In 2010, the village tapped Hague’s firm as the preferred developer and put at his disposal $1.9 million in funds from the closed Lake Street TIF for cleanup and land acquisition to move the project forward. An agreement for use of those funds had been extended three times.  

In late December, trustees approved a fourth extension; this one expires March 31. And with that deadline looming to complete a redevelopment agreement for the project, both sides are going back and forth on the details of what those options could look like, Palm said.

“We are trying to pin down things and map out every scenario as part of this,” Palm said. “There’s a certain amount of (environmental) testing that will need to be done and we need to put together cost estimates. We are taking precautions and making sure details are ironed out.”

Village President Catherine Adduci is confident the village will have the redevelopment agreement by the deadline.

“As a resident and a developer Tim wants it finished,” she said.

The fact that the TIF agreement was extended for three months and not the full year as had been the case before is an indication of how close both sides are, Palm said. 

As far back as 2001, the state EPA found the wider Lake and Lathrop site to be contaminated. That site has been a dry cleaner since 1922. Cleaning chemicals have been found in previous testing in the parkway and street around the site.

In 2013, Ditchfield settled a long-standing lawsuit with Forest Park National Bank to dig up and remove contaminated soil on the site of an adjacent two-flat owned by the bank. The building has been removed and the property cleaned up. 

Continued discussions with Ditchfield to buy the site had been underway for two years. In late 2014, the village unsuccessfully offered to help him remediate his property by offering some of the TIF funds to do the work. Ditchfield never came back with a counter-offer; negotiations ended late that year.

In 2015, the village created a “business district” on Lake from Lathrop west to Ashland and designated that area blighted to strengthen the village’s position in the event of any further action, which could include exercising the right of eminent domain. 

Environmental cleanup is only one aspect that will be spelled out in the redevelopment agreement for Hague’s project. That document will include project timelines, budget, conceptual plans, site plans, density, a preliminary scope of work and a framework of what project will look like, Palm said.

The contract with the village will not include property acquisition. That would have to be accomplished by Hague and will include multiple property owners on the block long stretch: Ditchfield’s estate, Forest Park National and the family of Ali ElSaffar, Oak Park Township Assessor.

Hague has not talked to Wednesday Journal about the Lake and Lathrop project despite multiple attempts to reach him. He has also chosen not to speak to the Journal about his firm’s status as the preferred developer of a village owned site at Lake and Park. A redevelopment for that condo/townhouse/commercial project must be completed by mid-March.

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