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Glencoe looks to annex unincorporated portions of Chicago Botanic Garden, nearby county land

Wednesday, December 23, 2020
Chicago Tribune
by DANIEL I. DORFMAN

The village of Glencoe is in negotiations to annex unincorporated land that is currently part of the Cook County Forest Preserve District, including a section of the Chicago Botanic Garden.

The nature center sits at the northern edge of Cook County. Currently, a portion of the Chicago Botanic Garden is within Glencoe’s corporate boundaries, with the remaining unincorporated portion under the Cook County Forest Preserve District.

Officials from both the county and village confirmed that conversations between stakeholders are taking place for a deal that would allow Glencoe to annex all of the Chicago Botanic Garden’s land along with the nearby McDonald Woods. In addition, the two-thirds of the Glencoe Golf Club land that is now unincorporated would also be transferred to village control.

Glencoe Village President Larry Levin said discussions over the possible annexation have been taking place off and on for years, but have intensified in recent months.

“We are talking about whether or not this is the appropriate time, and whether we should in fact move forward with that now,” Levin said.

Levin is set to step down from the village presidency next May, as he is not running for reelection after serving the traditional two terms.

“I think if we were to get it done in the near term, it would be helpful while I am still here because I have had numerous contacts and work regularly on all sorts of things with the county and the garden,” Levin said. “So, it is logical that while I am still here and we have that relationship and background that we see if we can get it finished up.”

Levin pointed to possible transportation benefits for the village if a deal is completed.

“This would put the village in a better position to support enhancements with (Illinois Department of Transportation) to improve the exit lanes from the Edens Expressway to the garden,” Levin said.

A buck in McDonald Woods on the edge of Chicago Botanic Garden on Sept. 10, 2019.
A buck in McDonald Woods on the edge of Chicago Botanic Garden on Sept. 10, 2019. (E. Jason Wambsgans / Chicago Tribune)

As part of an annexation, the village would have larger responsibility for public safety and emergency response for the 385-acre campus than it currently does.

At the same time, while the Chicago Botanic Garden does not charge admission, the village would be in a position to collect a portion of the sales tax revenue generated at its gift shop, café and through its urban agriculture initiative. Those funds now exclusively go to the county.

For the county, the village annexation of the unincorporated land would suit what Cook County Commissioner Larry Suffredin described as an overarching goal to no longer have responsibility over unincorporated areas.

“The fewer pieces of land where we are the municipal authority, the better off we would be,” Suffredin said.

He said the loss of sales tax revenue would be offset by decreasing fire and public safety responsibilities for the county.

“From a government point of view, it is a much cleaner way of doing it,” Suffredin said. “I am not aware of any reason why it would not go through,”

Chicago Botanic Garden officials issued a statement saying they were aware of the conversation, and are cooperating and collaborating with the county and the village, but did not have any additional details to share.

Chicago Botanic Garden operates under a model in which the land is owned by the county and operated by the Chicago Horticultural Society, according to its website. Currently, the Forest Preserve District supplies funding to cover about one-third of the garden’s budget. That is expected to continue, according to Suffredin.

No changes are expected that would impact the visitor experience, officials said.

Glencoe Village Attorney Steven Elrod said if completed, the change would be a voluntary annexation with the Cook County Forest Preserve District required to adopt a resolution and file a petition with Glencoe allowing the village to annex the property.

Daniel I. Dorfman is a freelance reporter.



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