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Land swap survives a challenge
Forest district diverges on steel mill's plans for piece of Riverdale preserve

Thursday, May 05, 2005
Daily Southtown
by Jonathan Lipman

A proposal to swap Cook County Forest Preserve District land for land owned by a Riverdale steel plant will get a thorough review, officials promised Wednesday, after some commissioners pointed out legal hurdles for the plan.

Commissioner Mike Quigley (D-Chicago) tried to block the proposal outright, saying the county's land-use policy was being violated and not enough notice was given to the public.

Quigley's attempts to derail the proposal prompted an angry outburst from Deborah Sims (D-Chicago) after the vote.

"Why is it that some commissioners who have no forest preserves in their district think they can control the whole forest preserve district? That's not fair," Sims said.

Mittal Steel USA wants 21 acres of the Whistler Woods Forest Preserve to expand its plant at 135th Street and Perry Avenue in Riverdale. In trade, the company would give the district 31 acres it owns just across the Little Calumet River in Chicago, south of 127th Street.

Preservationists object to the deal, which would be only the second time the district gave away nonsurplus land. The district sold 2.4 acres in 1999 so Rosemont could build a parking lot for a casino that was never built.

Sims says since Rosemont got the land it needed, Mittal should, too. The district will gain land in the deal, while the community will get needed jobs from the plant expansion.

Sims agreed to follow the land-use policy, which calls for sending the proposal to a citizens advisory committee. A nearly identical land swap proposal at the same location was stalled in that committee 10 years ago, Sims said.

"It needed to go to the advisory board, even though I really did not want it to go there," Sims said. "I'm a little fearful ... but I think this would be a different case, with what's happening in the south suburbs, with businesses leaving."

Quigley, who's expected to run for county board president next year, argued the county's land-use policy says any proposal to sell or trade forest preserve land must be accompanied by a detailed report by the district superintendent, which has not been done. Without such a report, the issue should not even be sent to committee, he said.

The land policy "is there for a reason," Quigley said. "When you're going to convey land like this will propose, it should not be taken lightly."

Other commissioners, including Commissioners Larry Suffredin (D-Evanston), who also opposes the swap, overruled Quigley. They said Sims only wanted the committee to consider letters of interest from Riverdale and the steel company, and a full proposal hasn't yet been prepared.

"These two letters are not enough to act on," Suffredin said.

"Commissioner Suffredin is wrong," Quigley said. "This is how we got Rosemont. There wasn't a formal deal put together ... that thing got put together in places well beneath the ground."

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