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Red Seal opponents file complaint with Preckwinkle

Tuesday, March 24, 2015
Chicago Tribune
by Irv Leavitt

 Red Seal opponents file complaint with Preckwinkle

Opponents of the Red Seal project to build 137 homes on the Mission Hills Country Club golf course are still fighting to stop it, while Red Seal maintains it's already going about the business of selling houses there..

Copies of a 124-page Mission Hills Openlands complaint about the process that led up to the Feb. 10 Cook County Board approval of the Red Seal project's zoning arrived at Cook County offices late last week.

The complaint questions the roles of officials, including Commissioners Tim Schneider, R-Streamwood, and Peter Silvestri, R-Elmwood Park, and Cook County Zoning Board of Appeals Chairman Kevin Freeman, in the approval.

"We want an investigation," Openlands founder Karen Jump said March 19. "And then we want a do-over."

The complaint, addressed to Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, asks that the county "stop the Red Seal rezoning process until investigation completed."

Preckwinkle spokeswoman Karen Vaughan said March 20 that the complaint is too lengthy to comment yet.

Silvestri, head of the County Board's Zoning and Building Committee, issued a prepared statement on March 23:

"The zoning applications for the Mission Hills development (were) approved by a supermajority of the County Board of Commissioners. After several hearings at the Zoning Board of Appeals, and at the Zoning and Building Committee of the board, there is nothing more to be done at the county level. The proper remedy for disagreements with such decisions is now in the Circuit Court of Cook County."

Earlier this month, Openlands appealed to its hundreds of supporters to raise $150,000 by early May for a court fight. The organization maintains a matching grant from an anonymous supporter has been promised.

Meanwhile, Red Seal's new public relations contractor, Max Bever, maintained Monday that the firm has already sold 15 percent of the units, ahead of various final government approvals. No deals are closed, he said, but financing for the project is already in place.

In a prepared statement March 23, Red Seal CEO Todd Fishbein said the 137 units would "provide nearly 600 men and women in our neighborhood with good paying jobs."

"It is unfortunate there continues to be an orchestrated effort to misinform Northbrook-area residents with false statements about the project," he said. "This vocal minority is unfamiliar with critical aspects of property rights, zoning and the public development process, but still chooses to impugn any neighbor, developer or elected official who does not agree with their personal assessment of the situation."

Jump said March 19 that one elected official, Freeman, restricted testimony about the legalities surrounding planned unit developments, and she's confident that in court her side will be able to reverse the deconstruction of the PUD that linked the course and the 781 Mission Hills units for four decades.

But before that, Jump said, she wants to overturn the Feb. 10 vote. She maintains that Schneider had a conflict of interest, should have recused himself from the vote, and his vote would have made the difference.

Since Schneider owns the Golf Club of Illinois, which is connected through a PUD to Algonquin residences, it's in his interest to help Cook County disassemble a PUD for the first time in Illinois, she said.

Schneider, who heads the state Republican party, said recently that he looked into the legal potential for development of the Golf Club of Illinois property over 10 years ago, but professed he has no knowledge that it was part of a PUD.

Either way, he said, "Every PUD being different, every case has to stand on its own merit. Every case is unique."

He said his golf course, in McHenry County, "Is a completely separate matter. I don't know why this is bringing it up. I have no interest in Mission Hills."

Openlands' complaint also took a shot at Silvestri. The complaint notes that the Cook County State's Attorney's Office opinion, used by the ZBA to authorize recommending disassembly of Mission Hills' 1972 PUD, was revealed for the first time — and discounted by several county commissioners — at a Jan. 21 meeting of Silvestri's committee.

After the Jan. 21 meeting, the State's Attorney's Office wrote a new opinion, which was referred to in the committee's session of Feb. 10, prior to the deciding vote.

The complaint argues that Silvestri barred the introduction of additional evidence during his committee meetings, because evidence may only be admitted during ZBA public hearings on a proposal. The new state's opinion, therefore, should not have been used as new evidence, according to the document.

"That's 'authority,' not 'evidence,'" County Commissioner Larry Suffredin, D-Evanston, said March 20, referring to the opinions. Though he backs Openlands and maintains neither opinion actually proves Red Seal's point, it's proper for the opinions to have been used, he said.

Suffredin also disagreed with the claim that Schneider had a conflict of interest.

"What's going on is, they're throwing the kitchen sink at this thing," Suffredin said. "And I'm not saying that's bad. I'd do the same thing, if I were in their place."

Openlands has pledged to continue its assault on Red Seal's Provenance project at an upcoming, but yet unscheduled subdivision hearing before the village of Northbrook. The village has the right to impose its subdivision prices on any project within 1.5 miles of its borders, and has previously exercised that right.

That pricing process involves school and park district impact fees and infrastructure approval, including flood control.

Openlands asserts in its complaint that the Provenance drainage plan contains serious issues that could worsen area flooding. At a March 19 Northbrook Stormwater Management Commission meeting, Jump said Northbrook should take Openlands' claims seriously, especially since Mission Hills might one day be annexed by the village.

"If President Preckwinkle has her way, we will be part of Northbrook in 10 years, so whatever happens on your watch will affect the village directly," Jump said.

Vaughan, Preckwinkle's spokeswoman, confirmed that Preckwinkle hopes municipalities eventually annex all unincorporated areas of the county.

In 2011, Preckwinkle announced that the Cook County Unincorporated Task Force recommended that all unincorporated areas of the county be eventually annexed into existing municipalities, largely to save the county the cost of providing services.

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