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Stormwater Negotiations: City Will Not Get 'Yes or No' Answer on Park Excavation

There is "more than one way to skin this cat," commissioners say.

If the Park Board had to vote today on the city's proposal to excavate Elmhurst's parks for stormwater detention, park Commissioner Vince Spaeth would vote no.

"If I had to make a decision right now, I probably couldn't support any of it because it's all coming one-sided from (the city)," he said at the Wednesday, Aug. 28, Park Board meeting. "They want to use the parks—our jewels—and I want to protect our parks."

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Related: Park Board Not Yet Sold on City's Plan to Excavate Parks for Flood Remediation

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Spaeth, who called the city's plan a "bandaid," is not alone. In fact, all seven Park Board members have plenty of concerns about the plan. 

The city also is proposing dredging three School District 205 properties. A committee composed of District 205 School Board members Shannon Ebner and Chris Blum, Park Board members Spaeth and Bob Howard, and Aldermen Dannee Polomsky and Jim Kennedy was formed earlier this month. 

Spaeth is hoping the committee discussion will "morph into something bigger."

"When we get all these smart people in the room, they're going to feed off each other, develop these ideas that are in their infancy now," he said.

In preparation for their first meeting, which hasn't been scheduled yet, the Park Board came to consensus Wednesday on what Spaeth and Howard should convey to the city. 

"In the spirit of intergovernmental cooperation, we owe a response back on what they proposed," Park District Executive Director Jim Rogers said. "It doesn't have to be a blanket yes or no. We want to be a part, if we can, of the broader solution and of generating alternate (ideas)."

The city has its eye on four park sites for excavation: York Commons, East End, Golden Meadows and Wild Meadows Trace, along Seminole Avenue west of York Road.

Pioneer Park and Wild Meadows

Pioneer Park and the Seminole area would address flooding for the same handful of homes. It's one or the other, not both, that the city is asking to use. So, Rogers suggested Pioneer Park be taken off the table. The board agreed they do not want the city to consider using Pioneer Park, with its soccer field and other amenities, when the vacant land along Seminole will get the job done without disrupting anything.

"Seminole is a no-brainer," Spaeth said. "They can make that as deep as it needs to be, put a fence around it. It doesn't help a lot of houses, though."

Indeed, it will help only four homes in the area, Rogers said, so cost "needs to be part of the consideration." 

East End and Golden Meadows

According to the Park Board, the East End and Golden Meadows proposals hinge on the biggest wildcard in Elmhurst: The old Elmhurst Memorial Hospital property on Berteau Avenue. The hospital had been in discussions with a national home builder to develop the property.

"It would deal the process a real black eye—adding houses, taking that hospital property and not giving first rights of analysis to this triad group," Commissioner Carolyn Ubriaco said. 

Rogers said the Elmhurst Hospital site must be evaluated before any discussion about Golden Meadows or East End Park can take place. Because the Berteau property is on high ground, it probably wouldn't be ideal for water detention. But if the soccer field and gardens were moved from Golden Meadows to Berteau, that would free up all of Golden Meadows for stormwater detention, commissioners said.

Park President Colette Kubiesa said some of the neighbors near Golden Meadows were not very happy with the soccer activity at the park anyway.

"Just dig that hole (deeper) over there," she said. "It's still going to be open space."

Commissioner Pat Moll agreed. 

"How can we tap into that (hospital) property?" she said. "We've got to come up with a viable solution that's not a Bandaid and that's not going to desecrate our parks."

A Thursday article in TribLocal, however, quoted the hospital's chief marketing officer, Brian Davis, as saying, "We plan to sell it, but we haven't hired a (real estate) broker yet." He said that might happen in a week or so.

York Commons Park

The city's desire to use York Commons for water detention was upsetting to some residents of Cayuga, who attended the Aug. 14 Park Board meeting. They are concerned that by alleviating flooding for residents on Crescent, their own homes may be in jeopardy of flooding.

"We need to ask the city and Burke (Engineering) to address the concerns raised by Cayuga residents," Rogers said. "Will (York Commons) overflow onto their properties?"

Commissioners also want more information on installing underground tanks and a permeable parking lot at York Commons.

"Would it be more costly? Absolutely," Rogers said. "But it's reasonable to ask what the cost would be. Is it an opportunity to use a bit less park and incorporate green technology into these solutions?"

Other Solutions

School and park properties only represent a fraction of the solution, commissioners said. They want to be kept apprised of what else the city is doing to alleviate flooding, with regard to city ordinances, building codes, purchasing properties in the flood plain, addressing solutions upstream, green initiatives, negotiating with DuPage County to use more of the quarry's capacity, and financial partnerships to motivate homeowners to make changes on their properties. 

And, what about the flood-prone areas not addressed in the city's plan, Ubriaco asked.

"If we're going to take a holistic look at the community, we need to look at those areas," she said.

For the Park District, the cheapest solutions may not be the best, she said.

"It seems as though the highest priority has been placed on cost to the city," she said, adding the city's solution may not be the least costly in the long run. "(Flood remediation) will benefit the community for the next 100 years and should be paid for over the long term. Let's not be short sighted."

City officials have said their portion of the work is about $11.7 million. The other part of the plan is for the Park District to pay for "park enhancements," to restore the parks after they've been excavated. Ball fields, seating, parking and other amenities would have to be added back in.

"It has taken us years and years and years to come up with the facilities we have today," Ubriaco said. "Millions of dollars, (investments in) creativity, project management, advances in state-of-the-art. It seems very unrealistic to me to think that as a park district we could implement all of these park improvements. We're talking about millions and millions of dollars, and that money for park improvements has not been costed. That, alone, would take I don't know how many years project-wise."

She said the Park District has prided itself on operating within its means.

"We don't put our hand out for more money," she said. "We work with what we have."

Kubiesa said this scenario demonstrates why it is a good thing the city and Park District are separate governing bodies.

"Thank goodness we are a separate entity from the city," she said. "If we weren't, this would be a done deal.

"It's all about choices and options. That's the way we do business here."

5DecadesInElmhurs August 29, 2013 at 10:01 PM
The open space is going fast and the City/Park District/Dupage Forest Preserve needs to act quickly before the land is gone. They should be looking at the Two Roosevelt Road parcels (east of York Street; one each north and south of Roosevelt), the old hospital parcel, the no mans land" along the I-88/Roosevelt/294 highways, [and also that wretched asphalt plant next to the tracks at Route 83.] Local retention can be created at the north end of Butterfield Park. Likewise, Kiwanas Park can hold some water. The Butterfield/Kiwana's areas can help the Cayuga residents by holding water from the upper part of Butterfield Hill. Of course, this is all a substitute process as any home built in a flood plain will flood at some point in time......
Idont Givitout August 30, 2013 at 12:12 PM
Dredging is an operation carried out usually underwater. The correct term to use here is excavate. These areas are dry land and soil may be removed with either excavators or dozers and/or end loaders. If your leaders believe that dredging is needed then clearly they are showing their incompetence. Now as far as construction of storm water retention ponds, whether dry or wet is the issue to be contended with. Dry ponds do not take value away from a park and actually can enhance them. Wet ponds are pleasant too and can provide a recreational asset such as fishing, water features, boat (model) racing etc. Roselle has a nice wet pond on Roselle road. Storm water retention has been a state law for years and Elmhurst has violated this law most recently when they allowed Mariano's (btw nice store) to build without planning/providing storm water run off. The park district is/should be part of Elmhurst city government and not a separate entity. If the City needs land to accomplish compliance with state law then so be it. Now the parks budget should not be required to pay for this improvement, clearly this is a special city project and that's who should pay for it. It is time for the city to take responsibility for their greed based actions
5DecadesInElmhurs August 30, 2013 at 01:51 PM
Not only is the proposed project a substitute process, but the City Government is thoroughly dysfunctional.... There are two factors at work. First; the neighborhoods that flood are low ground. Fifty years ago, before the region got built up, that didn't matter as cross country water flow could be absorbed by the open areas. Former City governments did understand something about quality of life, and flooding, and the lot sizes were partly determined by the need to allow water to drain. Neighborhood flooding is not new to Elmhurst. In the 1870's, during the "Estate Era," even the large parcels would pond after a rain. Arbor Vitae, and Elm trees were planted, in part, to suck up the excess water. Second, in the last twenty years, the City of Elmhurst, has lost sight of the fact that our town has a great area of low and flat ground. Elmhurst has cut up the larger lots, allowed larger houses and driveways, allowed commercial strips to be established in previously residential (with open and grassy areas) neighborhoods. The City is now actively pursuing a "necessary" flood project while simultaneously encouraging backyard drains! Why should the schools and Park District do anything when the City is actively encouraging more flooding?
5DecadesInElmhurs August 30, 2013 at 02:02 PM
To: Idontgivitout... I need to disagree with you on combining The City of Elmhurst with the Elmhurst Park District. Our Park District is following its mission which is to preserve open space in Elmhurst. The PD provides another level of accountibility to Elmhurst residents. For over fifty years I have observed our City government and I have never been so disgusted, with the City, as I am now. Does anyone really want to turn our parks over to the people who create useless TIF Districts, promote failed land developments, and cut sweetheart deals with the real estate and developer factions? The current City government is incapable of serving long time residents but they have no problem with cutting deals with outside business! Give the City our parks and I'll guarantee you that those open spaces will quickly fill with banks and condo's. The Elmhurst Park District is not perfect but at least they are keeping the enemy from the gates!
Candace Marolda Lech August 30, 2013 at 08:17 PM
I agree, perhaps the time has come to take back our parks returning their to the City. Taking valuable taxable property (Old hospital) for a park is not financially prudent for our City. The park district has taken over buildings, removing them from our tax rolls. Perhaps it is time to move the park district back to City Hall and consolidate and put those buildings back as tax generating properties. The park district board needs to remember that the parks belong to us, it is not their personal 'jewels' as stated in the meeting. To hear various commissioners speak about how flooding only affects a few homes shows a complete level of ignorance not to mention compassion. If it was their homes experiencing 4' of water in a lower level they may be more sympathetic to the plight of Elmhurst residences. If those of you who think these flooding issues won't affect you, think again. Elmhurst is already facing troubled times for selling homes due to possible buyers afraid to purchase in a town with so many flooding issues. People do their homework and all you have to do is google for the information. Soon there won't be enough revenue to even support parks when people disgusted leave and that is going to bring down everyone's home value. So yes, it sure is going to have a impact on this City. The plan submitted to use the parks as a dry retention area is extremely financially prudent and more than a band aid as suggested. To think that the park board wants to use the highest point (Old Elmhurst Hospital) for water retention is ludicrous. Pumping water out is expensive, just look at the costs at the quarry. The real truth came out when it was mentioned to use the old hospital site as a bargaining chip. In other words, taking valuable tax generating property was more important than the very citizens they represent. Shameful. I've given this much thought, it is time to Take Back Our Parks and return them to our City. I'm more than willing to start a grass root campaign to facilitate this action.
Dave August 31, 2013 at 10:15 AM
Candace's comments are spot on. Having attended the last meeting, I can tell you that on balance their attitude is "let's figure out all the clever return salvo's" to take the Park District out of being part of the solution. I say on balance because, there is one park board member that actually understands the issues better than anyone else (including the public works personnel and the alderman), but he will get shut down by all of his colleagues. And, ironically, I bet the city would welcome this resistance from the park district, so they can say "we went to the park and school district's but they wouldn't cooperate, so there's nothing we can do, and it's not our fault". A perfect government outcome: Officials find a way to blame someone else, and nothing gets done. The park district can continue to run THEIR jewels as their own personal property, impose their values on everyone else (ie, "Elmhurst should not have fences" around detentions ponds because it would look bad, per Mary Kies), and the city can continue to issue building permits, collect more taxes from redeveloped property, and let the 10-15% of us who experience overland flooding pay for it all in property damage and devaluation. Consider that the city has no problem trotting out eminent domain when they want to take over a piece of private property so that they can be in the real estate business, but won't muscle the park district for a purpose which is the the core of all their responsibilites? It's shameful and disgraceful, and you have to question why you continue to live here...oh, I know, because I can't sell my house since it's in the middle of a lake every other year. You would think that the least they can do is refund our entire tax bill (including school taxes) everytime we become lake basis property until this is fixed. The city has to pay DuPage county when it dumps water into the quarry, so how is the use of our basements anything different?
Jim Court September 01, 2013 at 11:37 PM
The city and park district really seem unconcerned about public opinion, suggestions or ideas offered by citizens as well as city workers. If it does not originate the the very top it carries no weight. I myself have made numerous suggestions over the years and have only seen one adopted and implemented. This was the stairs on the north side of the tracks leading to the parking garage on Schiller. I believe that the general disengagement shown by our citizens is responsible for the indifference by city leadership. Elmhurst does many things right but there are many things that could be done a whole lot better. Sometimes I feel like my writing is an exercise in futility.
8675309 September 03, 2013 at 11:27 AM
The city IS completely unconcerned about public opinion. I for one am TIRED fo going to these meetings and hearing the SAME thing over and over. I also went to the meeting when the city met with the school board. Yet another waste of my time. We keep hearing the same BS over and over. No questions are answered. Allowing a citizen 3 minutes to voice an opinion which no one from the city cares on bit to hear is POINTLESS. How about the city having a QUESTION AND ANSWER SESSION with, the Park Board, School Board and the CITIZENS of Elmhurst?? But why would they do that???? They dont want the people to know that these huge plans that will cost MILLIONS will only help 50% of the homes affected by flooding. HELLOOOO??? Doesnt sound like a solution to me. But the city FINALLY did admit that fact at teh school board meeting. But if you werent there (which by the way there were only about 3 people who attended to hear what the city proposed to the school board for flood mitigation) you didn't hear them finally admit that. How many people know that the city had a Citizens Task Force made up of engineers, geologists, and others, some of whom do this for a living, that came up with good ideas that wouldnt cost as much as this proposed plan- that has since been DISBANNED by the city??? The whole situtation makes me ill.
Jim Court December 19, 2013 at 10:22 AM
Sometimes significant change is needed for any organization the best possible results. Bureaucracies become entrenched and self serving. Elmhurst voters seem to be generally complacent.
Jim Court December 19, 2013 at 10:23 AM
organization to achieve the best possible results
Steve December 28, 2013 at 06:41 AM
8675309 - if you give up and stop going then they win. I would encourage you to gather support from others and contact your representatives instead of giving up. Make more noise.

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