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