By Jenny Quill, GazeboNews correspondent
It was a full house at Dickinson Hall for the Oct. 29 Town Hall Meeting, during which City of Lake Forest aldermen, Mayor Jim Cowhey and various administrators, including City Manager Robert Kiely Jr., presented the state of the City and fielded questions from about two-dozen residents.
The meeting, which lasted nearly two hours, covered a lot of ground, including traffic and cost concerns surrounding Northwestern Lake Forest Hospital’s revitalization, the status of the Municipal Services Building site, general traffic and road-condition gripes, commercial activity, and a surprising idea for a restaurant at the beach.
Rather than give you the blow-by-blow, we’ve highlighted the evening’s most noteworthy points.
Among the detailed financial highlights presented by the City, there were two statistics that stood out: First, the number of City employees per 100 households has dropped from 3.5 in 1992 to 3 in fiscal year 2013, a 25% reduction.
Secondly, while the City anticipates a balanced budget for the next five years, there was some concern expressed that the financially challenged State of Illinois may seize municipal revenue, such as income tax and sales tax, which the State normally collects and refunds back to the community. “The State is already something like $300,000 or $400,000 behind on reimbursements for sales and income taxes,” said Second Ward Alderman and Finance Chairman George Pandaleon. “This doesn’t directly affect the city—this is a school district issue—but you may have heard that there are discussions in Springfield that maybe they should take the teacher’s pensions that are under-funded and are the state’s obligation and simply put those on the school districts, which would have the effect of significantly increasing property taxes.”
The City projected that Lake Forest residents would save an estimated $526 through May 2013 as a result of the electrical aggregation referendum that was passed in March of this year. Pandaleon estimated that, in actuality, there will be a $3.3-million savings for the period of June/July 2012 to May 2013.
East Lake Forest Train Station Restoration
The first phase of the east train station renovation is complete. Coming up: the restoration of exterior wood, stucco and masonry repairs and interior restoration, all of which is contingent upon additional private funding as well as funding from the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT).
Former Municipal Services Site
The 10-acre site of the former municipal services building on Laurel Avenue has been a contentious topic of debate for several years. Recently, the City of Lake Forest hired Teska Associates, a consulting firm, to assess the viability of establishing a Tax Increment Finance District (TIF) to redevelop the site, a process that may take approximately six to nine months. “Over the last couple of years, the economy and real estate market have made it very difficult for us to achieve our end goal, which is, quite simply, to sell the site to a developer and have a very well-planned, well-thought-out development project on the site,” said Alderman Donald Schoenheider. “Several years ago we developed a master plan for the site. Where we are today is that we’re taking that plan and beginning to evaluate how we can move this project forward. With the idea, again, of developing a relationship with potential purchasers who would do a thoughtful development on the site. We’re exploring incentive opportunities, tax-increment financing. It’s certainly a work in progress.”
Northwestern Lake Forest Hospital Redevelopment
“Without a doubt, this will be the largest construction project the city has ever seen, and with that comes a great deal of attention, careful planning, work and effort on behalf of everyone who was involved,” said Schoenheider. “The expectation is that the new hospital will be up and running in probably 5 years or so.”
Chances are, you’re already fairly familiar with the proposed revitalization. Just in case you’re out of the loop, here’s a link to the Campus Master Land Use Plan, as well as a link to a recent story published by the Chicago Tribune.
Several residents posed questions about the hospital’s plans, specifically those related to traffic congestion, the cost of new infrastructure improvements and who will foot the bill, and whether or not the hospital pays real estate taxes. In response to the real estate tax issue, Catherine Czerniak, the director of community development, clarified that the hospital building does not pay property taxes; however, the medical office buildings on the property do pay property taxes.
According to Czerniak, the hospital will foot the bill for all infrastructure improvements, which have been pegged at approximately $400 million.
“To put it in real simple language, as we looked at this, we looked at a series of buckets,” said Czerniak. “The first was the property taxes that the hospital does pay. The second is that the hospital will pay completely for all the infrastructure improvements—storm drainage improvements, sanitary, sewer, water, all the roadway improvements. The hospital will pay all the normal permit fees, sewer connection fees, water-plant investment fees. Finally, the ordinance developed by the city attorney at the direction of the City Council really assures that, going forward, if there’s an increased demand, for instance, on police or fire service as a result of the expanded hospital, that ordinance provides that the hospital will pay the city for that incremental increase.”
Part of the hospital’s plans to alleviate traffic congestion and improve traffic flow to the campus involves working with IDOT to construct a direct access to the hospital campus from Route 41. “This is an opportunity to really direct traffic east to west and offload some traffic off of Deerpath,” said Czerniak. Additionally, it was mentioned that the hospital has committed to funding a study of the Deerpath and Route 41 interchange.
Economic Development Coordinator Susan Kelsey shared that the city’s retail vacancy rate is currently only 4.5% to 5%, and that 25 new businesses have moved in during the last 20 months, with five additional businesses slated to open by the end of this year or beginning of 2013. One of those businesses, Frosting is slated to open on Westminster in coming weeks. Kelsey also revealed that the vacant Burger King and King Maa spaces may have leases signed, though she did not reveal the names of the leasees.
The town hall mailing mentioned a “restaurant at the beach,” which, it turns out, is nothing more than an idea brought up during the City’s strategic planning session. “There was an idea that, hey, wouldn’t it be a nice amenity to have if it didn’t overburden the beach facility itself,” said City Manager Bob Kiley. “And, secondly, it would be an economic engine, if you will, to get more people into the community shopping, eating and doing those kinds of things.”
Lastly, it was shared that the former BP gas station property at the northeast corner of Waukegan and Everett Rds., where CVS had, at one time, considered opening a location, is now privately owned. No additional details were given about the owner or his or her plans for the property.
Emerald Ash Borer
Director of Parks and Recreation Mary Van Arsdale shared that emerald ash borer has been found in every neighborhood at this point. She estimated that the publicly owned street trees total approximately 30,000 trees (this does not include other public properties, such as parks, nature preserve, city buildings and the golf course). Of the street trees, approximately 20% are ash trees, or about 6,000 trees. Public properties may have three to five times this number of ash trees and many more ash are located on private property throughout the community. City staff anticipates completing the tree inventory and having a proposed EAB 5 to 10 Year Management Plan to share with City Council after the first of the year.
If you’d like to learn more about emerald ash borer, you can obtain a homeowners’ information kit by calling Parks and Forestry at 847-810-3544 or e-mailing email@example.com.