County buys 75 acres for $2.4M to expand forest preserve

The Lake County Board voted Tuesday to buy about 75 acres to add to the Pine Dunes Forest Preserve, a move that prompted objections from two neighboring towns who argue it’s a waste of prime real estate.Pine Dunes, Lake County Illinois

Wadsworth and Newport Township officials took issue with 2,000 feet of frontage along Route 41, calling the stretch their last big parcel that could be used for commercial development.

“We just heard of the sale last Friday,” said Wadsworth Mayor Glenn Ryback, who told the Lake County Board that developers have eyed the property for a fueling center or truck stop.

Chicago Tribune  May 13, 2015, By Frank S. Abderholden, News-Sun

Those uses, Ryback said, would keep the land on property tax rolls and potentially produce sales tax receipts.  “Now they’ll probably select an equally nice site up north in Wisconsin,” he said.

Despite objections from Ryback as well as similar arguments from Newport Fire Chief Mark Kirchhoffer, the board voted 18-2 in favor of buying about $2.4 million worth of land for the forest preserve district.

One of the additions, the 15-acre Kinney property located on the south side of State Line Road and east of Crawford Road, was purchased for $470,000. A second parcel, about 60 acres located on the west side of Route 41 and north of Edwards Road, is expected to cost just under $2 million.

The forest preserve district already owns land to the west and south while Van Patten Woods is located across Route 41.  Forest Preserve President Ann Maine was not moved by objections. “We have a signed contract with the seller,” she said. “These are willing sellers.”

According to Maine, the property owner previously tried to sell a portion for commercial development but the land never sold. Board member Nick Sauer also referenced the rights of the seller.  “They’d like to sell the property. I think that’s a straight-forward decision,” he said.

Kirchhoffer, however, said taking the property off the tax rolls would harm the Newport Fire Protection District’s finances. The district recently lost a tax increase referendum that would have helped fund operations and equipment replacements.

“The problem is at this point we can’t lose anymore EAV,” said Kirchhoffer, referring to the equalized assessed valuation that applies to property taxes. “We’re already living hand to mouth.

“With these two parcels, 25 percent of the township will be forest preserve,” he added. “It takes away the ability to have commercial or whatever there. We have to stop the bleeding. We can’t exist as the recreation hub of the county.”

Moses Amidei-mamidei, Wadsworth’s village administrator, said the issue has already been worsened by declining property values.

“By prohibiting commercial development, the burden on home owners will increase,” he said.

Newport Township supervisor Randy Whitmore, a former Lake County Board member, said the purchase for forest preserve purposes clashes with the idea that the county is trying to keep businesses and promote economic development.

“This is a good site for commercial development. We’d like to have some of your help,” he said.

Lake County Board member Charles Bartels agreed with dissenters and cast one of the two votes against the measure.

With the additions, the Pine Dunes Forest Preserve will be 868 acres, a bit smaller than the adjoining Van Patten Woods’ 974 acres.  The largest preserve in the system remains Lakewood Forest Preserve at 2,805 acres in Wauconda, followed by Rollins Savanna at 1,250 acres in Grayslake and Grant Woods at 1,226 acres in Lake Villa.

At Pine Dunes, a parking lot and trails are planned near an existing man-made pond. Hiking and fishing are promoted on the forest preserve website. Officials previously discussed turning a home on the property into an education center, but improvements to make the facility handicap accessible could be cost prohibitive.

The preserve was opened in 2004 with the purchase of 158 acres from the DuTemple farming family.

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Copyright © 2015, Lake County News-Sun

Original Article:  http://www.chicagotribune.com/suburbs/lake-county-news-sun/news/ct-lns-pine-forest-preserve-st-0513-20150513-story.html