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updated: 8/27/2010 11:01 AM

To golf or not to golf? Dist. 15 hopefuls weigh in on Fort Sheridan

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A Democratic candidate for the Lake County Forest Preserve District board says the county should consider paying off Town of Fort Sheridan residents rather than building a long-proposed golf course near their homes.

Del Parra, a Libertyville resident running for the District 15 seat, doesn't think Lake County should build a new layout at the preserve near Highland Park because the economy is bad and golf courses are losing money.

Promises were made to the U.S. Army - which owned the land before the forest district - and prospective Fort Sheridan residents, however, that a golf course would remain there forever. To get around those commitments and avoid potentially costly lawsuits, Parra believes the forest district should consider cutting those residents checks.

"As homeowners, they deserve some financial compensation if we're not going to build a golf course," he said.

Paying those residents not to sue might be more affordable that building an 18-hole golf course with a once-estimated price tag of more than $20 million, Parra said.

"We have to look at all the options," he said. "We have to put them on the table."

Parra is running against current District 15 board member Carol Calabresa, a Republican, and Green Party candidate David Serdar. All three live in Libertyville.

Parra unsuccessfully ran for the seat in 2006; Calabresa has held the post since 1986. Serdar is a first-time candidate.

The forest board doubles as the Lake County Board; each seat carries a two-year term.

Parra, Calabresa and Serdar were among the candidates who attended an open house about the golf options for Fort Sheridan on Thursday night in Lake Forest.

An 18-hole course was part of the property when the forest district acquired it in the 1990s. An upscale course - one that would be open to anyone, not just Fort Sheridan residents - was designed and the old course torn up in 2003, but those plans were scrapped when cost estimates skyrocketed.

Calabresa leads an advisory committee that's been discussing the matter since last year. The group is now weighing three plans that call for nine-hole courses and public trails.

The committee could make a recommendation to the forest board after a discussion set for Sept. 15. The board could vote on the matter by early next year.

Calabresa said she hasn't yet made up her mind on Fort Sheridan.

"As chairman of this advisory committee, I feel it is my role to listen to all of the public comments we received last night and to listen to all of the comments at the advisory committee meetings," she said. "I expect a very lengthy discussion at our next meeting."

Calabresa said she's torn between the deed restriction that requires a golf course and the current economic realities, which include a decline in golf business.

Whatever the board eventually decides to do, it must be fiscally responsible, she said.

Serdar, an avid golfer, said the forest commissioners "have to keep their integrity" and honor the promises to the Army and residents.

He supports building an 18-hole course and a practice facility for kids and thinks it can be done without turning the preserve into an expensive country club.

Money for an 18-hole course could be generated by cutting back on maintenance at the other three golf courses the forest district operates, Serdar said.

"They promised the people a course," Serdar said. "They should have what the people were promised."