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updated: 2/8/2011 10:33 AM

Bartlett park referendum drawing more supporters than opponents

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Bartlett Park District's plan to borrow $18 million to buy Villa Olivia and upgrade the Bartlett Aquatic Center appears to be garnering support from residents.

The park district held an informational session last week for residents to mingle and ask questions at its aquatic center, the same building at 620 W. Stearns Road that would benefit from $6 million in renovations. The aquatic center was built in 1992 and is obsolete, park district officials said.

The district is asking voters Nov. 2 for $18 million to buy Federal Build America Bonds, a move that would cost the owner of a $250,000 home about $35 more a year in property taxes, according to officials. The increase would last 20 years, then come off the books after the bonds are repaid.

Most who attended the session said they favored the plan, excited about the new water park attractions and adding Villa Olivia's ski hill and 18-hole golf course to the park district's assets. But there remained a few unconvinced.

"I think about all the people who are not working or haven't gotten raises for many years, which are many people," resident Debbie Merges said. "So I'm wondering if it will even pass."

Merges, who remains unsure how she will vote, said she would prefer the tax increase split into two referendums. However, park board President Ken Woods said the passage of the referendum would be the only opportunity the park district would have to buy the 138-acre Villa Olivia property at 1401 W. Lake St.

"We worked so long on this that it we would hard pressed to believe that the current owners of Villa Olivia would come to the same agreement in five years," Woods said. "Other buyers could be very well be knocking on the door."

The park district negotiated a $5.9 million price with Villa Olivia's owners, the Corrado family. At one point the Corrados had a $19 million deal to sell the property, but that fell through. Ryland Homes wanted to develop the parcel with homes and stores, but the village of Bartlett holds protective covenants keeping the property as open space until 2022.

If the referendum is approved, about $6.2 million would go toward renovations to Villa Olivia's banquet hall, golf clubhouse and chair lift. Park district officials believe Villa Olivia would bring in between $200,000 and $300,000 in yearly profits.

Some residents living near the ski hill prefer to keep the land free of development and believe the park district would help better maintain the facilities.

"It would improve all of our lives," said Tom Mushong, who lives with his wife, Judy, at the Townhouses of Villa Olivia.

Rose Pawlak, who lives near Villa Olivia, said asking for money for both projects at the same time is a good strategy. Residents living near Villa Olivia and the aquatic center would unite and support both measures, she believes.

Meanwhile resident Dave Cheatham has started a group, Parks For People, to help support the referendum. Cheatham said he at first he opposed the plan, but is now better informed.

"It will strengthen the economy in Bartlett, and that's really what's got me, keeping more people in Bartlett and drawing people to Bartlett," Cheatham said.