Public pressure came to bear in Lake Zurich as the village board unanimously voted against selling nearly seven acres of Paulus Park as surplus property to generate revenue.
About 30 residents turned out Monday night to discourage the board from declaring a section of the 41-acre park as surplus so it could be combined with an adjacent triangle-shaped two-acre parcel owned by Jack Deschauer. The entire 9 acres fronting Route 12 would have been developed commercially by Chicago-based Chody Real Estate.
Resident Maureen Degen, a former park and recreation advisory board member, said the village needed to gather more public opinion before considering selling the park land. Calling Paulus Park the "crown jewel of parks in Lake Zurich," she said, "We have a beautiful park there and I'd hate to see it change and become the 166th strip mall in Lake Zurich."
The proposal, discussed privately by the village board for about 14 months, would have meant moving the sled hill and skate park. However, it also would have generated $3 million to address the village's concerns about rebuilding reserve funds and maintaining its two-year-old AA bond rating.
"The village officials have several poor options from which to choose," Village President Suzanne K. Branding said before the vote. "I don't like any of these options but the sale of this property seems to be the least bad in a group of bad choices."
Village Administrator Bob Vitas said village employee wage freezes for the past year and reduced employee health insurance were put in place to save money, yet the village is projecting a $1.5 million budget deficit in May.
"It's important to balance assets with current needs," Vitas said.
Branding outlined other financial obstacles, such as $26.5 million in police and fire pension funds due to underfunding of pension programs, and a $28.3 million debt with the tax increment financing district designed for downtown redevelopment. That project was awarded in March 2009, but no development has occurred and the contract expires Jan. 1, 2011, she said.
Some residents said instead of liquidating assets, the village should focus on filling vacant commercial properties. Branding said officials are talking with the empty Kmart property owners to get a new tenant and working to annex land on the west side of Route 22 and Quentin Road for development, as well as marketing land not under contract in the special downtown taxing district.
Village officials invited residents to offer suggestions of how to improve village finances.
Vitas said residents will have an opportunity to comment about all of the park land use through an open space master plan to be completed in March.