Lake County Forest Preserve District commissioners decided by the thinnest of margins to seek proposals to build a 9-hole golf course at Fort Sheridan.
But there was ambivalence in Tuesday's 12-10 approval, as some commissioners cited legal advice as the reason for their support.
"On advice of counsel, I feel going forward with the (request for proposal) puts the forest preserve in the best ongoing legal position. That's the only reason," Commissioner Steve Carlson said after the vote.
Forest district officials held a lengthy closed-door session before a special call meeting in which members voted only on the preparation of a request for proposals to have a private concern build and operate a 9-hole course, as recommended by a special committee formed by the district in 2009.
Officials declined to discuss specifics. But the approval apparently was intended as a show of good faith should the district decide at some point to try to remove a deed restriction from the U.S. Army that required a golf course on the property.
"It's following through on the process," forest board President Ann Maine said after the meeting.
The 9-hole option, with expanded public trails, was a compromise reached by the special committee made up of several stakeholders, including neighboring communities.
After meeting six times over about a year, the group could not reach a consensus on whether to build an 18-hole course or leave the 250-acre property as a traditional forest preserve.
And because the district can't afford it, the suggestion was to request proposals to see if any private firms were interested in funding, building and operating the course. The district would own the course but license its operation.
What will or should happen at Fort Sheridan has been an issue since the district acquired the property, including frontage along Lake Michigan, from the Army between 1996 and 2002.
Opinion remains divided. Some homeowners, who say they were promised a golf course when they bought their property, and others including the city of Highland Park want a course built.
But a downturn in the golf industry has soured many forest commissioners on the idea of pursuing anything but open space.
"I don't think golf is a good use," said Commissioner Pat Carey, who voted against a request for proposal. "It's premier forest preserve. It's great land."
The next step is for the district to select a consultant, at an estimated cost of $30,000 to $70,000, to help it craft a proposal. The document would be produced over the summer in cooperation with the finance and administrative committee.
The request for proposal could be issued this fall, with any responses to be considered early next year. And what if none are received?
"That's a policy decision the board will have to consider," said Tom Hahn, the district's executive director.