The Bartlett village board approved renovations to Beaver Pond on Tuesday, avoiding a legal showdown with the park district but disappointing many residents who live in the area.
After four years of heated debates and a looming lawsuit, the Bartlett Park District will be allowed to add fishing piers, a pavilion, horseshoe pits, a bike path, parking spaces and portable restrooms to Beaver Pond.
Beaver Pond, a 21-acre park on Stearns Road east of Route 59, has been a hot spot for years to both out-of-town visitors and residents looking for a quiet place to fish. But residents who live around the pond already have to deal with people walking through their yards, driving on their yards and even urinating on their trees.
Renovating the park could attract more problems and diminish the natural and simple aura of the area, some residents argued.
"It's a country setting, we have plenty of wildlife that comes around and a healthy ecosystem … how many places in the suburbs can you say are like that?" asked Beaver Pond resident Cheryl Burseth. "We're not opposed to improvements, but this isn't what we want."
It wasn't what the board initially wanted either. The board previously voted down the proposal, concerned about the damage flooding could cause and the residents who would be affected. But the park district, which already started planning and secured a $400,000 grant from the Department of Natural Resources, sued the village over the decision. The park district could have lost the grant money by December if it was not done with the project.
The legal standoff was a lose-lose for Bartlett residents.
"You have the park district against the village, so taxpayers were funding both sides," said Beaver Pond resident Ken Matthews.
Steve Adams, attorney for the park district, said the district is now in the process of dropping the case after the board's approval.
While Matthews was against the legal battle between the park district and village, he said some of the improvements could be beneficial but not enough planning was put in place.
Residents supported the idea of an additional bike path because it could mean fewer strangers walking on their property, but the location concerned them. Beaver Pond had severe floods in 2008 and 2010 that cost many residents in the area tens of thousands of dollars in damages and spurred Federal Emergency Management Agency action. Mike Reiskis, who has been fighting against the proposal since 2007, said even when the floods are not that severe, they still cause significant damage. He said the proposed pathway would be flooded often and could be damaged or useless.
"Don't allow money we don't have to be spent on something we don't want," Reiskis asked the board.
The park district countered the concerns, saying the complaints and concerns residents have already exist and this expansion would only help.
Adams said placing parking spots in additional areas and adding a bike path would make for easier access for both visitors and police, who residents said worried about the lack of access they currently have. Adams also said the park district is working on a drainage system to help curb the flooding.
"There will still be parties and the fishing derby whether this is built or not," Adams said. "We believe this project will improve the conditions there."
While the board approved the project, the trustees took exception to being sued and the park district's claim it sued the village and not the residents, as some in the audience claimed.
"When the park district sued the village and the board of trustees, you sued the residents," Trustee Eric Shipman said to Adams. "They have to foot the bill."
Residents were also not happy with how the park district went about securing the project.
Burseth said the park district waited until after residents approved a referendum that allowed the park district to purchase Villa Olivia and make improvements to the swimming pool before suing the village.
Had the lawsuit been filed before the referendum, it would have never passed, she said.
"We're just tired of being bullied by the park district," she said.
Adams reiterated the park district would work with the residents and add signs to help the parking and safety situations, protect the wildlife and "maintain a clean and safe park environment."