When it comes to redeveloping the 700 acres of the old Kane County jail/Fabyan Parkway site, the potential legal perils of the abandoned detention center will be gone. But one elected board's trash won't become another board's liability displeasure.
Kane County Board members Tuesday approved demolition of the old jail at a cost of $467,000. Not all board members believe now is the time to spend that kind of money.
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County board member Bonnie Kunkel said the market is still too soft to think about selling or developing the jail and the surrounding site. Likewise, board member Jim Mitchell said while the price of demolishing the jail is far lower than anticipated, he's seen no evidence the county will eventually recoup that $467,000. Other board members contend the site will be more attractive to developers without the jail on it and, therefore, more valuable. Mitchell called for an appraisal of the site to determine its value both with and without the old jail in place.
"Will it be worth more? Yes," Mitchell said. "Will it be worth half a million dollars more? I still haven't heard the answer to that? Show me we're going to recoup the money, and I'll support this."
The rest of the board didn't end up needing Mitchell's support. It voted 20 to 3 to demolish the jail now, without an appraisal. Mitchell, Kunkel and Melisa Taylor were the "no" votes.
The larger future of the 700-acre site, which includes the former Settler's Hill landfill-turned-golf course, is yet to be determined. Board members showed Tuesday they want to move forward with a master plan vision for the site and keep the decisions in the hands of the county board rather than the forest preserve commission.
The county board voted 18 to 5 in favor of spending $59,000 to hire an outside consultant, the Lannert Group in Geneva, to help create a master plan for the entire campus. Potential plans include a Ravinia-type concert venue, a hotel/convention center, a mountain biking course and a cross country running facility.
Some board members are skeptical about hiring a consultant before the larger issue of who really controls the 700-acre site is resolved. The county and the forest preserve district both have responsibilities on the campus. But Mitchell said open space and recreation is the purview of the forest preserve, not the county. County board members are also forest preserve commissioners. But since the two are separate taxing bodies, the decisions county board members make are, in theory, separate from the decisions forest preserve commissioners make.
County Board Chairman Karen McConnaughay said the county must maintain some say in the future of the property as long as it's responsible for the legal liabilities of the old landfill.
"I don't think the forest preserve wants that liability," McConnaughay said. "The liability on that property is extraordinary."
Indeed, the county has about $4 million in an account that can only be spent to address that liability if problems arise. No county board/forest preserve commissioner, including Forest District President John Hoscheit, indicated a willingness to change which taxing body is responsible for the landfill liability. With that off the table, the remaining gripes centered around the process.
Board members noted none of the meeting minutes from the special committee formed to discuss the future of the old jail/Fabyan Parkway site have been shared or are online for board members or the public to review. The proposed contract also did not go through the county board committee process before coming to the full county board for a vote.
Board member Mike Donahue is chairman of that subcommittee, and said the minutes will be made available. In the interim, a vote against the consultant contract would amount to choosing to not have any plan for the jail/Fabyan Parkway site.
That resulted in an 18 to 5 vote to proceed with the $59,000 consultant contract. Board members Deb Allan, Cristina Castro, Kunkel, Mitchell and Monica Silva were the "no" votes.