DuPage County Forest Preserve officials ended a nearly 15-year legal battle Tuesday when they walked away from a property they still very much want to own.
Commissioners voted unanimously to abandon efforts to forcibly acquire the 204-acre Country Lakes Country Club in northwest Naperville.
"I have very mixed feelings on this because I was committed to it. I always thought this was an acquisition that was necessary and desirable for the people living in that area," forest preserve President D. "Dewey" Pierotti Jr. said of the condemnation proceedings that began almost 15 years ago.
"I thought it would be for the benefit of the forest preserve but also a tribute to the quality of life to people in that area. However, conditions have changed and really, what we tried to acquire (in 1999), the nature of the property has changed completely."
Pierotti said "it would cost (the district) millions more than planned to correct all of the issues that have surfaced because the property wasn't maintained during this lengthy litigation."
The Illinois Supreme Court ruled in late 2011 that the $10.7 million price tag for both Country Lakes and an adjacent undeveloped parcel was invalid because a DuPage County jury set that amount in 2007 using information from a 1999 appraisal.
Instead, the price of the entire site south of Diehl Road and west of Route 59 should be based on its most current value, the Supreme Court decided.
James Wagner, attorney for golf course owner Robert Krilich, was unaware of the board's decision Tuesday but said it would be "welcome news" to his client.
"They've always wanted to keep the land," Wagner said. "The owner has made several hundred thousand dollars in improvements to both the course and clubhouse since 2007."
Forest preserve officials, however, say their consultants believe the current value of Krilich's land might be less than the $10.7 million jury verdict, considering the depressed real estate market and lagging golf rounds.
"There is market research available that demonstrates the demand for golf at both the national and local level has significantly declined since 1999 when this acquisition began," Pierotti said. "There has been a considerable decrease in the number of annual golf rounds and lower golf revenues being generated. There is also now an oversupply of public golf courses and competition between them is intense."
For Commissioner Mary Lou Wehrli of Naperville, taking over the land was "once an exciting possibility," but on Tuesday she said the golf course is no longer in the condition it was in 1999 and she believes there may be significant stormwater issues with the site.
"Given all of that and the unique litigious nature of the owner, we decided that abandonment is in best interest of the forest preserve district," she said. "It was a difficult decision with very good pros and very bad cons but it was ultimately the right decision."
Naperville City Manager Doug Krieger said he was surprised by the decision.
"I think it's a positive that the forest preserve has come to a resolution surrounding the property so they can focus their efforts on areas that will benefit county residents more," Krieger said. "I'm sure this case has been a lot of background noise for them for a long time. It's nice that they've reached resolution on their pursuit of it."
With the abandonment, the forest preserve is required, by law, to pay all of Krilich's legal fees for the past 14 years. Wagner estimated those at "$1 million-plus."
The forest preserve also stands to get back the $10.73 million it set aside after the jury's 2007 verdict. The district raised that money through a $75 million referendum proposal voters approved in 1997.