Though deemed "un-buildable" land by Pingree Grove Mayor Greg Marston last week, Kane County Forest Preserve District officials agreed to a $572,000 land deal with the village this week. District officials argued the price is right because the land could host businesses if the right environmental steps were taken.
The purchase exhausts the remaining land acquisition funds for the forest preserve and was blasted by rigid conservationists.
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The land deal developed over the past few months as Pingree Grove's vision to create an industrial park on property adjacent to Pingree Grove Forest Preserve stalled with the down economy. The 54 acres, known as the Harrison property, became a subject of debate in the village as some board members wanted to sell the land while others wanted to ratchet up marketing efforts to would-be developers. A compromise to gain support from trustees shrank the amount of land that would be sold to the forest preserve district to about 42 acres, leaving the rest for the village to develop.
But comments from Marston that the land being sold to the forest preserve district was "un-buildable" fueled questions about the $13,500 per-acre purchase price. Forest Preserve District Commissioner Deb Allan asked during a meeting why the price wasn't half that amount if it had no potential as anything else but open space.
The Elgin League of Women Voters then piggybacked on that question to form its own doubts about the land deal in a letter sent to all commissioners. The league has taken a hard-line approach to open space in two recent reports that have accused the district of straying from its preservation mission.
"Adding additional acreage as a buffer to Pingree Grove Forest Preserve may be a good idea," wrote the league's Carol Grom. "But given the terms of the deal and the relatively high price, this doesn't seem like a good deal for the forest preserve district. Certainly a better price could have been negotiated given the un-buildable status and very limited agricultural use. This (agreement) seems to offer a larger benefit to Pingree Grove than it does to the forest preserve district."
Forest Preserve District President John Hoscheit disputed all those characterizations in the debate leading to approval of the purchase this week.
"The perception is that this property is all wetland or un-buildable," Hoscheit said. "That's simply not true."
Hoscheit said the reason for the existing moisture in the land and flood problems in the adjacent forest preserve property is failed drain tile. If the tile was fixed, the land could, at a minimum, be used for agriculture purposes. "This deal not only benefits the preserve, because it expands it, but it also helps us with a current drainage issue. It's consistent with the plan we brought forward when we articulated the goals of our last referendum -- to expand existing forest preserves where possible."