Forest preserve hopefuls leery of changing land use law
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Both Republicans hoping to become president of the DuPage Forest Preserve District agree the county would get an economic and cultural boost if the Chicago Symphony Orchestra finds a permanent outdoor venue in DuPage for summer concerts.
But they also share reservations about changing state law to allow the CSO to lease land from the district.
“I’m flattered the CSO thought enough about the forest preserves to consider them a possible venue,” said Commissioner Joe Cantore, who is seeking the GOP nomination for forest preserve president against fellow Commissioner Mary Lou Wehrli in the March 18 primary. “But at this point, I would not favor changing the Downstate Forest Preserve Act to accommodate this type of use.”
County officials say the CSO is considering four potential sites in DuPage to build an outdoor concert venue. Two of the locations are on land owned by the forest preserve district.
The district’s attorney, Jim Knippen, has determined the commission doesn’t have the legal authority to lease its land to a private entity for a private purpose. If commissioners want to pursue such an agreement, Knippen said, they will have to pursue changes to state law.
Cantore said changing the Downstate Forest Preserve Act so the district could lease property to the CSO would be “a slippery slope.”
“Every organization with a compelling story would then be pressuring the forest preserve to lease or sell them open space for their particular use,” the 42-year-old Oak Brook resident said in an email to the Daily Herald.
The symphony is interested in leasing at least 40 acres from the forest preserve for parking and a concert venue that would be similar to Ravinia, officials said.
District-owned sites that have been examined include Hidden Lake near Downers Grove and St. James Farm near Warrenville.
Still, the CSO hasn’t formally requested land from the district.
If the CSO presents a development proposal, Wehrli said, “staff review and public outreach should follow.”
“This would provide a good foundation for board deliberation,” the 60-year-old Naperville resident said in an email. “There are economic and cultural advantages to the CSO coming to DuPage County.”
Still, Wehrli said, seeking an amendment to the Downstate Forest Preserve Act is “a serious and complicated journey.”
“Open space is a valuable asset of DuPage County,” Wehrli said in an email. “I believe that is why taxpayers have strongly supported bond referendums for land, and why our forest preserves need a separate governing body and the protection of the (Downstate Forest Preserve Act). Amendments should not be surgical to benefit one private interest.”
Cantore said he’s “always willing” to listen to presentations on how the commission can brainstorm with other entities in finding a spot for the CSO, “even if it’s not on forest preserve land.”
Whoever becomes the Republican nominee for forest preserve president will advance to the November general election. No Democratic candidate has filed to enter the race.
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