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updated: 4/23/2014 11:08 AM

Estate owners, Cook forest preserve in tug of war over land

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  • A sign marks the main road of the 400-acre Horizon Farms in Barrington Hills.

       A sign marks the main road of the 400-acre Horizon Farms in Barrington Hills.
    Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

  • Horses roam the pastures of the 400-acre Horizon Farms in Barrington Hills.

       Horses roam the pastures of the 400-acre Horizon Farms in Barrington Hills.
    Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

 
 

A Cook County judge might rule Wednesday on a lawsuit accusing the Forest Preserve District of Cook County of unlawfully getting involved in a private foreclosure dispute involving Horizon Farms, a 400-acre Barrington Hills estate and horse farm.

The complaint, filed by four people including Horizon Farm owners Meryl Squires Cannon and Richard Kirk Cannon, alleges the forest preserve district unlawfully spent $14.5 million in public funds to acquire an interest in the Horizon Farms property from BMO Harris Bank. The bank initiated foreclosure proceedings against the Cannons in 2009, after the couple failed to repay a $14.5 million loan.

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Attorney Matt McBride, representing the plaintiffs, contends the forest preserve district is not allowed to purchase bank promissory notes or lien loan documents, though it can buy property outright. He will ask the court to rule that the forest preserve district does not have the authority to use public funds in private foreclosure litigation and to void the forest preserve district's purchase of the estate.

The actions of the forest preserve district "are very concerning for any taxpayer in Cook County and for any homeowner," said McBride, who said Horizon Farm was assessed at $7 million at the time the forest preserve district committed more than double that amount.

"The forest preserve district is not allowed to interject itself in private litigation and spend taxpayer funds" to do so, he said.

McBride argues in his brief that the district's actions constitute a "real and imminent" threat to anyone who has a private mortgage and is in default.

"If the forest preserve district's legal position is accepted, there would be nothing to stop them from negotiating with the bank, showing up on your property and saying, 'this is ours,'" McBride said.

Forest Preserve District spokesman Don Parker declined to discuss the lawsuit, saying "we don't believe it would be appropriate for us to comment at this time on the ongoing litigation."

The Cannons continue to contest the foreclosure of their property, which is home to more than 40 show and races horses and reportedly one of the largest private estates in the Northwest suburbs. In a separate affidavit, Cannon states that another lawyer approached the couple on Feb. 8, 2013, about signing over the deed to the estate to an unnamed client. On Feb. 19, Cannon said, he learned an unnamed buyer had purchased the $14.5 million note. On June 28, 2013, the Cannons learned the purchaser was the forest preserve district, according to the affidavit.

Although part of Horizon Farms borders Algonquin Road and is publicly accessible, the property is not "physically connected to forest preserve-owned property," Cannon said.

Cannon said a significant portion of the north end of the property adjacent to and including Goose Lake is subject to homeowner's association restrictions, meaning it is available for the use of residents and their invited guests only, not the general public.

Along with the Cannons, the plaintiffs in the suit are Todd Baker and Wanda Dziopek.

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