Opponents of a plan to construct a gas station, convenience store and car wash near Glen Ellyn claimed victory Friday after the announcement of a deal that makes its possible for a park district to acquire the proposed development site.
The Conservation Foundation said it will spend $1.5 million to purchase a roughly 2.4-acre parcel at the northeast corner of Butterfield Road and Route 53. The Naperville-based organization is planning to keep the land until it can be sold for $1.5 million to the Butterfield Park District, which has its facilities next to the location.
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As a result, Nebraska-based Buck's Inc. won't be able to build a Mobil station and a Bucky's convenience store on the property.
"Did we have the immediate ways of buying this property? No," said Larry Reiner, executive director of the park district. "But we knew that we had the will of the community and the desire of the community to make this happen to prevent that type of commercialization of that property."
Park district officials and area residents spent nearly a year opposing Buck's plan for a gas station with 10 pumps, a car wash and a roughly 6,800-square-foot convenience store.
Butterfield officials argued the use of the park district facilities would be diminished if the project went forward. Neighbors also raised concerns about air pollution, traffic and the size of the development.
After packing a series of public meetings, opponents were able to persuade the DuPage County Board to deny Buck's request for a conditional-use permit. The board voted 14-4 in December to reject the plan.
Nevertheless, Butterfield officials said they knew the park district needed to somehow acquire the land to stop any future development.
"It was just a matter of time ... that somebody else would come along," said Michael Kryger, president of the park board. "That property eventually was going to be developed."
Since residents supported the effort to defeat the gas station plan, Kryger said, now is the right time to buy the land for the district.
So just weeks after the county board vote, the park district approached the Conservation Foundation with the idea of participating in the group's "buy and hold" program. As part of the program, the organization purchases a parcel for an agency, then holds it for one to two years until the agency can buy it.
"We've done this for 42 years," said Brook McDonald, president and CEO of the foundation. "There are a lot of parks and forest preserves around the area that have had our involvement."
Property owners Nicolette Bauer and Raymond Bozicnick originally wanted $1.9 million for property. They agreed to sell the land to the foundation for $1.5 million.
"We have all the financing set up," McDonald said. "We have all the paperwork almost complete. We've been through a dry closing."
While there's already a signed contract, the current land owners won't get their money unless they drop a federal lawsuit against DuPage. The lawsuit, filed last month by Buck's and the land owners, seeks to reverse the county board's rejection of the gas station plan.
"When the money changes hands, then they have no choice," Reiner said. "We built that into the contract. That lawsuit goes away once the transaction takes place."
While the lawsuit is expected to be dropped, county officials and the lawyer representing Bauer and Bozicnick declined to talk about it on Friday.
Butterfield officials are focusing on what's going to happen once the sale is finalized in about a week.
The district hopes to raise the money it needs to buy the land by forming partnerships, seeking grant money and working with the community. While raising property taxes is an option, Reiner said, "it won't be our first goal to do that."
In the meantime, the district has agreed to pay the foundation $6,000 a month to lease the property. Officials said they will clean up the site, which once housed a Shell station torn down roughly 15 years ago. Part of that work will include removing remaining asphalt.
McDonald said there aren't any major environmental issues with the property. "It's very clean for a gas station site," he said.
As for what the park district wants to do with the land, Reiner said, "We're going to talk to our community and find out the kinds of things they want to see."