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updated: 8/13/2014 4:56 PM

Nonprofit group asks to use St. James Farm near Warrenville

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A nonprofit group that provides therapeutic horseback riding for children and adults with special needs would like to move its program to St. James Farm Forest Preserve near Warrenville.

However, building code issues and questions about the proposed arrangement could prevent the DuPage County Forest Preserve from supporting the group's request.

Friends for Therapeutic Equine Activities has been operating its riding program at Kingsway Farm in Winfield since 1996. But in an Aug. 6 letter to forest preserve commissioners, James Winkelman, the group's president, said the existing home isn't the ideal location for the riding program.

"In the view of the FTEA's board of directors, use of the facilities at St. James Farm would be a significant step forward in the development and expansion of our program," Winkelman wrote.

The forest preserve district bought St. James Farm from industrialist Brooks McCormick in 2000 for $43 million. The district took possession of the 612-acre property along Winfield Road after McCormick's death in 2006.

Even though the property is open to forest preserve users, residents are not yet able to spend time inside the site's historic buildings. That's one of the obstacles facing FTEA's request to use a portion of the farm's facilities.

The group wants to use stable, paddock and arena facilities and space for an office. But forest preserve officials say the site has no drinking water. It's among several building code issues that must be addressed before the structures could be occupied.

In addition, district attorneys need time to determine whether it's possible to draft an agreement with the group that doesn't violate the district's promise to McCormick. He insisted the property remain open to the public.

Despite the challenges, forest preserve commissioners this week authorized district staff to do preliminary discussions with the group. A decision on whether FTEA can use facilities at St. James Farm will be made later.

"This is just a request," commission President D. "Dewey" Pierotti Jr. said. "You just can't give an automatic answer to it. But I think it's worthwhile exploring."

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