Wheeling opts to build $1 million bridge to vacant land

Wheeling will spend about $1 million to build a bridge providing access to a 17-acre site in hopes of luring a development to the vacant land.

A narrowly divided village board has approved plans to begin constructing the bridge at the southwest corner of Lake-Cook Road and Milwaukee Avenue.

Though the village has indicated it would build the bridge at some point, the question was whether to use tax dollars on the project before a developer proposed specific plans for the site.

Two weeks ago, the village board was at a stalemate over next steps because Trustee David Vogel was absent from the meeting. Vogel returned Monday and cast the tiebreaking vote.

"The bridge is the future path for that piece of property, and it's going to end up being a great benefit to the village of Wheeling," Vogel said.

Trustees Ray Lang, Ken Brady and Joe Vito also supported building the bridge now. Village President Pat Horcher and Trustees Mary Papantos and Mary Krueger wanted to wait until a developer brings plans for the site.

"You're asking us to put in a bridge, plow it and maintain it, and we don't know what's going to happen past that point?" Papantos said.

The land is in a tax increment financing district, or TIF, an economic development tool intended to spur growth in blighted or underperforming areas. Increased tax revenues generated by new developments are diverted to a fund for infrastructure and business improvement projects.

In this case, TIF funds would pay for the bridge, which would take a little more than a year to build.

Local property owners Mark and Vivian Smith, who developed the Prairie Park condominiums south of the 17-acre parcel, asked for the bridge. They say the lack of access is hurting prospective projects at the site.

Almost four decades ago, the village annexed the land and later built a floodwater channel through the southern edge of the property, essentially creating a moat blocking access to the site.

According to the 1979 annexation agreement, the village promised the previous landowner a bridge in exchange for 3½ acres needed for the flood-prevention channel.

However, acquiring the land and getting state and federal permits for the channel delayed its completion until 2001. That was two years after the agreement requiring Wheeling to build a bridge expired, village attorneys say.

Al Stavros, an attorney for the Smiths, disagreed with the village's interpretation of the agreements and hinted at possible litigation. However, it appears a lawsuit will be avoided as the village begins taking steps to build the bridge.

The village will start designing, engineering and permitting for the bridge before choosing a contractor for the work, Village Manager Jon Sfondilis said.

Should Wheeling build bridge to vacant land?

No, for now, to tax-funded bridge in Wheeling

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