Prospect Hts. park leaders consider what they would do if land were swapped

Prospect Heights Park District commissioners are considering potential designs for a reconfiguration of John Muir Park but have yet to discuss in detail a proposed land swap that would enable it.

Lexington Homes has made an offer to trade 0.62 acres from the former Jolly Fun House Academy site for an equal amount of park land, along with a $500,000 payment to the park district. That would allow construction of a controversial 69-unit townhouse development north of the park at 999 Oak Ave.

The townhouse proposal received preliminary approval in a 3-2 vote from Prospect Heights aldermen this month, despite opposition from surrounding property owners.

Without the land swap, Lexington Homes would resort to a backup plan for only 61 townhouses on a 5.23-acre site. The company has not formally sought city approval for that proposal.

At city meetings on the development, neighbors have strongly criticized the proposed development. And at last week's park district meeting, three residents voiced their opposition to a land swap, Executive Director Christina Ferraro said.

John Muir Park has a total of 4.5 acres. The usable land - some 2½ to 3 acres - features a baseball diamond, a soccer field and open space.

Though the usable space would remain the same after a land swap, the site's reconfigured shape would allow for different opportunities, as demonstrated by two conceptual drawings submitted by JSD Inc.

Park Board President Tim Jones said the destination should justify the journey the park district is being asked to make at Muir Park.

"It needs to be more than it is today," he said of the park.

One concept is dominated by a dog park and a great lawn with a stage, but it also would feature a variety of games like table tennis, bean bags and Connect Four. The other concept would retain a baseball diamond as a central feature along with a sculpture walk and a stage with an outdoor movie screen.

Both concepts share a shelter, pickleball courts and fitness stations along a path.

Commissioners are being asked to share their favorite features from both concepts to be combined into a third version that would be presented at the Dec. 17 meeting.

One resident at this week's meeting already expressed a negative opinion of the dog park, Ferraro said.

Discussion of the land swap will require a separate meeting that might not be scheduled until January.

While many factors still need to be considered, a land swap is expected to put a new detention pond to improve stormwater drainage within the jurisdiction of the townhouse development's homeowners association, Jones said.

The swap also would allow the park district greater control over parking at Muir Park. The lot that serves the park at its north end belongs to the Jolly Fun House site and a different development might require that land, Jones said.

"If they go back to 61 units, where are we going to put our parking lot?" he said of Lexington Homes' proposal.

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  The former Jolly Fun House Academy at 1001 Oak Ave. in Prospect Heights is where Lexington Homes is seeking to build a 69-unit townhouse development and proposing a 0.62-acre land swap with John Muir Park to the south. Eric Peterson/
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