Why the South Barrington Park District has halted land sale to church

Editor's note: The source of comments from the church has been updated.

The South Barrington Park District's sale of undeveloped land to the Plymouth Brethren Christian Church has been halted amid community opposition and legal action.

"The real estate closing is on hold," Scott Puma, an attorney for the park district, said Wednesday. It had been scheduled for the day before.

The church is set to buy the 34-acre site, which is south of where Bartlett Road and Route 59 meet and north of the Woods of South Barrington residential subdivision, for about $1.7 million. It wants to erect a house of worship and a school there.

District leaders postponed the real estate closing after receiving copies of a legal complaint and a request for a temporary restraining order seeking to block the sale.

The complaint - targeting the church, the park district and the village - was brought forth by anonymous South Barrington residents, documents indicate.

The matter hasn't yet been heard by a Cook County judge.

People demonstrated against the deal at the park district's community center for two hours before Wednesday night's park district board meeting.

About 40 protesters, including some kids, waved signs and repeated chants including "Stop the sale" and "No PBCC" for a TV news helicopter that briefly hovered far overhead and for journalists on the ground. Their enthusiasm waned after the cameras left but returned shortly before the board meeting started.

The land deal wasn't on the agenda, but officials moved the session to a gymnasium in anticipation of a large crowd.

About 100 people comprised the audience, and a dozen or so stood before the board to talk against the plan near the start of the meeting. Speakers included Michael Gentile, who complained about a lack of transparency, and Ashley Hosette, who said she was "extremely disappointed" by how the pending deal unfolded.

Before they spoke, the board approved a motion from Commissioner Shelby Elias to prevent any board discussion on items brought up by the audience. Elias cited the pending legal action for her maneuver.

Later, the board went into closed session to discuss unspecified litigation.

South Barrington voters in April approved a plan to sell the site at auction - but the buyer wasn't determined at that time. When the auction was held in May, the church was the only bidder.

Local critics of the plan have said they're concerned about the ecological impact of the proposed development, the conversion of the land into private property, traffic and other issues. Some have criticized the church's practices, too.

Plymouth Brethren Christian Church members follow a doctrine of separation and don't socialize with nonmembers.

The church is reviewing the decision to halt the sale.

According to a statement the church sent via email Wednesday, the plans for the land "have been developed with deep consideration and commitment to the environmental sensitivities of the site as well as the fabric of the neighborhood."

In an earlier email, the church said it has removed from the plan a proposed access road from Acadia Drive within the Woods of South Barrington because of the community's concerns.

"That we have altered our plans for this site is evidence that we listen to the communities that we live in, and try to ensure that we can accommodate them," the earlier statement said.

The church also insisted it is not a closed organization.

"We have lived and worked in communities in this region for more than 150 years," its email read. "We help our neighbors and they help us. We care for and protect their property and they do ours."

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  Demonstrators gather Wednesday outside the South Barrington Park District's community center to protest the proposed sale of park district land to a church. Russell Lissau/
  The South Barrington Park District's sale of vacant land at Bartlett Road and Route 59 has been halted amid community opposition and legal action. John Starks/
A church's proposal to build a house of worship and a school in South Barrington is drawing opposition from some area residents. Courtesy of South Barrington
  South Barrington resident Ashley Hosette voices her opposition Wednesday to a proposed land deal awaiting approval by the South Barrington Park District board. Russell Lissau/
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