'We're respecting the voters': Why land at heart of controversial real estate deal in South Barrington is headed back to auction block

Undeveloped, publicly owned land in South Barrington at the heart of a controversial - and now-scrapped - real estate deal earlier this summer is headed back to the auction block.

The South Barrington Park District board on Wednesday night voted to again put the 34-acre site at Bartlett Road and Route 59 up for sale at a February auction.

Park district voters in April directed parks leaders to auction off the land - sometimes is called "Area N" - and that directive stands, board President Pete Perisin said.

"We're respecting the voters (who) voted for this referendum," Perisin said. "We're doing what they asked us to do."

Park district officials have said the money generated by a sale would pay for improving local parks.

An auction was held in May, and a Schaumburg-based religious group called Fourth Avenue Gospel Building Inc. was the lone bidder, offering about $1.7 million for the property.

Fourth Avenue is owned and operated by a suburban congregation of a relatively small group called the Plymouth Brethren Christian Church.

Fourth Avenue representatives said they wanted to build a house of worship and a school on the land, which was a privately owned tree nursery before the district acquired it in 2003.

Dozens of residents protested the deal once the potential buyer was publicly identified this summer. In interviews and public comments, opponents listed the proposed use of the land and some of the Plymouth Brethren's practices - including a doctrine of separation that forbids eating or drinking with nonmembers - among their concerns.

Some residents also claimed, without proof, that parks officials conspired to ensure Fourth Avenue won the auction by not publicizing the sale better.

Ultimately, the park district board voted to terminate the sale.

The voter-approved referendum allowed parks officials to hold up to three auctions in one year for the property, parks officials have said.

The next auction is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. Feb. 28 at the park district headquarters, 3 Tennis Club Lane.

Anyone can attend or make a bid, park district officials said - including Fourth Avenue.

"All are welcome," Perisin said. "They're part of 'all.'"

A Fourth Avenue spokesman couldn't be reached for comment.

Parks officials will address the concerns raised by the public before the next auction, Executive Director Jay Morgan said.

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The South Barrington Park District wants to sell land sometimes called "Area N." An auction would be necessary. Courtesy of South Barrington
  The South Barrington Park District wants to sell undeveloped land at Bartlett Road and Route 59. John Starks/
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