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Why the DuPage Water Commission bought a vacant Northbrook golf course

The DuPage Water Commission sent ripples through Northbrook with its purchase of the former Green Acres Golf Club.

The agency paid $80.5 million for prime golf course land — a move that could set the stage for a potentially multibillion-dollar, regional project.

The commission has been studying the possibility of building a pipeline to tap directly into Lake Michigan instead of purchasing water from the city of Chicago.

If suburban officials forge ahead with an alternative supply system, the commission will look to build a water treatment plant and pumping station on at least part of the 127-acre Northbrook property it now owns.

Commission and Northbrook leaders are scheduled to meet in the week ahead, said Jim Zay, chairman of the water commission’s board.

“We’re still in the initial stages of even evaluating this land and putting together what we need,” he said.

The DuPage Water Commission, which has its headquarters in Elmhurst, purchased a former golf course in Northbrook. “We're looking to work with the local governments and … be a good neighbor,” said Jim Zay, chairman of the water commission’s board. Daily Herald file photo/2012

Still, Northbrook leaders apparently were rattled by the land purchase.

“Had the village known about this land purchase before its closing, the village board would have made the water commission aware of its many concerns,” Northbrook Village President Kathryn Ciesla said at the board meeting on Tuesday. “Of course, Northbrook’s local government does not have the authority to review, approve or deny the private sale of property. Moving forward, we look forward to meeting with the DuPage Water Commission to understand its intentions in our community.”

Water commission officials said they moved quickly to secure the site — near Lake Michigan and electric transmission facilities. Zay said one of the water commissioners reached out to the seller, and the deal took about 12 days to get done. The board approved the purchase on May 6.

“Right now, what we did was we made an $80 million investment in property,” Zay said.

Green Acres — termed the “Emerald of Northbrook” by a former village trustee — has been closed since 2016. Plans for a senior living campus on the site fell through last year.

Most recently, the board negotiated and entered into a predevelopment agreement with the previous property owner and the Cook County Forest Preserve for the “acquisition of land for public facilities, the preservation of open space and the commercial development of a data center,” Ciesla said.

According to the agreement, the village intended to use a roughly 10-acre parcel to construct a fire station. Another 65 acres of the property were eyed for a data center and supporting infrastructure.

Though a land-use study still needs to be done, Zay has said the commission would not need all 127 acres and can work with Northbrook officials on a fire station.

“I'm a county board member,” Zay said. “I've got four municipal mayors on the water commission. We're not looking to hurt anybody and hurt Northbrook. We were aware of their requests for land for a fire station.”

‘Looking elsewhere’

Chicago will remain the supplier of Lake Michigan water to most of DuPage County for at least the next 17 years under a short-term contract extension announced in February. The original 40-year agreement was due to expire in March.

“We look forward to continuing our discussions with the Commission to achieve a long-term extension of its water supply agreement with the City,” Chicago Department of Water Management spokeswoman Megan Vidis said in a written statement.

“Chicago has served DWC for decades as a reliable and affordable source of drinking water. We believe that extending the agreement with Chicago is the best option for ensuring that DWC and its customers will continue to have access to cost-effective and high-quality water.”

Zay said the water commission board hasn’t decided to cut ties. However, DuPage officials have raised long-standing concerns with the city system.

“If you ever look at the city’s water budget, they spend such a small amount on repairs and modernization that it scares us, and that’s why we’re looking elsewhere,” Zay said.

The agency is seeking partners for the project. A new regional water system would “position suburban communities in northeastern Illinois to manage water resources in a way which provides improved governance and ensures rate stability,” commission General Manager Paul May said in a statement announcing the purchase of the golf course.

In fiscal 2009, the commission paid Chicago $43.8 million. In fiscal 2023, the commission paid $124.85 million, Zay said.

“We're buying less water,” he said, “and we're paying almost three times the amount for the water.”