Lombard park officials seek to 'set the record straight' about library talks
Lombard Park District leaders once again are reminding library officials that they knew -- long before seeking a property tax increase to build a new Helen M. Plum Memorial Library -- they wouldn't be allowed to encroach into neighboring Lilacia Park.
This time, park Director Paul Friedrichs hammered home the point in a detailed Aug. 16 letter to library Director Barb Kruser. Friedrichs wrote in the 6-page missive that library officials "put the cart before the horse" when they pursued the tax hike without first securing the property needed to construct the conceptual plan they advertised during the successful campaign.
"In retrospect, had you simply asked for more property or the waiving of air rights back on July 21, 2015, when you first brought up the idea of building a new library, much of the hard feelings and angst that is in the community would not be happening now," Friedrichs wrote. "You would have clearly heard then, as we have stated many times in the past, please respect the park district's borders and air rights at Lilacia Park."
While voters in November approved the tax increase for a new building, library officials haven't been able to persuade the park district to sign off on plans to build at the library's existing site at 110 W. Maple St. The library needs the park district's permission because it wants parts of the building to be more than one story on land that used to be part of Lilacia Park.
Both sides say negotiations are ongoing.
But last week, a resident posted a copy of Friedrichs' letter on social media. The Daily Herald formally requested and received a copy of the document from the park district.
On Tuesday night, 11 people attended the park board meeting to voice their frustration about the situation. Most said they want the new library built next to the park.
"Now is our opportunity," resident Mary Marshall said. "Lombard residents voted for a referendum for a new building. As taxing bodies, both the park district board and the library board owe it to the community to come to an intergovernmental agreement and make a major improvement on Maple and Park -- a modern, spacious library building."
Some speakers urged park commissioners to protect and preserve Lilacia Park, which is the site of Lombard's annual Lilac Time festival.
"It is a huge part of our history," resident Rita Schneider said. "It should remain as it is."
Others called on the library and park boards to come together in an open forum to answer questions.
Friedrichs said he originally sent his letter to "set the record straight" about comments library trustees made during their Aug. 8 meeting.
"We were accused of not being willing to meet with them, which was not true," he said. "We will meet whenever they'd like to meet."
In his letter, Friedrichs said library officials were told multiple times -- including in July 2015 and in February 2016 -- about the air rights issue.
As part of the library's deal in the 1970s to acquire part of the park to expand its first floor, the roof of the addition was made into a plaza that overlooks the park. While the library owns the plaza deck, the park district owns the air space above it.
The park district gave the library land on several occasions with the understanding that nothing would be built beyond a certain height at those locations. The park district says it has air rights to the north, east and west of the library.
Still, park district officials say the library during the campaign advertised a design for a $22.3 million facility that, if built, would have encroached into the park.
Park officials said they didn't say anything publicly at that time because they didn't want to be perceived as referendum opponents.
On Wednesday, a library spokeswoman said she might issue a response to Friedrichs' letter.
In the meantime, park officials said they're scheduled to meet Monday with representatives from the library.
"We've been neighbors with them for 90 years and have worked with them on everything," said Dave Kundrot, the president of the park district board. "I don't see us not working with them on this. But by the same token, our job is to protect the park."