White Pines Golf Club may reconnect with Bensenville
Saying much has changed in the 15 years since White Pines Golf Club disconnected from Bensenville, park district officials are contemplating bringing the property back into the village.
But complications may arise if the park board decides to sell up to half the 257-acre golf course to raise tens of millions of dollars to rebuild White Pines and other district facilities.
"I think we need to flesh things out before we jump," Commissioner Greg Linder said during a Wednesday night discussion about the potential annexation. The board tabled the issue until next month.
The 36-hole course at 500 W. Jefferson St. disconnected from Bensenville in 2003 after a yearlong dispute between the village and park district. The feud began when park officials refused to apply for a new liquor license that they considered too restrictive. The district also wanted to avoid paying the village's amusement tax.
Park board President Rich Johnson says White Pines never should have disconnected.
"We're trying to correct a misstep and bring it back into the village," he said.
Johnson said the relationship between the village and the district has improved since the election last year of Village President Frank DeSimone.
"We work together on a lot of things," Johnson said.
The two elected leaders started talking last year about annexing White Pines and directed staff members to negotiate terms of a potential agreement.
One detail that needs to be worked out, however, is whether part of the golf course should be rezoned for residential use as part of the annexation in response to interest from developers.
"There's no offer on the table," Johnson said, "but as elected officials, if we don't look at and see what the opportunities are, we're not doing our job."
Johnson said it would be hard to sell any land because "we're all about open space." Still, he said, the board must decide what's best for the district and its residents.
District officials say White Pines has more than $4 million in long-term debt and the golf operation is losing $160,000 to $200,000 a year.
"We basically have two golf courses competing against each other," said Joseph Vallez, manager of park operations. "So we have to maintain 36 holes, but the revenue coming in has not been adequate to meet the budget revenue projections."
If half the land is sold, the district could make roughly $65 million, according to preliminary estimates.
Getting that much cash would allow it to wipe out debt, create a new golf course with a new clubhouse and improve and rebuild other aging facilities.
The district, for example, faces the possibility of having to spend roughly $600,000 to repair its pool.
"If we don't manage it, it's going to manage us at the worst time," Vallez said.
Selling golf course land could make it possible to build a new pool without increasing property taxes, officials said.
But Mary Dickson, the district's attorney, said the park board would need to get Illinois law changed before it could sell property. State law doesn't allow districts to sell more than eight acres of a golf course.
Before taking that step, Dickson said the district might want to gauge public support -- possibly through an advisory referendum.
Some residents already have expressed opposition.
Gina Mellenthin, a former park commissioner, said the property helps alleviate flooding. "We're going to have huge problems if we take away open space," she said.
Still, some aspects of the proposal would benefit the district.
White Pines, for example, would pay less for water service and a liquor license. In addition, the village has offered to give municipal sales tax and amusement tax dollars collected at the course to the district for 20 years.
Returning to the village also would allow the district to consider installing video gambling machines at the White Pines clubhouse -- although that likely would face opposition from neighbors.