Lombard library reconstruction facing more delays as park district halts talks

More than two years after Lombard voters approved a tax increase for a new Helen M. Plum Memorial Library, the project could be delayed again because of unresolved issues with the park district.

Library officials hoped to have their application for a 50,000-square-foot facility reviewed by the plan commission in early 2019. But village officials say the project won't appear on a commission agenda until the library and park district agree on driveway access, air rights and other matters.

While library officials want to tear down the existing building at 110 W. Maple St. and construct a new one, the park district owns air rights above part of the property and land next to it, including Lilacia Park.

"Why should the village's plan commission go through a bunch of 'what-ifs' if they're not going to have the approval from the park district to begin with?" Village Manager Scott Niehaus said Thursday.

It doesn't appear the library will reach agreement with the park district anytime soon.

Park commissioners this week voted to discontinue all negotiations with the library about construction of a building at the current site unless a mediator is brought in.

The commissioners want the library to either reconsider an offer the district made in November 2017 or put the building "somewhere else by way of land swap on park district property."

"We've asked them to take another look at the offer made last year," park Director Paul Friedrichs said. "We thought it was a very good offer - a win-win for everybody."

On Thursday, the library released a statement saying trustees and staff members "are very disappointed" with the park district's "refusal to continue discussions regarding the current design."

"The Helen Plum Library's architects have designed a 21st-century building that fulfills the community's desires for a larger downtown facility adjacent Lilacia Park," the statement reads. "The building design does not interfere with the park's air rights."

Library board members are expected to consider "options to move forward" on Jan. 8.

Voters in November 2016 supported a property tax increase after library officials promised to build a new facility. The project stalled when the library was unable to get the park district's permission to build more than one story on land that once was part of Lilacia Park.

Under pressure to make progress, library officials decided in January 2018 to proceed with plans that don't encroach on the district's air rights. Instead, it called for building a facility with two linked pavilions for roughly $23.8 million.

But two months before the plan was announced, the park district offered to give the library air rights and land. The only catch: The library would need a variance from the village because the building would be closer to Maple Street and Park Avenue.

"Unfortunately, they (library officials) didn't want to expend the time to talk with the village staff about what the potential was to get that variance," Friedrichs said.

After the library rejected the park's offer, the two sides didn't talk for months.

Then in October, the village sent a letter notifying the library it needed to resolve issues with the park district before the plan commission can schedule a public hearing.

Friedrichs said library and park officials met Nov. 29 to talk about those issues.

By that point, officials said, the library had received "a great deal of positive public support" for the two-pavilion plan during a series of community meetings.

Still, park officials are concerned about the proposal.

One of the pavilions, for example, would be just south of Lilacia Park's main courtyard. "There's going to be a two-story brick building where there hasn't been one before," Friedrichs said.

Commissioners also worry about construction near the coach house at Lilacia Park.

"It's the only structure out there that brings us back to Col. (William) Plum and his estate," Friedrichs said. "The construction is going to be within four or five feet of it. That's a big concern."

Under the district's offer, the library would be farther south from the park and coach house.

If talks resume, park commissioners want the library to pay for a mutually agreed-upon mediator.

"After two years of meetings and discussions," Friedrichs said, "it's become apparent that a third-party mediator needs to come in to help move those discussions."

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