Arlington Heights Park District OKs contract to buy Grandt's Shell

The Arlington Heights Park District has struck a deal to purchase the long-standing Grandt's Shell service station - a property it's sought for decades as part of a vision to expand Recreation Park.

Terms of the agreement were not disclosed, with parks officials declining to discuss specific details until the transaction is complete.

But the park board's unanimous vote Tuesday night on a contract for the 18,150-square-foot property at Northwest Highway and Belmont Avenue would not have come were it not for the village board's unanimous rejection of plans weeks earlier to turn the mom-and-pop gas station into a Mariano's fueling center.

Park leaders and residents of the neighborhood just east of the village's downtown raised concerns over the potential increase in traffic they feared would come with the Mariano's station, which they also said wouldn't be harmonious or compatible with the area. Those arguments led the village board on Aug. 3 to vote down a special-use permit Mariano's needed to install five new gas pumps and a small retail sales kiosk on the Grandt's site.

That opened the door to further discussions between representatives for the park district and owner Craig Grandt, who have negotiated off and on for years over a possible sale.

"We are ecstatic to be able to have the opportunity to acquire that piece of property," said park board President Maryfran Leno. "As mentioned at numerous meetings, the park district has had this on our radar for over 30 years. I would have to say probably in my lifetime or anybody else who is here right now, if it didn't turn into a gas station with convenience store or other new business was built there, it's the last chance to acquire and preserve it as open space."

Grandt didn't respond to a request for comment Tuesday. But weeks earlier he accused the park district of trying to "torpedo" his deal with Mariano's, putting his retirement in jeopardy.

He also previously told the Daily Herald the district had multiple last-chance opportunities to purchase the land before he struck a deal with the grocer, characterizing the former's offer as "lowball."

While parks officials on Tuesday night declined to disclose the purchase price, they previously revealed during lengthy village board deliberations the district's last best offer was $935,000, plus the removal of underground tanks and environmental cleanup.

At the time, Leno promised to "work with the Grandt family to make sure a fair and equitable transaction occurs."

Pending the closing on the Grandt's site, the park district would control all but one property on the block bounded by Northwest Highway, Belmont Avenue, Miner Street and Douglas Avenue. The district started buying up properties in the area in the early 1990s and currently leases the commercial sites to auto repair shops and rents houses to park district employees.

The park board Tuesday night also reviewed early designs for a new inclusive playground and skate park as part of a previously proposed $1.35 million upgrade of Recreation Park.

Once they have all properties in hand, commissioners have said the ultimate goal is to expand the park, perhaps with flower garden plantings or other passive or active recreational uses.

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