Bensenville Park District explores potential sale of White Pines property
White Pines Golf Club, the only public course and one of the largest tracts of open space in Bensenville, has long attracted interest from developers.
Over the last five years of his tenure with the Bensenville Park District, Executive Director Joseph Vallez said officials have been fielding inquiries from developers about the golf course land.
"Anytime there's an available piece of green space, you're always going to have somebody come to your table with some sort of offer to do something there," Vallez said.
While officials say they haven't solicited any offers, the park district is taking a swing at the idea of a potential sale. State lawmakers last August granted the park district the authority to sell a substantial piece -- up to 125 acres -- of the golf course property.
But the prospect of redevelopment has already generated an abundance of criticism from many residents who live near White Pines, a 36-hole complex stretching across more than 260 acres and dating to 1928.
Bensenville has lost housing stock to the expansion of O'Hare International Airport. An entire neighborhood, all 106 houses in the Mohawk Terrace subdivision, met the wrecking ball last year to make way for warehouses and other industrial buildings near the airport. Now, neighbors fear as much as half of White Pines could be next to fall under a developer's bulldozer.
"We've lost so much to O'Hare expansion that we need to preserve what we still have left," said Julia Styrczula, who moved almost 27 years ago to the Crestbrook subdivision on the southeast corner of the golf course.
The park district is developing a conceptual plan, dubbed "Bensenville 2.0," with proposals for the use of any proceeds generated from selling portions of White Pines.
In what Vallez described as a hypothetical scenario, the park district could sell 125 acres and turn the remaining 135 acres into a "new state-of-the-art recreation facility, be it a soccer facility, baseball, a combination of both, potentially a new golf course."
"With potentially that remaining land, there's definitely going to be a continued public use with a new recreation facility if the park district decides to go down that path," Vallez said.
He insisted "nothing has been decided," not even the amount of acreage that could be acquired by a developer. But sale proceeds also could fund facility upgrades and repairs across the park district.
"Once thoroughly vetted and approved, the sale of certain White Pines acres would be a significant economic engine that would produce resources to support districtwide indoor and outdoor capital improvement projects and programming," the park district said in a statement. "Those projects would improve virtually every aspect of the district's operations to benefit patrons of all ages."
Another project under consideration: the construction of an indoor aquatic facility that would replace an outdoor pool. Vallez said the existing pool needs about $1.4 million in repairs.
"There's a couple of local park districts -- Villa Park, Addison -- that have closed their pools and have pretty much stated that they're not reopening because ... it'd be like having an ice rink outside in California," Vallez said. "It's a tough way to make money."
Up until the pandemic, White Pines had been operating in the red for about a decade. In 2019 alone, White Pines lost $780,000, Vallez said.
Still, like many public courses, White Pines benefited from a resurgence in golf during pandemic restrictions.
"But the question everybody asks themselves is, are these revenue streams sustainable?" Vallez said.
Styrczula, the Crestbrook resident, said she's confident White Pines can continue to rebound.
"I believe if it was marketed correctly, and there were some renovations done over the years, the course would and will continue to attract golfers from the surrounding areas," she said, noting rounds played at the course are affordable for residents and nonresidents alike.
"It's one of the best deals in this area," Styrczula said.
Area residents say the golf course also holds value as a source of flood control. A creek runs through Styrczula's neighborhood and backyards. Its water levels have risen to "high levels in the past," she said. Selling off some of the land would ruin the character of a neighborhood with mature trees, one of the last enclaves near O'Hare that still has some rural feel and a connection to nature, Styrczula said.
"It is our gem that we should treasure and keep because so many things are at stake right now," she said. "And once we sell this property, it's gone. We don't have this property anymore. We lose our green space."