Bensenville neighbors tee up fight over White Pines land sale as park district eyes big money
Bensenville Park District commissioners could fetch a hefty price from developers if the board moves ahead with a controversial proposal to sell a large swath of the White Pines Golf Club.
But many residents in a leafy area adjacent to White Pines are teeing up a fight over the future of the 36-hole public course.
The park district successfully lobbied for a change in state law allowing the sale of up to 125 acres of golf course property. The under-the-radar legislation expires in January 2023, meaning any such deal would likely have to be approved by the board months in advance.
Developers could shell out an eye-catching sum of money for open land in a red-hot industrial real estate market around O'Hare International Airport. A 30-year-old, two-story house in the Mohawk Terrace neighborhood sold for $1.7 million last summer before developers demolished it -- and the entire subdivision of 106 homes -- to make room for warehouse buildings.
If the park district were to sell 125 acres of the White Pines land, park district Executive Director Joseph Vallez said, its value on the industrial market "would be somewhere around $100 million minimally."
If that acreage were sold for residential redevelopment, by comparison, it could snag roughly "$20 million, maybe a little bit less," Vallez said.
But the nearby residents called it a money grab.
"We lost properties to O'Hare so they could build runways," said Chuck Rizzo, who lives near the southeastern edge of the golf course and spotted land surveyors in his backyard a couple of months ago. "Now we're going to give up more nonindustrial assets sold off to developers who are going to service the airport again. We're getting squeezed from the north and the south."
Janell Taraszka helped rally dozens of neighbors who showed up at a park board meeting Wednesday to protest a land sale. The meeting was moved to the Deer Grove Leisure Center gym partly to accommodate the turnout.
"We're supposed to be adding green space -- especially because we're surrounded by O'Hare, we're surrounded by the railroads," Taraszka said. "... They're putting (the potential development) in the middle of our community, which is unacceptable."
Gina Mellenthin, a former park board member, also worries about the loss of greenery.
"The people of this area took a huge hit being put closer to O'Hare," she said. "So now your pollution barrier is a lot closer than it was before. At least we had the land around it that could absorb some of this. ... There's no 125 contiguous acres anywhere left in the area."
White Pines had struggled to turn a profit before municipal courses enjoyed a surge in popularity during the pandemic. But some residents say the park district deferred maintenance of White Pines and should have stepped up marketing to boost the golf business.
The park district has been setting the stage for possible redevelopment by studying how to spend the revenue that would be generated by selling White Pines land. The board on Wednesday night was expected to hire consultants for a sports market analysis that could help gauge the outlook for golf and determine what recreational facilities and programming could benefit from an infusion of money.
"In the event that there was a sale, either through a residential development, light industrial development, or a combination of the two, 100% of those proceeds would go back into the Bensenville Park District," Vallez said.
The district could potentially use the proceeds to develop the remaining 135 acres of White Pines into a new recreation facility under a conceptual plan called "Bensenville 2.0."
"We did in this master plan put a potential hotel, but again, that's just a master plan with visionary type things," Vallez said.
He said there are many options still on the table. The option of doing nothing "leaves the park district in a precarious situation, with approximately $7 million in capital replacements and improvements" that are unfunded, Vallez said.
He offered a timeline on when the park board might decide on a direction: "probably 120 days prior to the expiration date on the legislation."
• Daily Herald staff writer Scott C. Morgan contributed to this report