White Pines neighbors: 'Let the residents decide' fate of Bensenville golf course
Neighbors of a Bensenville golf course are calling for voters to decide whether the park district should carve out a significant portion of the land and sell it for redevelopment.
The future of the White Pines Golf Club remains in limbo as the park district considers selling up to 125 acres of the property. The public club has struggled financially for years. But park district officials say a deal with developers could become an "economic engine" pumping millions of dollars into new sport and aquatic complexes, recreational space and programming.
However, residents around White Pines are working to block any efforts to convert golf course land into a potential industrial development. It's not just about maintaining the area's rustic feel. Open space is a precious commodity in a town in the shadow of O'Hare International Airport.
"The option to sell 125 acres to industrial is robbing Bensenville to pay Bensenville," said Janell Taraszka, who started "Residents Saving White Pines," a Facebook group with 300 members. "It's not what's best for our community or our environment. The plan would have us selling our biggest asset for a one-time gain at the cost of our residents."
Taraszka and other residents object to the park board entertaining a sale without asking voters to weigh in on the idea via referendum.
"If this is really the best interest of the residents, let us have our voices be heard," said Taraszka, who lives in the Crestbrook subdivision just east of White Pines. "Stop the current plan to sell 125 acres, and put the referendum on the ballot come November and let the residents decide."
According to park district audits, White Pines operated at a $2.3 million deficit from 2015 to 2021. That includes nearly $1 million in operating losses in 2020 alone.
Though the course did report a $194,906 profit in 2021, district officials did not include depreciation and amortization costs as part of White Pines' operational expenses that year or in 2020 as they had in years prior. Those costs amounted to roughly $550,000 annually in the years they were reported, the district's financial records show.
The park district, however, could stand to gain "somewhere around $100 million minimally" if 125 acres of White Pines were sold to an industrial developer, Executive Director Joseph Vallez said.
Still, it's not a done deal, board President Rich Johnson said.
"We don't have an agreement with any developer -- absolutely not," Johnson said at a park board meeting attended by dozens of residents Wednesday night.
State lawmakers last August granted the park district the authority to sell up to 125 acres of the golf course. The original legislation was due to expire in January, but the park district has sought an extension, Vallez said. That means the park district would have to get a deal done by end of June 2024 if the request is signed into law.
Vallez said the earlier deadline was not set by the park district.
"We believe that extension is going to happen. We haven't received verification of it yet," Vallez said. "But once it does, it'll allow the park district to take more time to do more due diligence and give the commissioners an opportunity to have more time look at all the options that are being proposed."
Under a conceptual proposal, the district could use the proceeds of a sale to develop the remaining 135 acres of White Pines into a new recreation facility. Another project under consideration is the construction of an indoor, year-round aquatic facility that would replace an outdoor pool, which Vallez and Johnson said needs about $1.5 million in work.
"We have roofs, we have ... there's a lot," Johnson said. "Trust me, every roof in White Pines needs to be replaced. So, one of the things we are looking at is what we do, what we bring to the village, without raising your taxes."
When asked about a referendum, Vallez said, "in general, we see low voter turnout in elections, and some of them are historically low voter turnouts."
"If you do a referendum, the question to be asked, are you really getting a good indication of what the voters, the registered voters in the community, want if you get something like 10, 15, 20% (turnout)?" Vallez said.
Park district officials are planning to give an update on White Pines to the village board, Vallez expects sometime in May.
On Wednesday, the park board also authorized spending up to $70,000 to hire consultants to do a sports market analysis on the outlook for golf and the economic impact of bringing in soccer tournaments or basketball tournaments, Vallez said.
Some residents argue the golf business could be profitable in the long run with proper marketing.
"They should have had a referendum on this two years ago," said Chuck Rizzo, another Crestbrook resident. "If they were really having a problem in the park district, they should have said something to us."
• Daily Herald staff writers Jake Griffin and Scott C. Morgan contributed to this report