'Some things can't be bought': Medinah residents fight developer's bid for 150-home subdivision
Christine Bending was one of the last holdouts in her old neighborhood near Wood Dale.
She initially refused a developer's attempts to buy the home where she raised her four children. But as the houses around her were bulldozed, as she grew up fed with the jet noise and traffic in the shadow of O'Hare airport, Bending relented last summer. Transwestern Development paid $775,000 for the four-bedroom on Bryn Mawr Avenue.
Bending left behind her home of 42 years and moved to a three-bedroom ranch in a quiet corner of Medinah. Her living room furniture arrived in April. She remodeled her kitchen. She had just started to feel settled.
"Then this letter comes," she said.
A FedEx envelope left at her door last week brought the worst kind of déjà vu: Transwestern Development is trying to buy her out all over again, this time targeting Bending's ranch -- and nearly 150 other homes -- for demolition to make way for an industrial park.
"It's a nightmare that just doesn't seem to end," said Bending, 68.
Transwestern sent Bending and her neighbors letters offering to pay each of them $22.50 per square foot for their properties. With more than 1 acre of land, Bending would receive around $1 million. But she isn't budging.
"It was everything that I wanted, and to have it taken away again? God, I just -- I don't get it," Bending said.
Developers have been snatching up acres of housing in a sizzling industrial real estate market around O'Hare. In Bensenville, developers tore down all 106 houses in the Mohawk Terrace subdivision last year to build warehouses and other industrial buildings.
Transwestern is responsible for three similar projects in Wood Dale, two of which are fully constructed. The Houston-based developer bought and demolished nearly 30 homes in Wood Dale and replaced them with a 301,075-square-foot warehouse for the North American headquarters of a Japanese logistics company.
"We fought, not the way these Medinah people are fighting," Bending said.
Other residents of the Medinah Terrace subdivision are determined to protect their homes in a 138-acre area bound by Medinah Road to the west, the Metra Milwaukee-West rail lines to the south, Thorndale Avenue to the north and Hilltop Drive to the east. Transwestern would look to annex the area into the village of Itasca.
The plans have sparked a broader crisis of identity in a DuPage County community that prides itself on independence and an unincorporated lifestyle. Residents have posted red-and-black yard signs that say "I won't sell" and "Save Medinah."
"People outside the footprint are irate," said Charlie Harth, who's lived in Medinah since 1992. "Because first of all, they're eviscerating a good chunk of our town and the character and the community that goes with it."
Nearly six years before the DuPage County charter was drafted, the Meacham brothers set up stakes in 1833 in what is now Medinah. The unincorporated area was first named Meacham's Grove.
But in the 1920s, when the founders of the Medinah Country Club came along and bought the Meachams' land, the area suddenly became Medinah.
"Medinah is an extraordinary little chunk of oasis in the middle of suburban sprawl," Harth said.
Homes sit on wooded, half-acre lots or bigger. There are no sidewalks or streetlights. "We are pretty much self-reliant," Harth said.
Anna Rakowski clings to that rural character. She hasn't received an offer from Transwestern yet, but her home on Glen Road falls within the scope of a second phase of potential development.
"Some things can't be bought," Rakowski said.
She started an online petition titled "Save Medinah -- Stand behind families not corporations!" It had nearly 1,900 signatures as of Friday night.
'Where will I go?'
Many residents first learned of the development proposal when they received the letter from Transwestern Commercial Services, on behalf of its sister company Transwestern Development, with an offer to buy their homes. Jackie Purner, an 86-year-old who has cancer, was distraught when she got the letter, her daughter-in-law said.
"She said, 'Where will I go?' How do you start your life again when you've lived your whole life in one house?" Kristie Purner said.
The home on Briargate Terrace was built in 1959. Kristie Purner declined to say how much Transwestern was willing to pay for it.
"It wasn't anywhere near the value of the house," she said. "They're just paying for the value of the land, which is unfair."
Transwestern Executive Vice President Irv Gilner did not respond to a request for comment.
Itasca Mayor Jeff Pruyn responded to the brewing controversy in a lengthy letter this week. Pruyn made clear that no decisions have been made by the village regarding the redevelopment.
"While there have been several discussions with staff, village officials, and the developer," Pruyn wrote, "Transwestern opted to first share its plans with Medinah area residents before presenting its concept plan to the Itasca Village Board."
He said Transwestern is tentatively scheduled to make a presentation to the village board during a community development committee meeting scheduled for June 28. So far, Transwestern has not submitted an application to the village for a development review.
The mayor noted "industrial property demand in the area is at an all-time high."
Bending was drawn to her Medinah home for the land, the privacy, the trees her grandchildren could climb. It was the "answer to her prayers."
"This is heaven for not just me but for my family," said Bending, an adjunct faculty member at the College of DuPage.
Transwestern paid her more -- about $38 a square foot -- for her old home less than a year ago than what they've offered her in Medinah.
"You can show me a check for $10 million," she said. "I'm not going."