Instead of selling White Pines, park district might seek $20 million tax hike for new clubhouse
The Bensenville Park District has scrapped a proposal to sell a significant chunk of White Pines golf course for redevelopment, instead laying the groundwork for a $20 million tax-increase request to fund a new clubhouse.
The decision marks a stark reversal after months spent entertaining a potential sale of golf course land. Park district officials had said a deal with developers could become an "economic engine" pumping millions of dollars into new sport and aquatic complexes, recreational space and programming.
But the prospect of a sale met stiff resistance from golf course neighbors who prize open space in the shadow of O'Hare International Airport.
Such a tract of raw land presumably would have spared developers from the hassle of razing entire neighborhoods to make room for new industrial space, a process that has already played out in Bensenville and other O'Hare towns.
But park board President Rich Johnson said he became aware of industrial developers contacting both public and private property owners in Bensenville with offers to buy out their land in addition to White Pines.
"There is a very real threat of destroying the residential fabric of our town," Johnson said.
Citing fears that development could further encroach into Bensenville neighborhoods, Johnson staked out his opposition to the sale of golf course land.
Park district commissioners said in a statement they would no longer be considering the "unsolicited inquiries the board has received over the past two years from private development companies interested in redeveloping certain acres of land that comprise the White Pines Golf Club."
Neighbors of White Pines, a 36-hole complex, applauded the decision.
"We want this to be an alliance," said Chuck Rizzo, who lives in the Crestbrook subdivision just east of White Pines. "We want to fix this situation. We want to figure out ways that we can get the park district the money that they need to repair the facilities, to keep the golf course open and to operate the park district, because it's a tremendous asset to our town."
The question now is whether residents will be willing to pay for golf course improvements. The district has set its sights on a possible referendum campaign that would ask residents to approve a property tax increase to replace the aging White Pines clubhouse.
"There are roofing issues there as well as plumbing issues and other infrastructure problems, as well as logistical issues with respect to people using the clubhouse," district Executive Director Joe Vallez said.
If approved, the owner of a $300,000 home would pay about $200 in additional property taxes to the district annually, according to rough estimates, Vallez said.
The board will discuss whether to bring a funding request to voters this fall or in a future election during their Aug. 17 meeting, less than a week before the deadline to put a question on the November ballot.
The public club has struggled financially in recent years. 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.
State lawmakers granted the park district the authority to sell up to 125 acres of the golf course. Under an extended deadline, the district would have to get a deal done by the end of June 2024.
Johnson and Vallez insisted that officials had made no agreement with any developer and that they were only in a "factfinding mode."
The district floated the possibility of using proceeds from the sale to develop the remaining 135 acres of White Pines into a new recreation facility under a conceptual plan called "Bensenville 2.0."
Ultimately, however, Johnson said the cost of selling off White Pines was "too high."
• Daily Herald staff writer Jake Griffin contributed to this report