After public outcry, South Barrington Park District might scrap plan to sell land to religious group
After a public outcry, the South Barrington Park District board on Wednesday will consider scrapping a controversial plan to sell undeveloped land to a religious organization.
A motion to cancel the pending $1.7 million sales contract for a 34-acre site near Bartlett Road and Route 59 is on the agenda for the evening's board meeting. The would-be buyer is Maywood-based Fourth Avenue Gospel Building Inc., a nonprofit operation that, according to one of its websites, is owned and operated by a local congregation of the Plymouth Brethren Christian Church.
Representatives have said they intend to build a house of worship for that congregation and a school.
Park District Executive Director Jay Morgan said he doesn't know if a majority of the five-member board will vote to stop the sale, which has been publicly opposed by dozens of local residents. At least two commissioners wanted the issue on the agenda, he said.
"I think they wanted to put it on there so the residents don't feel like we're not listening to what they're saying," Morgan said.
Commissioners couldn't be reached Tuesday.
The meeting will start at 7:30 p.m. at South Barrington's Community Center, 3 Tennis Club Lane. It will follow a mostly closed-door meeting set to begin at 6:30 p.m., during which the board will discuss pending litigation stemming from its plan to sell the land.
Park district voters in November approved holding an auction to unload the property, which sometimes is called "Area N." Fourth Avenue Gospel Building was the lone bidder.
But last month, people opposed to the plan -- including many residents of the nearby Woods of South Barrington development -- demonstrated against the pending deal at park district headquarters. They've cited the proposed use of the land and some of the church's practices among their concerns.
Some residents are seeking a restraining order to stop the sale. A closing set for late last month was indefinitely postponed.
Opponent Mike Lombardi said he and his allies were pleased to see the motion to stop the sale on Wednesday's agenda.
"As a community, we support the commissioners in voting to cancel the contract," Lombardi said.
The district is facing a threatened lawsuit from some of the residents who oppose the sale. When asked if he's afraid canceling the sale could lead to a lawsuit from Fourth Avenue Gospel, Morgan said "that's always a concern."
"I don't know what the legal ramifications are," Morgan said. That will be among the issues discussed in the closed-door meeting Wednesday, he added.
Fourth Avenue Gospel member Russell McAbery said his organization expects the park district to honor the contract.
"Fourth Avenue Gospel made a fair and realistic bid to buy the Area N property," McAbery said. He called the church "a committed developer."