Neighbors at a Bensenville golf course are asking voters to decide whether the Park District should carve out a significant portion of the land and sell it for redevelopment.
The future of White Pines Golf Club remains in uncertainty as the Park District plans to sell up to 125 acres of the property. The public club has been struggling financially for years. But park district officials say a deal with developers could become an “economic engine” pumping millions of dollars into new sports and water complexes, recreation spaces and programs.
However, residents around White Pines are working to block any effort to convert the golf courses into potential industrial development. It’s not just about keeping the rustic look of the area. Open space is a precious commodity in a city in the shadow of O’Hare International Airport.
“The option to sell 125 acres to industrialists robs Bensenville to pay Bensenville,” said Janell Taraszka, who started “Residents Saving White Pines,” a 300-member Facebook group. “It’s not what’s best for our community or our environment. The plan would force us to sell our biggest asset for one-time gain at the expense of our residents.”
Taraszka and other residents object to the park board considering a sale without asking voters to vote on the idea in a referendum.
“If it’s really in the interest of the residents, let’s make our voice 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 in November and let the residents decide.”
According to park district audits, White Pines had a deficit of $2.3 million from 2015 to 2021. This includes nearly $1 million in operating losses in 2020 alone.
Although the course brought in a profit of $194,906 in 2021, district officials did not include depreciation costs in White Pines’ operating expenses that year or in 2020 as they had. previous years. Those costs amounted to about $550,000 a year in the years they were reported, according to district financial records.
The park district, however, could earn “about $100 million at a minimum” if 125 acres of white pine were sold to an industrial developer, executive director Joseph Vallez said.
Still, it’s not a done deal, said board chairman Rich Johnson.
“We don’t have any agreement with any developer – absolutely not,” Johnson said at a park board meeting attended by dozens of residents Wednesday night.
Last August, state lawmakers granted the Park District authority to sell up to 125 acres of the golf course. The original legislation was set to expire in January, but the park district requested an extension, Vallez said. This means that the park district should reach an agreement by the end of June 2024 if the request becomes law.
Vallez said the earlier deadline was not set by the park district.
“We believe this extension is going to happen. We haven’t received verification of it yet,” Vallez said. “But once that’s done, it will allow the park district to take more time to do more due diligence and give the commissioners the opportunity to have more time to consider all of the options on offer.”
As part of a concept proposal, the district could use proceeds from a sale to develop the remaining 135 acres of White Pines into a new recreational facility. Another project under consideration is the construction of a year-round indoor aquatic facility that would replace an outdoor pool, which Vallez and Johnson say requires about $1.5 million in work.
“We have roofs, we have… there are a lot of them,” Johnson said. “Believe me, every roof in White Pines needs to be replaced. So one of the things we’re looking at is what we’re doing, what we’re bringing to the village, without raising your taxes.”
Asked about a referendum, Vallez said: “In general, we see low turnout in elections, and some of them are historically low turnouts.”
“If you’re doing a referendum, the question to ask, do you really get a good indication of what voters, registered voters in the community, want if you get something like 10, 15, 20 percent (turnout)?” Vallez said.
Park district officials plan to give an update on white pines to the village council, which Vallez expects sometime in May.
On Wednesday, the park’s board also approved spending up to $70,000 to hire consultants to conduct sports market analysis on golf’s prospects and the economic impact of hosting soccer tournaments. or basketball, Vallez said.
Some residents argue that 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 really had a problem in the park area, they should have told us something.”
• Daily Herald writers Jake Griffin and Scott C. Morgan contributed to this report