What’s the price of public land?
Apparently just a few dollars if you are Joe Keefe and Former Illinois Senate President John Cullerton. Both are asking the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District to grant them a driveway easement through the tenth hole of the Canal Shores Golf Course in Evanston.
Keefe-Cullerton want their proposal to go to the District this fall.
The Evanston easement will help to sell their difficult-to-develop Wilmette property; they currently propose to use it for affordable housing, enabling them to maximize their profit via tax credits.
Keefe-Cullerton say the property is worth $2-$4 million because they consider it buildable.
Yet, they have tried, without luck, to build on the swampy lot for 30 years. Garritt Cullerton is the realtor who listed the property, but found no takers.
Before the Keefe family bought its parcel — one of two — Wilmette officials told them they could build no more than two houses on the property. Dick Keefe, Joe Keefe’s dad, sued and lost, hoping to get permission to build more. Though he lost, he did move ahead and buy the parcel.
Keefe said he and Cullerton are offering of this property for affordable housing to Housing Opportunities for Development Corporation (HODC) for affordable housing tax credits that they can sell sell on a secondary market.
There are hoops and appraisals to jump through for affordable housing tax credits, but it is why Keefe-Cullerton have not been willing to consider a conservation easement or to donate/sell their property for nature. No tax credit resale market for nature. As a forested wetland, that would be a good use for the property.
If affordable housing smooths the way for the road and it is still unbuildable, then the property reverts back to Keefe-Cullerton to sell.
Keefe denies that offering the property to the affordable housing nonprofit is just a means to get the road via other permissions.
By the way, Keefe-Cullerton has an easement in hand already. In 2018, the District approved a 60’ x 426’ easement from Maple Avenue in Wilmette to the Keefe-Cullerton property for the nominal fee of $10.
That is big enough to allow emergency vehicles to service the Keefe-Cullerton property. (In 2017, with noisy community support, the District said NO to authorizing a road through Isabella Woods, destroying an old growth swamp woods in Evanston to the south of the Keefe-Cullerton property.)
What do Wilmette and Evanston think about this?
According to Keefe, Wilmette told him to try again to get the road from Evanston, north from Isabella Avenue (See the petition link below for the Keefe-Cullerton map proposal that has been shared with MWRD Commissioners and at a community meeting.) Evanston and Canal Shores both said, “No,” to a new road from Isabella Avenue, and issued formal resolutions against it.
Canal Shores says the road through the tenth hole would wreck one of their prettiest holes on the struggling publicly-accessible course, and force them to cut down old oak trees.
Keefe-Cullerton have a workaround for the community opposition. Keefe-Cullerton say the Cook County Department of Transportation and Highways (DTH) will build the small only-a-few-blocks-long road, making it one of the few county roads in Evanston or Wilmette.
Getting the County to build the road means Keefe-Cullerton don’t need permission from Evanston or Wilmette – or Canal Shores. The Metropolitan Water Reclamation’s leases say government highway construction has to be allowed regardless of what is wanted by Evanston, Wilmette or Canal Shores. The 2018 easement approval also went to DTH to overcome community objections.
No way could an ordinary person get all this orchestrated. This is before the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District due to political power and privilege. What to do about this latest request to give away public land?
Tell the Water Reclamation District what you think, see the Keefe-Cullerton map proposal and sign our petition here. And for more information, here is a recap from the League of Women Voters – Wilmette.