Public Watchdog.org

How Much Is Enough – Part 2?

12.06.17

After borrowing over $20 million between 2013 and 2016 to build the Centennial water park and the new Prospect Park, one might think that the Park Ridge Park District might want to cool its jets about taking on more debt and more capital projects.

But, instead, it held a “Public Input Meeting” on November 30, 2017. The “public input” being sought? Coming up with a wish-list for borrowing and spending multi-millions of dollars at Oakton Park.

Why?

Because the Park District recently learned that the Oakton Ice Rink’s R-22 refrigerant will be eliminated by 2020, meaning that the Park District will have to tear up the rink and replace all the mechanicals to accommodate a new type of refrigerant.

But simply replacing the ice surface and mechanicals apparently isn’t enough for the Park District, even though the ice surface was replaced back in the mid-1990s because (as we recall) of cracks in the surface – and, ironically, the phasing-in of the R-22 refrigerant to replace a more environmentally-unfriendly refrigerant – without adding millions of dollars to the project for accessories.

According to an article in the Park Ridge Herald-Advocate (“Pools, more ice among citizen suggestions for Park Ridge’s Oakton Park,” 12.04.17), although money for the actual replacement has been budgeted, there reportedly is no funding for any additional expansion of the ice rink or other wish-list projects at Oakton. But (per the H-A article) that didn’t stop the District from going out and hiring “Wight and Company architects and two other professional firms” to seek input from residents about what should be done at Oakton.

We’re big on “input from residents” but we’re not big on such input without any price tags affixed – especially since the Park District went to referendum on three Oakton projects in 2005-2006 – all of which were soundly rejected by the voters.

Although there is no video of the Public Input Meeting posted on the District’s website, a string of comments posted to the H-A article on the H-A Facebook page indicates the strongest support for either: (a) a major renovation of the Oakton ice rink and the addition of at least one more ice surface; or (b) a new pool, indoor or outdoor.

Back in 1994-95, the District spent over $100,000 on studies and actual plans for a Centennial water park. The then-board intended to use those plans to steamroll the taxpayers, but a group of 40 or so Centennial Park NIMBYs organized and made enough of a ruckus that the 1994-95 park board backed off and submitted the project to an advisory referendum. That project got soundly rejected by the voters, and its proponents took their cue and dropped it – until it was taken up again as one of the two referendum questions by the Park District in April 2005: The Centennial water park lost by 70% to 30%, while a referendum for building an indoor recreation center at Oakton failed 73% to 27%.

In March 2006 another Centennial water park referendum failed 69% to 31%.

And in November 2006, a $10 million plan to put a new aquatic center/water park at Oakton failed 57% to 43%.

Mindful of those failures, in December 2012 that park board chose to blow right past “permission” and head directly to “forgiveness” when it committed, based on very limited resident input, to borrow $7 million to build the current second/third-rate water park – sans the “lazy river” which was the single most wanted feature of the original design, based on 682 survey respondents – without a referendum. We wrote about it less than kindly in our posts of 12.05.12, 12.13.12, 12.19.12 and 12.29.12.

That decision by that board was both dishonest and gutless. Which, to paraphrase the fictional Dean Vernon Wormer, “is no way to go through [public] life.”

Frankly, we don’t care what the Park District wants to build at Oakton so long as it puts whatever the project(s) might be – along with a credible price tag – to referendum, preferably binding but advisory being better than nothing.

Before that is done, however, a lot more information and discussion is needed to determine what kind of project(s) deserve a referendum question, or two, or three on the November 2018 ballot. That’s assuming the Park Board doesn’t rush to judgment and try to ram something onto the March 2018 primary ballot by the filing deadline of January 2, 2018.

We trust that won’t be the case with this Park Board, the new majority of which act and sound as if they actually understand and respect the interests and concerns of the taxpayers as much, or more, than those of the users of the District’s resources. Such a rush to judgment would be a major dis-service to all the District’s stakeholders except for the highly-motivated special interests who, like their water park counterparts in December 2012, can be counted on to turn out and dominate any discussion over the next few weeks while the majority of folks who will end up footing the bills are busy getting ready for the holidays.

The deadline for putting a Board-originated referendum resolution on the November 2018 ballot is August 20, 2018. That should provide plenty of time for an intelligent, well-informed debate by both the Park Board members and the general public about what project(s) deserve consideration for a referendum question.

Because how much is enough at Oakton, or elsewhere in the Park District, is a question that needs to ultimately be answered by the countable votes of a fully-informed electorate, not by rank speculation and anecdote from a few handfuls of the specially-interested.

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How Much Is Enough?

12.01.17

On the night of November 14, a developer’s representatives showed up at City Holl to pitch the Park Ridge Planning & Zoning Commission (“P&Z”) on letting it develop the Mr. K’s site – 1440 Higgins, currently zoned for business/commercial use – with 19 3-bedroom townhouses and an office building that the developer hoped would be enough “commercial” to sell the Commission on the project.

Given that the developer previously had sought 31 townhouses and no commercial building for the site, it was clear that the townhouses were the dog and the office building was the tail. Which is why the developer broke out the salesmanship.

So did Park Ridge-Niles School District 64, which dispatched finance guru Luann Kolstad, along with an attorney and a consultant from Teska Associates, to try to persuade the P&Z folks that this new multi-family residential development will likely add 6 to 9 kids (a conservative estimate, per Supt. Laurie Heinz’s letter) to D-64 schools instead of the 2.88 kids the developer was projecting.

One would think that Park Ridge’s oft-lamented lack of business/commercial combined with the longstanding commercial zoning of the site, in the exercise of common sense and simple math, would have made P&Z’s decision to say “no” to more multi-family development a straightforward one.

But it wasn’t.

A couple of P&Z commissioners seemed lost in the funhouse and totally overmatched by the interplay of housing density and student costs, even after a fellow commissioner correctly pointed out that 2 of the 3 bedrooms in each townhouse were so small they appeared designed solely for children. A few more commissioners seemed desperate for some kind of compromise that would avoid their having to make a decision that somebody might not like.

But as James Russell Lowell so trenchantly observed: “Compromise makes a good umbrella, but a poor roof; it is temporary expedient, often wise in party politics, almost sure to be unwise in statesmanship.”

And when we’re talking about a development that can be expected to last a minimum of 30-50 years, a “temporary expedient” – like 19 3-bedroom townhouses and some half-baked office building afterthought – is the last thing we need.

Which brings us to the key question: How much is enough? In this case, how much residential development is enough?

Multi-family residential is the lowest hanging fruit on the development tree for an older, inner-ring upper-middle class community like Park Ridge. Want to turn a quick, low-risk profit? See how many condos or townhouses you can cram onto your target property.

But at what point do more residences, and more residents, begin to adversely affect the community’s quality of life and its sustainability – whether by too many kids in our public schools, too much traffic, too many demands on our infrastructure, etc.?

The answer to that question depends on who you are and where your interests lie.

If you’re the owner of Mr. K’s looking to cash out at the highest price, you probably don’t give a rat’s derriere about what some developer constructs on that property – so long as the check clears. And in the grand scheme of things, that’s okay.

If you’re a developer looking to turn the quickest profit with the least risk, 31 townhouses – or 19 townhouses and some half-baked office building – might be your best pump-and-dump deal. And that’s okay, too.

And if you’re a local RE broker, 19 new townhouses increases your “inventory” at no significant additional incremental cost to you. And that’s okay.

Because self-interest – both enlightened and doltish – has always been with us and always will be. It’s how we deal with that self-interest that matters.

Perhaps the most important reason we have City government and a Zoning Code is to prevent selfish property owners, selfish developers and selfish RE brokers from putting their short-term profiteering ahead of the taxpayers’ long-term expense and the community’s long-term sustainability as a unique place to live.

Which means remembering that property owners are like one-trick hookers, that developers are like sharks cruising for their next meal, and that certain RE brokers are like the remoras that swim below the sharks’ mouths feeding on the scraps left over from the sharks’ larger meals.

While the owner and the developer may both be one-and-done on a project such as Mr. K’s, it’s those RE agents who will be getting the longer-term benefits from adding condos and townhouses to their residential inventory that can be expected to turn over far more frequently than commercial property or even single-family homes. That means more sales and more commissions for those agents – the gift that keeps on giving.

Once again, that’s okay.

But when you hear some of those RE agents (like, say…William Cline) pontificate in comments to Facebook posts about how “[a]ny development residential or commercial is a net positive for our community” (without and facts or explanation) and how “[o]ur codes need to shift with the needs of today’s society” (also without explanation), first do the math for each unit of these multi-family residences:

At a $16,000 cost per D-64 student, less 40% (D-64’s share) of total RE tax bill = there will be some amount of funding deficit for any residential unit with one kid in D-64 whose total RE tax bill is $40,000 or less. And every additional kid from that same unit in D-64 schools represents $16,000 of additional deficit.

For Cline and his fellow champions of higher-density residential who work on a commission basis, even a 3% commission on the sale of a $350,000 condo or townhouse means almost $12,000 of extra income – which more than covers any incremental RE tax increase they might incur from the extra students.

That doesn’t mean those brokers and developers haven’t earned their money. They have.

But it means we should all remember that it’s their pocketbooks talking the next time you hear one of them claim: “Any development residential or commercial is a net positive for our community” and that “[o]ur codes need to shift with the needs of today’s society and the public officials need to stop catering to the nimbys that have no clue how economic development works.”

And then ask to see their math.

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