By Bob Uphues
The executive director of the Cook County Land Bank Authority confirmed last week that while a majority of Riverside Lawn homeowners have sold their properties to the land bank as part of a Metropolitan Water Reclamation District buyout, there could be future construction in the unincorporated area of Riverside Township.
At a special presentation sponsored by the Frederick Law Olmsted Society at the Riverside Public Library on May 11, the land bank's executive director, Rob Rose, said the county had purchased 22 of the roughly 36 homes in Riverside Lawn, with one more acquisition pending.
The homes slated to remain for now are located closer to 39th Street, though one is located in the 3700 block of Stanley Avenue, which is firmly rooted in the flood plain. That house will end up being particularly isolated once neighboring homes are demolished.
Rose said 11 property owners have affirmatively declined the county's buyout offer and that 13 property owners have not responded at all. In the coming weeks, the land bank will attempt again to contact the 13 non-responsive owners.
The land bank has until sometime in mid-2018 to expend the funds it has for the buyout. The buyout is being funded through an $8 million bond issue by the MWRD and $4 million in federal Community Development Block Grant Disaster Relief funds.
The land bank will honor its offers to homeowners who, for now, have chosen to stay until the 2018 deadline, which has not been finalized.
The county might also acquire Riverside Lawn properties in the future should an owner will the property to the forest preserve district upon his or her death, through something known as a life estate deed.
While the county might compensate the estate for the property at that time, Rose said, "It won't be anything near what we are offering now."
While the properties purchased by the county eventually will be ceded to the Cook County Forest Preserve District and be allowed to revert to their natural state, some pioneering person might decide to build on the handful of privately owned vacant parcels remaining.
Rose said he has been in touch with the owner of vacant parcels on the east side of Gladstone Avenue near Bismarck Street, and confirmed that the owner still would like to build a home there.
"Legally, we cannot stop you from building," said Rose, who added that his agency sought an opinion from the Cook County State's Attorney about prohibiting construction in the Riverside Lawn flood plain following the completion of the buyout program. The state's attorney reportedly said there was no authority to prevent building on private property as long as structures conformed to code.
"With that being said," Rose said, "understand that you're building in the middle of a forest preserve; understand you may not have any services. So you're building at your own risk as well, and your flood insurance is going to be super sky high, especially once this area has been registered as an area where we offered a buyout program."
Rose couldn't give a definite date for demolitions, but in an email to the Landmark he said he expected the first round of demolitions – the northernmost homes in Riverside Lawn – to start in the next 30 to 45 days. Once started, said Rose, all of the homes will be demolished within four to six weeks. Demolition will include removing foundations, disconnecting utilities, capping wells and removing septic systems.
The roads will remain intact, Rose said, though it's unclear how or if they will be maintained in the future.