The Cook County Land Bank will have written offers to buy properties in Riverside Lawn in the mail to homeowners by mid-May, and the fate of the flood-prone neighborhood ought to be clear by mid-summer.
On March 30, officials from the land bank, the Cook County Department of Planning and Development, the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District (MWRD) and a Chicago-based real estate appraisal firm met at the Riverside Township Hall with Riverside Lawn homeowners, who have been frustrated by delays involving the voluntary buyout program.
Homeowners were told late in 2015 that they’d have offers on their properties by early January, but a pledge for funding from the MWRD was made possible only by the land bank agreeing to a second appraisal for houses in the flood plain, which comprises most of Riverside Lawn.
At the March 30 meeting, employees from PF Appraisals made appointments to inspect properties and Joe Wallace, the company’s co-owner, pledged that his company would appraise 38 properties in the flood plain within six weeks.
A first round of appraisals was completed by the Cook County Land Bank in late 2015. As the land bank gets second appraisals on properties, it will begin mailing out offer letters to property owners via certified mail.
“One or two days after we receive the second appraisal, we’re going to get the offer out,” said Rob Rose, executive director of the Cook County Land Bank, who represented that entity at the March 30 meeting.
According to Rose, property owners will have 30 days from the date they receive the offer letters to either accept or deny them. The offer letters will include the appraisals by which the offer number was arrived at and a description of the timeline and details for sale process.
Rose said the land bank would “immediately” begin processing offer letters for eight properties outside of the flood plain that do not require a second appraisal by the MWRD. Those property owners ought to receive those offers “in the next week or so,” said Rose.
The ability of property owners to negotiate with the land bank on the sale price will be “limited,” said Rose, though he did say that homeowners would be able to negotiate some regarding a closing date. Those who agree to sell will still have to find new places to live and that could take a bit of time, Rose acknowledged.
“We can extend the closing date if there’s a reasonable time frame,” Rose said.
As for what would be reasonable, Rose added, “My expectation is that you should be able to close in 30 to 45 days” after accepting the land bank’s offer.
“I don’t know if it’s reasonable to go beyond the summer,” Rose said.
The buyout program is purely voluntary, and the county has no plans to claim any property via eminent domain, Rose said. Homes that are purchased will be demolished and their foundations removed and filled in. Septic systems will also be removed.
Properties will then be deeded to the Cook County Forest Preserve District, and a deed restriction will ensure the properties purchased in the buyout program will remain as green space in perpetuity.
Anyone who doesn’t take the county’s offers is free to stay, but there could be some drawbacks for those who remain. If a significant majority of property owners take the buyouts, those who remain will essentially live in a forest preserve, and there’s some question as to how those remaining will be able to pay to retain the Riverside Lawn Fire Protection District.
In addition, Rose stated, the cost of flood insurance is likely to spike for those who remain.
“Flood insurance will likely go way up because you were part of a buyout program and didn’t take it,” Rose said.
For those who own vacant parcels of land and had hoped to build on them in the future, Rose had more bad news. Rose said the county would not issue permits for any new construction in Riverside Lawn, though anyone who stays could still improve an existing home.
“It would be irresponsible for the county to allow people to build in a flood plain where they’re taking houses down,” Rose said.
“There will be no new building at all.”