The clock keeps ticking on Riverside Lawn, and the property owners there still don’t know when the alarm will go off.
Although promised offers by mid-May, no one who owns a home in the Riverside Lawn flood plain has received one. Now county officials are saying it could take until the end of June before homeowners receive their offer letters.
“I’ll believe it when I see it,” said Paul Eberhardt, a Gladstone Avenue resident.
It’s been more than 10 months since officials from the Cook County Land Bank and the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District rolled out a plan to buy all of the 45 or so properties in flood-prone Riverside Lawn, a pie-shaped unincorporated section of Cook County immediately south of Riverside, wedged between a V-shaped bend in the Desplaines River and 39th Street.
Some of the homes in Riverside Lawn, particularly those nearest the river, are more than a century old. But much of Riverside Lawn is a flood plain and property owners there have been deluged over the years during heavy rain events. The county has proposed the buyout as a storm water management solution.
The land bank’s plan is to buy as many properties as possible — the buyout is completely voluntary — and then demolish the buildings and deed the land in perpetuity to the Cook County Forest Preserve District.
Almost all of the homeowners in Riverside Lawn, some of whom have been there for decades, expressed interest in the buyout. The trouble is their lives have been on hold since January.
“The constant uncertainty is very hard to deal with,” said Diane Gryglak, a Stanley Avenue resident who has lived in Riverside Lawn for 30 years.
Back in November 2015, homeowners were told they’d have offers on their properties by early January 2016. The Cook County Land Bank had already completed appraising the properties.
Finally, in March there was an explanation of the delay. The MWRD required a second round of appraisals in order to secure $12 million in federal funds for the buyout. On March 30, officials from the Cook County Land Bank and MWRD hosted a town hall meeting with Riverside Lawn residents and promised that the appraisals would be done in six weeks and that offer letters would be in the mail by mid-May.
According to Jane Hornstein, deputy director of the Cook County Department of Planning and Development, the land bank did send out a first round of offer letters to homeowners. But those offer letters were sent to property owners outside the flood plain.
At least one letter did make it to the owner of property in the flood plain area. Bob Holdsworth, who lives on Gladstone Avenue, received an offer letter on May 16 for two parcels of vacant land he owns — but not for his home.
In March, property owners were told they’d have 30 days from the receipt of an offer letter to make a decision. With that 30-day window closing fast, Holdsworth is anxious.
“We got our offer on May 16th, so we’re about halfway through the 30 days,” Holdsworth said in an email on June 2. “Even though the document we received didn’t specifically mention that 30-day period, we are concerned about accepting this offer without knowing the total for all our property.”
Hornstein told the Landmark that the county likely would give Holdsworth an extension until he gets an offer on the home, but as of June 2 no one had told Holdsworth that.
Asked the status of the appraisal reports, Hornstein said the Cook County Land Bank was in possession of the information. However, “several” properties had appraisals that differed significantly, said Hornstein, which prompted officials to go back to the appraisers to make sure both were looking at the same criteria when making their evaluations.
Those reports are being finalized, said Hornstein.
“We’re hoping to have them completed in 2-3 weeks,” Hornstein said. “By the end of the month, for sure.”
If the offers do come at the end of June, that’s a problem, said Gryglak, who is a teacher and thought she’d be spending her time off during the summer dealing with packing and moving. She didn’t envision a move as school approached or during the school year.
“If I don’t get an offer soon enough, then I’m not moving until December,” said Gryglak. “I’m not moving in the middle of the school year.”
Eberhardt, who has two children in grade school, said the school question is on his mind as well. Without an offer from the county, Eberhardt said he doesn’t know what kind of budget he’s dealing with, so it’s hard to get started until that comes in.
“Until I have an offer I don’t know if I’m house hunting,” Eberhardt said.
If Eberhardt won’t have a decision made until July, that’s going to cut things close in terms of school.
“I’d like to commit before school starts,” he said. “Late June throws a monkey wrench into the school-year thing.”