‘Metz occupies a house in the rear of Mr. Watson’s place. He was compelled to move yesterday. The water reached the second floor. … The people were forced to make a detour of a half mile to reach one of the bridges above Riverside before they can get to the railroad station.”
That’s from a paragraph of a Chicago Tribune story from March 24, 1897 about flooding in Riverside Lawn. Following that flood, Mr. Watson, who built and lived in one of the stone houses at the north end of the Lawn, apparently built a levee to protect his house and flower garden from future flooding.
That solution, according to another Tribune article from March 1898, lasted less than a year when significant flooding wiped out both Watson’s berm and garden and, oh yeah, the rickety wooden bridge that connected Riverside Lawn to Riverside.
Had there been any zoning laws back then, there’s no way anybody would have been able to build a residence, much less an entire neighborhood, in what was clearly a floodplain.
It took more than 100 years, but the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago, the Cook County Land Bank and the Forest Preserve District of Cook County have collaborated on a plan to buyout the property owners of Riverside Lawn and have acquired most of the homes that aren’t immediately along 39th Street.
But a few holdouts remain, including at least one in the northern third of the neighborhood. And there is privately held property on the north end whose owners apparently are dead set on improving with some sort of residence.
Whether it’s a pioneering spirit or simply because selling to the county doesn’t make financial sense at this time, we’re worried about the future of those who will remain in the Lawn.
The land bank says it will honor its offers to property owners until sometime in mid-2018, by which time all of the allotted funds have to be spent. Those who forego the buyout at that point will pretty much be at the mercy of nature.
We can’t imagine there would be any scenario where someone would be able to get a better offer for their property than right now, and we worry about how those who remain will be able to fund fire protection (police protection is already kind of a whoever-shows-up-first situation) and who, if anyone, will maintain the roads serving just a handful of homes.
Who knows? Maybe that sounds like paradise to some. But we hope the county is strict with anyone who wants to build in that flood plain in the future. It’s no secret – heck it wasn’t a secret in 1897 – that Riverside Lawn is a huge flood hazard.
It’s bad enough that some people are willing to risk more flooding – and without the support of neighbors to pitch in and help – by staying. The county should do all it can to discourage anyone else signing up to live in a place so prone to flooding and the damage that comes along with it.