Cook County Forest Preserves District Board of Commissioners was scheduled to vote Dec. 15 to accept a donation of 5.84 acres of property in Riverside Lawn from the Cook County Land Bank Authority, which acquired the land in 2017.

The action largely caps a years’ long effort by both the Cook County Land Bank and the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago to buy out homeowners who live in the flood-prone slice of unincorporated Riverside Township wedged between a V-shaped bend in the Des Plaines River and 39th Street.

Last month, the real estate committee of the forest preserve district board voted 15-0 to refer to the full board an ordinance authorizing the transfer of the properties from the land bank. 

The transfer involves 20 properties comprising 27 separate parcels, including nearly all of the property most impacted by flooding. The homes that once stood on those parcels have been demolished, and the plan is for the land simply to revert to its natural forest state.

A handful of properties the land bank has also purchased either along or near 39th Street were not part of this particular conveyance of property to the forest preserve district.

The Cook County Land Bank Authority first pitched the Riverside Lawn buyout plan to homeowners in the area back in the summer of 2015, after a rapid succession of flood events in 2008, 2010, 2011 and 2013.

In partnership with MWRD, the land bank was able to secure $12 million in federal funds to buy the properties, and the agency began acquiring the parcels in 2016. That effort continued into the following year, with the land bank systematically demolishing the homes they purchased.

A few of the buildings bought by the land bank still stand vacant and boarded up. It’s unclear what the immediate plan is for those properties, which are located near 39th Street. However, Rob Rose, executive director of the Cook County Land Bank Authority, told the Landmark that the properties not conveyed to the Forest Preserve District of Cook County will remain in the hands of the land bank.

He also said the Cook County Land Bank Authority has no future plans to purchase any more land in Riverside Lawn.