There has never been any secret that Lyons Township High School District 204 has, for more than half a century, owned 70 acres of land in Willow Springs.
And it’s been so crystal clear for so long that the district would never build another school there, that the village of Willow Springs took pains to carefully designate the parcel a special zoning district, setting out very specific uses for that land, prohibiting any kind of industrial or warehouse uses.
On Jan. 21, outraged Willow Springs officials and residents carrying professionally printed “Stop the Sale” placards expressed their displeasure over the District 204 school board, and it was all quite theatrical, with Village Administrator Ryan Grace handing over the village’s zoning code to the district’s administration as a cherry on top.
You remember Ryan Grace, don’t you? He was for a brief moment the maintenance director at Lyons-Brookfield School District 103 until he got bounced for a late-night remodeling project at the district office that led to an asbestos-related fine from the Illinois Department of Public Health.
Anyway, he’s running a municipality now.
Grace is a close friend of Lyons Village President Christopher Getty, who is the brother of Kenneth Getty, who is the Lyons Township Schools Treasurer, whose office was humiliated by Lyons Township High School 204 in court, paying out millions in legal fees over years in order to recoup about $764,000 out about $6 million in fees the school district had refused to pay for services the TTO didn’t render.
We’re sure that had no bearing on the Jan. 23 spectacle, what with D204 board President Kari Dillon up for re-election this spring.
Here’s the thing. Willow Springs has complete control over what’s going to get built on the land LTHS now owns. Whoever buys it will have to go through the village’s planned development review, and LTHS has no say whatsoever in how the land gets redeveloped if they sell it.
The Willow Springs Village Board, the entirety of which was in attendance at the Jan. 23 school board meeting, will be the ones casting the votes on redevelopment.
The strangest thing about the whole situation is that both bidders sought to convert the land to either industrial or warehouse uses, which are prohibited by the zoning code.
We cannot think of one major – heck, minor — land deal that’s ever been sealed before the buyer knows whether what they’re proposing will fly. Yet, here are two potential buyers submitting bids to fork over more than $40 million for something totally at odds with the zoning.
To whom LTHS sells the land is irrelevant. Village action is the only thing that matters.