Lyons Township High School has owned a 72-acre parcel of land in Willow Springs, shown above inside dotted line, for 60 years. | Goggle Maps

The Illinois State Senate has passed, without a single dissenting vote, a bill that would make it more difficult for Lyons Township High School to sell the approximately 70-acre tract of undeveloped land it owns in Willow Springs.

The bill, which passed the state Senate on 55-0 vote on March 31, would limit how a school district can sell land and give other units of local government a right of first refusal. 

 If a school district wants to sell property under the provisions of the local government transfer act, according to the text of the bill passed by the Senate, it must get at least three appraisals of the land within the current zoning and must first offer the land to the municipality, park district or school district within whose boundaries the property sits at the median price set by the three appraisals. 

The bill, which seems to be inspired by LTHS’ attempt to sell the Willow Springs property to an industrial developer, would give the village of Willow Springs a right of first refusal to buy the land at a lower price than what was offered to LTHS when the school put the land up for sale a few months ago. 

Earlier this year, LTHS received offers of $55 million from Bridge Industrial and $60 million from Prologis, a developer of warehouses and distribution centers, but those deals fell through in the face of community opposition and the stated unwillingness of the village of Willow Springs to change the zoning of the land.

LTHS Superintendent Brian Waterman estimated that the Willow Springs land is worth much less than $55 million at its current zoning, which is for single-family homes, retail or senior housing. 

In a letter to members of the Illinois House of Representatives, Waterman asked legislators to oppose the bill, saying tat it would force school districts to sell land at less than its market value and then allow a municipality to change the zoning and flip the property at a much higher price.

“SB990 will fundamentally change how school districts sell land and achieve fair-market value for their taxpayers,” Waterman wrote.

State Sen. Mike Porfirio (D-LaGrange) whose 11th District includes Brookfield south of Shields Avenue, signed on as a co-sponsor to the bill that was introduced by Senate Republican Leader John Curran, in whose district the Willow Springs land is located.

Porfirio said he thought Waterman’s concerns about property flipping could be addressed by amending the bill.

“I think there is conversation to address that,” Porfirio told the Landmark. “I would think it’s somewhat of an exaggerated concern but one that I think we need to get language right to address it.”

Porfirio said one idea is to require that a municipality that buys land from a school district under the procedure laid out in the bill hold the land for 10 years before selling it.

The bill, he said, is an attempt to defuse the tensions and concerns generated by the proposed land sale and return the school board’s attention to educating students.

“I think this is a good bipartisan solution that takes the temperature down on this scenario, this situation, that’s became a very divisive situation in the community,” Porfirio said.

AG: LTHS violated meetings act

In other news related to attempted land sale, the Illinois Attorney General’s Office ruled that the LTHS school board violated the Open Meetings Act by discussing elements of the proposed sale that didn’t direct involve setting the price for the land in closed session on Jan 23. 

The Open Meetings Act allows the discussion of setting the price for a piece of property to take place in closed session, but after listening to the recording of the closed session, the Attorney General’s Office ruled that the school board discussed “myriad subjects beyond setting the price for sale of the subject property.”

In response to a request for review filed by Melissa Grisoni of Burr Ridge, the attorney general issued a binding opinion, stating that LTHS must release a copy of the recording to Grisoni and also make public the audio recording of the Jan. 23 closed session.

LTHS school board President Kari Dillon told the Landmark the district has 30 days to appeal the attorney general’s ruling and that the school board has not yet decided on whether to do that.

This story has been changed to correct the spelling of Melissa Grisoni’s last name.