The Lyons Township High School is taking a step toward a more collaborative approach in deciding the future of the approximately 70-acre parcel of vacant land it owns in Willow Springs.
At the school board’s Aug. 7 committee of the whole meeting District 204 school board President Dawn Aubert proposed that the school hire an independent land-use consultant to study the property, its zoning and help the school better understand its options.
The move comes approximately two months after the Willow Springs Village Board passed a nine-month moratorium on any development of the land located at 79th Street and Willow Springs Road.
Earlier this year LTHS had tried to sell the land that it has owned for more than 60 years to an industrial developer. That deal fell apart once the village of Willow Springs made clear it would not alter the zoning of the property.
The existing zoning only permits single-family housing, senior housing or commercial development. The proposed sale to an industrial developer generated intense opposition from those who near the land and those who have children at Pleasantdale Elementary School, which is located just west of the property.
Aubert said that she wanted LTHS to make a “fresh start” in its approach to the land and made clear she is looking to begin a more collaborative approach.
“We are hopeful that this can help establish a collaborative relationship that will allow the village and the district to find common goals and understanding of the needs and priorities of both our schools, students and community,” Aubert said.
The other five members of the school board at the Aug. 7 meeting, Jill Daniels was absent, indicated that they thought hiring a land use consultant was a good idea although board member Tim Albores made clear that he is opposed to selling the land to an industrial developer.
On Aug. 4, the school board sent out an email inviting the wider community and the Willow Springs Village Board to attend their Aug. 7 meeting. Approximately 75 people turned out and most seemed cautiously optimistic about LTHS’ new approach while remaining unalterably opposed to any industrial development on the site.
Willow Springs Village President Melissa Neddermeyer was among the 12 people who spoke during the public comment portion of meeting, thanking the school board for inviting her and other Willow Springs elected officials.
“Based on your discussion it appears now that there could be a fresh start and further collaboration, so I am hopeful and encouraged and appreciate that dialogue,” Neddermeyer told the school board.
Neddermeyer said she understood and supported LTHS’ desire to sell the property and use the proceeds to better the school district. But she said that LTHS should commit to selling the property to someone who will develop it within the current zoning.
“Zoning exists for a reason and industry is not permitted on this site for good reason,” Neddermeyer said.
Willow Springs Village Adminstratror Ryan Grace said the entire Willow Springs Village Board was present at the meeting, as well as the village’s treasurer and special legal counsel, in the case the school board wanted to engage in substantive dialogue.
“We’re open to discussion,” Grace said. “I’m glad to hear that you guys are looking to maybe move forward on current zoning, get an appraisal, look at your options. Fantastic. If you’d like to talk, reach out.”
Residents who live near the site were also cautiously optimistic but still had concerns.
“I really am encouraged to hear words like collaboration and good neighbor,” said Sue Gobey. “I really think that is going to set us on the right path towards a better solution for everyone involved.”
After the meeting Aubert said that she was encouraged by the reaction to the idea of hiring a consultant.
“We sincerely want to approach this with dialogue and with collaboration and with partnership with the village of Willow Springs and any other municipalities and with transparency to our entire community,” Aubert said.