Willow Springs resident Jim Distasio was the first speaker to criticize the proposed land sale for use as an industrial park. (Photos by Steve Metsch)

Willow Springs resident Jim Distasio was the first speaker to criticize the proposed land sale for use as an industrial park. (Photos by Steve Metsch)

Lyons Township school board rejects sale of 70-acre parcel in Willow Springs

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Mayor Melissa Neddermeyer (left) and the entire Willow Springs Village Board attended the meeting to show their opposition to the proposed sale.

By Steve Metsch

The sale of 70 acres in Willow Springs to a developer who wants to build an industrial park has been rejected by the Lyons Township High School District 204 board, but the door remains wide open to a sale.

The board voted unanimously Jan. 23 to reject bids of $46.5 million from Progolis and $55 million from Bridge Industrial for 70 wooded acres on Willow Springs Road and German Church Road.

That was after the board heard from a vast majority of the 26 speakers who implored it to deny the sale, saying an industrial park is not a good fit for the site. Five written comments were also read into the record.

After the meeting, detractors like Willow Springs Village Administrator Ryan Grace noted nothing had really changed as the land is still for sale.

“They’ve left it open for existing bidders to resubmit, for new bidders to submit,” Grace said.

“That’s why it’s not a very good outcome. What they did tonight really didn’t solve the problem,” Grace said. “They kicked the can down the road.”

Grace was among the speakers to address the board.

He told the board the land is not zoned for industrial use and that Willow Springs has no intention of ever rezoning the site from current zoning of residential and retail.

“I don’t think the Village of Willow springs can be more clear. If you’re good community partner, don’t waste everybody’s time. We’re telling you today that this isn’t going to be an acceptable use,” Grace added.

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Lyons High School District 204 board President Keri Dillon and Supt. Brian Waterman listen to angry residents at the meeting January 23.

He said Willow Springs will “keep a close eye on their actions going forward.”

Mayor Melissa Neddermeyer agreed: “Based on the motion and the way it was worded, they pretty much said the door is still open.”

Board President Keri Dillon said during the meeting that the bids did not conform to the board’s terms and conditions of sale.

Proceeds of the sale are intended to improve the high school’s two campuses which “could include reimagining current learning space to meet current education needs.” Athletic facilities could also get upgrades with some of the $55 million asking price for the land.

“The role that Lyons Township District 204 has in this process is to sell or not sell the property,” Dillon said, noting the purchaser would have to work with the village about future plans for the land.

The school district bought the land 60-some years ago as a possible site for another campus for Lyons Township High School.

The property remains for sale for a minimum price of $55 million, Dillon said, and the board will continue to talk with potential buyers.

During the lengthy public comments portion of the meeting held in the Reber Center on the high school’s north campus, detractors of the plan were met with applause after making statements.

Jim Distasio, whose property borders the site, said more than 3,200 signatures have been collected on a petition opposing the sale to an industrial developer.

“Last spring, LT commissioned an appraisal of the Willow Springs land, specifically instructing the appraiser to price the land for industrial rezoning even though industrial development on the land was prohibited by village code,” Distasio said, noting it is “steps away from an elementary school.”

“All of you prioritize money over the health and well-being of your constituents south of Joliet Road,” he said, adding the board “has failed the test of moral decency.”

Another Willow Springs resident, Frank Bianco, said the district has a $47 million surplus, which he said is plenty of money to improve the north and south campuses.

Some suggestions were for a mix of residential and retail, an athletic complex for the high school, or leaving it as it is and using it for environmental studies.

Two members of the Pleasant Dale Park District Board, which owns seven acres of undeveloped land near the site, said their attempts to talk with the high school board had been ignored.

A handful of written comments supporting the sale were met with boos from the crowd.

Julie Workman, a 24-year resident of La Grange, called it “an opportunity to make easy cash.”

“Your duty is to sell the land for as much as you can. If not for industrial, then it should be something else,” she told the board.

“But as a real estate and zoning attorney, I can tell you timing is everything. There just aren’t any residential builders for deal of this size right now,” she said.

After that, a man in the back shouted, “You’re in La Grange?”

She said, “Yes, La Grange.”

“Yeah, thanks,” the man said as some cheered.

1 Comment

  1. Earl on February 3, 2023 at 5:31 pm

    Ryan Grace the sane Ryan Grace that was fired from Lyons School District 103 for lying to State Investigators…Good work Willow Springs for hiring someone of such integrity and trust worthiness…🙄



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