Quick Hit Ellyn Fortino Tuesday January 20th, 2015, 6:58pm

Environmental Concerns Swirl Around Mission Hills Development Plan, Opponents Urge Cook Co. Board To Delay Vote (UPDATED)

Residents of Mission Hills Country Club Village in unincorporated Northbrook want Cook County commissioners to delay a vote on a new housing development proposed for their community.

Northbrook-based Red Seal Development wants to build a 137-unit housing development that includes town homes, duplexes and single-family homes on about 44 acres of land at Mission Hills, a complex that currently features 781 condominiums and town homes as well as a separately-owned, 18-hole golf course.

Red Seal is seeking approval from the Cook County Board for zoning changes that would pave the way for the project, which would involve building on half of the existing golf course.

The Cook County Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) voted unanimously to advance Red Seal's proposal back in December. As a result, the Cook County Board's Zoning and Building Committee is slated to consider the project at its meeting on Wednesday morning. If the committee approves the project, it could go before the full Cook County Board for consideration later in the day.

Mission Hills Openlands, a group of residents leading the effort against the proposed development, claims the project would threaten the environment and property values in the community and lead to more flooding problems, among other concerns.

"What they're doing is an environmental travesty," stressed Mission Hills Openlands founder Karen Jump. "They would be clear cutting about 500 trees and taking 44 acres of open lands and putting it under asphalt and concrete. And we're in a very short distance to the Des Plaines River, and there's flooding all around us."

Jump also argues that the buildings and golf course at Mission Hills were initially designed to be one integrated "Planned Unit Development" (PUD) that was "never supposed to be broken up."

A representative from Red Seal, which maintains that it is allowed to pursue a rezoning request for the project, did not return requests for comment by deadline. Red Seal officials have previously stated that the proposal calls for the replanting of hundreds of new trees and detention ponds to address flooding issues.

Mission Hills Openlands has been critical of the public process that preceded the ZBA's vote to recommend the project for approval, alleging that a "fair and unbiased hearing did not happen" and the group's witness testimony was "restricted." Activists involved with Mission Hills Openlands say they have "been blocked in our attempts to get hard answers to important questions."

Last week, the group formally asked the Cook County Office of the Independent Inspector General to investigate the matter.

Cook County Deputy Inspector General Joseph Norris said his office could not comment on matters related to any possible investigations. Jump, however, said that the inspector general's office is "definitely looking into" the issue.

Opponents of the Red Seal development say a Cook County Board vote on the project should be delayed until the inspector general's office has completed a review of the ZBA's process.

A ZBA representative could not immediately be reached for comment by deadline.

The Northbrook Star reported on December 15 that ZBA Chairman Kevin Freeman said he rejected the claims put forward by residents fighting against the development after reviewing all testimony and records related to the project. Regarding property values, for example, Freeman said he took issue with Mission Hills Openlands' arguments because "the objectors' own evidence proved that there is no diminishment of value."

"What they showed was a steady increase in sales value throughout and including this year, when it was known far and wide ... that the golf course" was being eyed as part of Red Seal's proposed project, Freeman said, according to the newspaper.

However, one resident opposed to the development told the Northbrook Star after the ZBA vote that the chairman "didn't even address the objector's appraisal that homes with a golf course view sold for considerably more than those that didn't."

Jump's group, meanwhile, has specifically called on Cook County Commissioner Gregg Goslin (R-Glenview), who represents the 14th district where the project would be located, to put Wednesday's vote on hold.

The organization sent a letter to Goslin on January 5 asking him to request a probe into the ZBA's recommendation and attempt to postpone a final vote on the project "until the matter is properly investigated."

Goslin, who was unavailable for comment by deadline, issued a response to the group on January 13, noting that "there were multiple - and very extensive - opportunities for public input, including one that happened when I remanded the case back to the Zoning Board of Appeals to ensure that all were given the chance to present their viewpoint and expert witnesses." 

"In total, there were 17 hours of public hearings," Goslin added. "I believe it is now time for the Board of Commissioners to review the results of those deliberations and address the matter at hand. While this will be a difficult decision, please be assured that all input has been taken seriously and will be viewed through the strict letter of the law."

UPDATE (1/21/15 4:35 p.m.): The Cook County Board's Zoning and Building Committee did not vote on Red Seal's project on Wednesday, a representative from committee chairman Cook County Commissioner Peter Silvestri's office said. 

Mission Hills Openlands founder Karen Jump said the Zoning and Building Committee postponed the vote after Red Seal said it wanted a review of resident signatures that her group collected in oposition to the development. Mission Hills Openlands says its has enough opposition signatures that would trigger a requirement of a three-quarters vote of the Cook County Board to pass the project. Red Seal wants to ensure those signatures have been validated, Jump said.

A Zoning and Building Committee vote on the Red Seal project has been delayed until next month, though a specific date has not yet been set, according to Silvestri's office. 

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