The disapproval of angry residents opposed to the disconnection of the Calumet Country Club property couldn’t stop the measure from being approved by the Homewood village board Tuesday.
The board voted 4-0 to approve the release of the property from town borders. Trustee Karen Washington was not present and former trustee Larry Burnson resigned on April 1.
A disconnection lawsuit had court date set for April 23 had Homewood not approved the disconnection.
Homewood Village Attorney Christopher Cummings said he and the village’s legal representation determined the argument would be a difficult one if the case went to trial, indicating the property appears to meet all of the seven legal requirements necessary for disconnection.
“I would not be honoring my job by encouraging the village to go ahead with this lawsuit at this point,” Cummings said. “I told everybody back in 2019 … that the village may be stuck making the best bad deal we can because we don’t have a lot of leverage.”
Arizona firm Diversified Partners first approached the village about redevelopment plans for the property in late 2018 and by early 2019 settled on building warehouses and a distribution center. The firm completed the purchase of the property in late 2020.
The previous owner, CCC Investors LLC, sued to disconnect the property from the village in July 2019. In January, Homewood approved a settlement agreement with Diversified Partners that included financial incentives and tax breaks in exchange for dropping the suit. The agreement required the rezoning of the property to make way for the development.
At the time, Hazel Crest Mayor Vernard Alsberry Jr. had a public “neutral” stance on the development.
Homewood village officials feared not approving the settlement would result in the land disconnecting and being annexed by Hazel Crest, leaving Homewood with no control over things like sight lines, setbacks and other development issues.
Hazel Crest later came out against the development. Homewood then voted down the rezoning of the property to allow for light industrial. Diversified Partners then issued a notice requiring Homewood to complete the disconnection.
“About four months ago, Hazel Crest refused to stand with us to not accept Calumet Country Club be disconnected from Homewood. Please remember, if that had occurred we would not even be discussing this matter this evening,” Mayor Richard Hofeld read from a statement Tuesday. “A settlement agreement would not have been needed, nor would it have been entered into.”
The board also approved a resolution of cooperation opposing the development with Hazel Crest last night. Hofeld said Hazel Crest is expected to vote on the resolution, which is not legally binding, soon.
Several residents spoke during the public comment portion of the meeting.
Attorney Patrick Keating represented Homewood residents Liz Varmecky, Casey Kueltzo, Danielle Nolen-Ragland, Kathy Jakubowksi and Car Notorangelo at an April 1 hearing when they were added as defendants with Homewood in the disconnection suit. He said Cook County Circuit Court Judge Maureen Ward Kirby didn’t rule Homewood’s settlement agreement with the developer was valid and the village was not obligated to follow its terms.
Cummings said Keating sent a letter to the village suggesting the agreement was voidable because the five residents were added to the settlement.
Trustee Barbara Dawkins shared the judge’s order on a screen projection. Dawkins is a criminal lawyer who’s worked for the Cook County State’s Attorney’s office for 20 years.
The order Dawkins shared said the addition of the five residents as defendants “did not void the settlement agreement,” “did not make the settlement agreement voidable” and “it did not modify any of the village’s obligations under the settlement agreement.”
“The order doesn’t lie. The order’s there in black and white. It was entered into the court. That is what the judge ordered,” Dawkins said. “That is not conjecture. That is not opinion. That is not someone spouting off. That is the order that was entered into the court.”
Dawkins said the village is not in breach of the agreement by not approving the zoning, despite what she called “misinformation being spread.” Some protesters laughed, spoke and gestured dismissively as Dawkins spoke. Keating tried to talk over Dawkins and disagree but was warned by Hofeld that he would be asked to leave if he continued.
“This is a case about disconnection. It’s not about zoning. It’s not about considering what’s going to happen to this property if the disconnection occurs, whether it’s a butterfly farm or some sort of landfill. That isn’t the concern of the court,” Dawkins said. “Though this may seem counterintuitive and unjust, that is the law. What Homewood thought Hazel Crest would do in terms of development of the property is not a factor in this lawsuit at all. It is not a defense. While it may be compelling in the court of public opinion, it would not hold up in a real court of law.”
Trustee Lauren Roman said she was a paralegal for 13 years. She said she reached out to former colleagues for advice.
Roman said Keating could’ve filed for a temporary restraining order to delay Tuesday’s vote if he could lay out a defense against disconnection.
“No one I spoke to sees any different outcome that what has already been advised to us by our legal counsel,” Roman said. “I think we can all assume that by (Keating) not filing the TRO, he does not have a strong defense to the disconnect case.”
Roman said paying attorney’s fees for the village and potentially Diversified Partners along with possible damages to the developer were too steep a price.
“For me it was all about the final outcome on the disconnection case, about the big picture,” Roman said. “The question for me was ‘How much more do we want to spend in fighting a losing battle?’”
Two members of the public were escorted out of the meeting by Homewood police, one of whom was in tears after the vote was taken. Both hesitated but left without incident.
Attorney James Tunick, who said he’s part of the legal representation with Keating for the group who became co-defendants in the village’s legal battle, was one of the two asked to leave. He interrupted as trustees were speaking prior to the vote.
“Please give us the courtesy to speak. We gave you the courtesy, please give us the courtesy,” Mayor Richard Hofeld told Tunick.
“You’re pointing your finger. I don’t call that courtesy,” Tunick said.