A group of citizens has formed South Suburbs for Greenspace over Concrete to argue against the proposed development of a distribution warehouse at the former Calumet Country Club in Homewood.
SSGOC operates as a campaign of Illinois Southland Against Fossil Fuel Energy, which opposed a natural-gas power plant in Glenwood. The developer backed out of that project in 2019.
Homewood resident and SSGOC representative Liz Varmecky said there were about 320 members in SSGOC on Monday. The group formed mostly over Facebook after the Homewood village board approved the settlement with the project’s developer, Diversified Partners of Arizona, at its Jan. 26 meeting.
The agreement includes development of a TIF district for the area, endorsement of a Class 8 Cook County property tax assessment reduction and a $1 million advance on construction costs.
SSGOC’s Varmecky said the group envisions “a place that is for the community. We have no specific plans, though we are discussing potential ideas for the site, but the idea is not turning greenspace into concrete,” she said. “We just don’t think a millionaire developer from Arizona should have more say in our community than we do.”
Zoning reviews and a public hearing for the TIF district must be approved before a deadline in May. SSGOC is pushing to see the remaining items voted down. Should that happen, it would mean the village didn’t live up to its end of the settlement.
“I hear that (village government) says it could be worse but if they had worked with Hazel Crest, it could be better,” Varmecky said. “We could be stopping it all together.”
Village officials disagree. They say Diversified Partners was prepared to go to trial on March 5 to disconnect from Homewood, presumably to later be annexed by Hazel Crest, which borders the property on three sides. Attorneys were not confident Homewood could block the disconnection of the property from the village.
Instead of fighting in court, Homewood agreed to the settlement in order to retain some control over zoning.
The village’s plan includes a six- to eight-foot berm along 175th Street, an increased setback and building height limits, according to information available on the Homewood website. Homewood also included $100,000 to go toward legal fees associated with moving the main entrance from 175th Street to Dixie Highway, away from the residential area.
“They haven’t actually secured that. Some of the plans that have been released still have the main entrance on 175th Street so some of the things that (the village) said are guaranteed are not,” Varmecky said. “I understand that they think that they’ve done something to help us, but we didn’t have to make this million-dollar bad deal.”
Homewood government held public meetings in HF Auditorium in July and September of 2019 to inform residents. It also maintained a page dedicated to the project on the village website.
SSGOC doesn’t believe that was enough.
“One of the things that we thought the village of Homewood did not do enough of was resident outreach,” Varmecky said. “There was never a concerted effort to make Hazel Crest not open to this. We can’t make these decisions without realizing how they’re going to affect our neighbor and if we want to stop this from happening we need to get our neighbors involved. I think the village didn’t do that. They said they did, but they really didn’t do all that they could have.”
If Homewood violates the terms of the settlement, that trial would likely go on. The property could be disconnected from the village and Homewood would lose any control over the development. Varmecky said SSGOC has reached out to candidates running for Hazel Crest government and at least one has indicated support.
SSGOC calls the project environmental racism, as it’s being put in an area with a higher percentage of minority residents than other parts of Chicagoland.
“These kinds of developments happen in the South Suburbs for a reason. They don’t happen in the North Suburbs. It’s eco-racism, and it’s gone on for a long time here,” Varmecky said. “At some point, somebody has to do something and if the government is saying they can’t, we feel like it’s up to us.”