The redevelopment of Calumet Country Club was not on the Hazel Crest board meeting agenda Tuesday, Sept. 27, but a number of area residents brought the issue forward anyway.
During the public comment section of the meeting, residents of Homewood, Flossmoor and Hazel Crest addressed the issue, prompted by information obtained by the South Suburbs for Greenspace (SSG) organization that indicated Hazel Crest officials have been in discussions with a potential developer, Catalyst Consulting, that could seek annexation into the village.
The property is owned by a company associated with Arizona real estate developer Walt Brown, who tried in 2020 to get Homewood to rezone the country club to enable industrial development. The plan presented to Homewood officials called for the creation of a fulfillment warehouse center.
That proposal was rejected by Homewood last year. As a result, Brown successfully petitioned to have the property disconnected from the village. Annexation to Hazel Crest would enable the property to receive municipal services necessary for redevelopment.
The first speaker was SSG leader Liz Varmecky, who read from a July 11 memo by Hazel Crest Village Attorney John Murphey to Village President Vernard Alsberry and Village Manager Dante Sawyer. The memo lists a number of possible problems with the preliminary development plan, which apparently includes a hotel, a peripheral retail area and more than 1 million square feet of warehouse space.
The memo questions the value of the development to the residents Hazel Crest.
Penny Catlett of Hazel Crest asked the board to provide residents with more information about the proposed development.
“I think it’s time we hold a town hall or public meeting so the residents of Hazel Crest is aware of what they threaten,” she said.
At the end of public comments, Alsberry thanked those who spoke and offered responses to some of their concerns.
Regarding Catlett’s suggestion that residents need to be informed about the project, Alsberry said they will be when the time is right, but although there have been discussions about the project, no plan has been formally proposed yet.
“We always bring things to our citizens,” he said. “We have not brought anything to them because we have nothing to bring to them. We have had discussions with our attorneys as you all know. We will bring it to our residents and see how our residents feel about it.”
Rachel Smith of Homewood told the board she lives in the Governors Park neighborhood, which is adjacent to the southern boundary of the country club.
“I just would like to remind you that you guys didn’t want this development at CCC” when it was proposed to Homewood, she said. “You actively spoke out about not working with this developer.”
Smith was referring to a Feb. 16, 2021, video posted on the village’s Facebook page in which Alsberry reported the board had decided to oppose the development proposed at that time.
“The village of Hazel Crest does not support the proposed redevelopment of Calumet Country Club into a trucking distribution center,” Alsberry said in the 2021 video. “We must work together to maintain access to open spaces to ensure clear air and quality water for all our residents. … We do not want to do business with this developer.”
In response to the statement, Brown said at the time that he planned to proceed with the development and looked forward to working with Hazel Crest officials.
Alsberry said Tuesday that he stands by the video statement.
“I do stand by what I said. There’s no way in the world 130-some acres of a trucking facility — that don’t make sense to anyone,” he said. “We do have to look at land use in our region and how that’s going to look. We have to look at the future of Hazel Crest and how the region does move forward. The region can’t stay stagnant, and it can’t all be green space. The taxes are crushing us.”
Trish Harper of Flossmoor noted that the villages near Hazel Crest will be affected by any development the village allows at the country club.
“We are more connected than we realize,” she said. “If it’s turned into what the property owner would like, it will be perhaps a good income for his investment, but on the other hand, it’s going to cause a lot of misery for a lot of people.”
Annette Bannon of Homewood said the villages of Hazel Crest, Homewood and Flossmoor are family oriented.
“I think an industrial area would not foster the community that we have now,” she said. “I think we want to keep that family orientation, and keeping the green space green would foster even more families coming in.”
David Janocha, a co-founder of SSG whose home is adjacent to the country club, argued that there would be few if any benefits to Hazel Crest if it annexed the land and allowed the industrial development. He noted that the project would likely include a TIF district, which would limit the village’s increase in property taxes for more than two decades.
He reiterated objections that were central to SSG’s campaign against the earlier development plan, including expected increases in truck traffic, noise, air pollution and flooding.
And he questioned whether the warehouse jobs the project would bring to the community would be worth the costs.
Hilary Pries of Homewood, also a Governors Park resident, echoed Janocha’s concerns about flooding.
Jeffrey Albrecht warned the board about a drainage project easement agreement between Calumet Country Club and Homewood, which he said specifies nothing can be built over the easement and its grade cannot be disturbed.
Alsberry said village officials were aware of the history and issues associated with the property.
“We’re going to move forward with open eyes, open ears and being fair to our citizens and our neighbors, because that’s what we’re all about,” he said.