Letters, Local News

Letter: Environmental activists, local NAACP official critical of forum on Calumet Country Club redevelopment (free content)

Wednesday night, March 15, 2023, Hazel Crest President Vernard Alsberry hosted Calumet Country Club owner’s unregistered lobbyists, Catalyst Consulting, and the NAACP Illinois State Conference at an event which was described as a town hall on the industrial development of the Calumet Country Club.

During her introduction, NAACP State President Teresa Haley said the event was to correct rumors and to give Hazel Crest taxpayers tools to empower them. She continued by incorrectly stating that it was up to Hazel Crest taxpayers to vote on this development. 

(FACT CHECK: There is no referendum on the ballot, nor will there ever be a vote for Hazel Crest voters, or anyone else. The Hazel Crest Planning and Zoning Commission will hold a public hearing on the rezoning of the 127 acres from its current residential zoning to manufacturing once Walt Brown, the property owner, has submitted his application to rezone the property. This public hearing is required by Illinois law. After the Planning and Zoning Commission hearing the Hazel Crest Board of Trustees will make the final decision in a public Board of Trustees meeting. The Planning and Zoning hearing is the only format in which the public will be able to ask questions of Walt Brown and his agents about the proposal.)

The event started with Catalyst Consulting, the unregistered lobbyists for the Arizona-based owner, showing the sales pitch that they’ve been showing to members of the public since the summer of 2022.

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At various moments after negative public reaction, the moderator, President Haley, seemed to lose her poise and several times the mic, giving it up to Apostle Carl White, a Catalyst consultant, and President Alsberry to answer questions, scold the attendees, and push “respectability” politics.

President Haley insisted several times that the only stakeholders who the NAACP wanted to hear from were “Hazel Crest taxpayers,” shutting out all stakeholders and property owners who live closest to the property.  Her saying that taxpayers in Hazel Crest are the only ones who matter, discounts students in Hazel Crest, renters in Hazel Crest, and seemingly her point was to purposefully exclude the residents of neighborhoods that will be the most adversely affected by the pollution, traffic, flooding, and subsequent lower property values (Governors Park in Homewood and Bremerton Woods in East Hazel Crest.)

This is not the leadership in environmental justice communities in and around Cook County desperately need. Cook County spews the most smog in the nation to its neighbors, highlighting that smog does not stop at municipal, county, or state borders. The environmental impacts of an industrialization of 127 acres of greenspace, like pollution and flooding, affect all communities near and directly adjacent to the site. We expect more and better from the NAACP, especially considering the national organization has a mission for climate and environmental justice.

Last week Mayor Alsberry sent a letter to East Hazel Crest residents stating that he wanted to keep them in the loop and accept their feedback for this development. Far from that, at the only semi-public meeting he has hosted to date, attendees were told that only Hazel Crest taxpayers have standing to discuss this development.

Several Hazel Crest residents questioned the format of this event, the impartiality of the moderator, Teresa Haley, and why this event wasn’t advertised to Hazel Crest residents using the village’s outreach tools, such as robocalls, the village newsletter, and the village marquee on 183rd Street.  This event seemed to be advertised by President Alsberry solely through text messages sent to his personal contacts and supporters.  

Members of the local Chicago Far South Suburban branch of the NAACP and members of South Suburbs for Greenspace were not informed nor invited to the final venue of the event, which was announced fewer than 24 hours before the event, after two previous venues were advertised. To an objective observer, it would seem that Presidents Alsberry and Haley did not want this event to be well-attended by the public.

Nothing in this world occurs in a vacuum. The roots of this event are seen in Hazel Crest attorney John Murphey’s July 6, 2022, email to President Alsberry, “The new developers are going to have turn the NAACP around to support the new proposal.” And because the Chicago Far South Suburban Branch President, Gary Dingle, could not be persuaded through shame, money, or any other tool to support this polluting industrial development, Walt Brown’s lobbyists and President Alsberry went over his head to the state organization, where one of these tactics found purchase.

The result of these efforts was this farce of a meeting. A meeting where President Haley, who lives and works 188 miles from the property, and brought a handful of NAACP branch presidents from areas as far away as Danville and Kankakee, called people who live across the street from and within a few miles of the property “outsiders.” She told the Southland community members that they had no standing in this NAACP town hall unless they were Hazel Crest taxpayers.  She allowed the local branch president no voice in this meeting, its venue, its agenda and format, its advertising, nor its presenters.

South Suburbs for Greenspace will continue to stand with the Chicago Far South Suburban Branch of the NAACP. South Suburbs for Greenspace and NAACP CFSSB Branch President Gary Dingle will continue to stand together for the Southland’s quality of life, health, property values, and greenspaces.

Liz Varmecky
South Suburbs for Greenspace
Gary Dingle
Chicago Far South Suburban Branch of the NAACP

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