Cook County officials are considering a plan to allow people whose property encroaches on Forest Preserve District land to buy a permit valid for 10 years.
Forest Preserve District officials are working with the Cook County Board to create the permit so people with longstanding structures that spill over onto Forest Preserve land can avoid tearing them down for at least a decade, as long as they remain under their current ownership.
Any future sales would invalidate the permit, and require future owners to comply with county ordinances requiring that structures on their property not spill over onto county-controlled land.
Arnold Randall, the district’s general superintendent, said in 2010, the county began investigating just how rigidly the boundary lines between forest preserves and surrounding lands was being observed.
Many cases all around the county were found involving fences erected by homeowners on property that included a few feet of Forest Preserve land. Other cases involved backyard play lots for children and other structures erected in similar fashion.
In those cases, the county is sending out notices telling people of the need to move their structures, and is prepared to go to court to pursue those issues.
But in the case of garages or other structures whose movement would impose a financial hardship, officials are willing to sell the current owner a permit allowing use of a sliver of Forest Preserve land.
The Forest Preserve District’s chief attorney, Dennis White, said officials are trying to determine a fee structure for the permits. Figures as low as $3,400 for the 10-year period have been suggested, although White said they could runas much as $7,800.
Lawrence Smith, a longtime Calumet City resident and retired police officer has a garage, built 41 years before he purchased his house, that spills over onto Forest Preserve land. Smith said he would find such a permit more practical if it were broken up into smaller, annual chunks.
Although Smith said in the long run, it would hurt his property value because any future owner would have to address the issue.
“My garage is going to have to be torn down eventually, even with a permit,” he said.
Cook County Commissioner Stanley Moore, D-Chicago, whose County Board district includes Forest Preserve properties in Calumet City, said he is monitoring the situation because he has heard from many Calumet City residents who object to the county’s efforts to address the encroachment issue.
“This is something my constituents are concerned about,” he said, adding he was unsure when the matter could come before the Cook County Board for a vote.
White said Forest Preserve and County Board negotiators are working to have something ready for board consideration when they meet July 23.
Randall said the problem of Forest Preserve encroachment is not limited to Calumet City or the south suburbs,
“This is something that is occurring all over Cook County,” he said.
White also said people who already are being sued by Cook County because of alleged property encroachment will have their cases continued until after a determination is made about encroachment permits.
But Randall said even with permits, current structures found to be on Forest Preserve property eventually will have to go, either after a decade or when the current owner chooses to sell.
Although he thinks the permits are a proper way to address those people who have longstanding large structures to deal with, Randall also said he thinks it is the long-term goal to eventually force the removal of all such structures.
“Just because (a structure has) been in place for 40 years doesn’t mean it wasn’t there erroneously,” Randall said, adding he believes state law gives him the authority to keep all Forest Preserve District land available for public use. “Public lands and public property ought to be available for public use.”