Plainfield Park Board Members Sound Off on Park Lease Debate

Board president Peter Hurtado and commissioner Mary Kay Ludemann posted opposing viewpoints to Plainfield Patch's "Speak Out" board.

Credit: Plainfield Park District
Credit: Plainfield Park District
Two Plainfield Park District board members are sounding off on an ongoing debate regarding the lease of park property from a Joliet-area church — and they're taking their cases directly to residents.

Board president Peter Hurtado and commissioner Mary Kay Ludemann each posted to Patch's "Speak Out" board over the weekend regarding a pact the park district has with St. John Lutheran Church. Under the deal, the park district leases land near Caton Farm and Drauden roads from the church for just $1 per year — but with the understanding that the park district will eventually build a park on the property.

The agreement also calls for the land to eventually be deeded to the park district by the church, although no timelines for the giveaway is specified.

Last month, the park board voted 3-2 against terminating the lease — but some park district officials would like to see the issue revisited. Hurtado and Steinys voted last month to kill the lease, while Janet Silosky ended up casting a no vote along with Ludemann and Larry Newton.

On Saturday, Hurtado posted a release titled, "Dear Park District residents," advocating terminating the lease and abandoning plans for a park, which he said could cost around $1 million — money he said could be better spent elsewhere.

"... during the time I have been involved with the project it has become evident that the conditions of the lease, and the scale of the development, are not in the best interests of the district," Hurtado said, in part, continuing, " ... As currently written, the lease requires that the Plainfield Park District bear half the cost for improvements made to certain Church property while the park infrastructure is being installed. This property includes the driveway and parking lot. It is my view that this portion of the lease provides the Church with excessive authority to allocate district funds to advance an essentially private interest. As written, the Church would have the authority to move forward on any improvements to these areas, billing the park district for half the cost without any need for prior consent. Though I understand the reasoning put forward by the St. John’s Church in favor of this provision, I do not believe it is an appropriate use of taxpayer’s dollars at this time. Though I understand the reasoning put forward by the St. John’s Church in favor of this provision, I do not believe it is an appropriate use of taxpayer’s dollars at this time."

Click to read Hurtado's full statement.

On Sunday, Ludemann responded, advocating for the continuance of the lease, saying the proposed park would benefit a currently underserved portion of the park district.

"This public-private partnership is a great way to get a park into an area of PTPD (Plainfield Township Park District) that has a need for more park space at a low cost," she said. "In this case the church is donating the land and the PTPD is only paying for the development of the park site," Ludemann continued, going on to outline the terms of the lease.

Ludemann said funding for the park is intended to come from grant funding:

"The cost to develop this park site is consistent with the features that are proposed which include 2 tennis courts, a rubber surface volleyball court, a sand volleyball court, an inline hockey rink and a picnic shelter," she wrote. " ... The plan includes application for grant funding in 2014 that will help to fund this park site, potentially up to half of the cost. In the event grant funding is denied the plan is to go forward with developing this site with fewer features."

Ludemann also refuted a claim that she did not disclose the fact that she is a member of St. John's.

"Additional comments have been made that I did not disclose my membership in St. John Lutheran Church regarding this project and that is not true," she wrote. "When this project first came up for discussion in closed session I consulted with our district attorney, I revealed my membership in this church and asked if it was ok for me to be involved in this discussion. And the attorney advised that since there is nothing for me to personally gain financially from this project that it was and is legal for me to be involved."

Click here to read Ludemann's full statement.

It's unclear whether the church lease will be up for another vote this week. As of Sunday night, the agenda for the Nov. 13 meeting was not yet posted to the park district website. The board meets at 6 p.m. in the lower level at the Heritage Professional Center, 24023 W. Lockport St.

Where do you stand on the issue? Should the park district terminate the lease, or is the park project a worthwhile investment?

mario November 11, 2013 at 08:11 AM
here goes the park district renigging again. they did the same thing 1 mile west on the aspen falls subdivision and then actually gave back the land to build more properties when we all thought it would be a playground when we moved in. that was 12 years ago, kids all grown up with no use for a playground now. Not sure what the punishment to a soul is when you take advantage of a church. Now who was is that said vengence is mine?
Jerry R. November 11, 2013 at 08:41 AM
Mrs. Ludemann may not be financially gaining, but she sure pushed through a sweetheart deal for her church. I have no doubt that she has received many a high five on Sunday mornings from St. John's attendees. If this were an honest attempt to expand services, other sites or churches would have been considered, and perhaps the language of that deal wouldn't have been as burdensome to the taxpayers of the Plainfield Park District. St. John's can make any improvements to the property and just send the park district a bill for half? Like I said, a sweetheart of a deal!
mario November 11, 2013 at 09:07 AM
did hurtado sign off on this in 2012. the ppd gave away a 100K gain when they gave back land for free, why? its time to stop being solely party line and start doing whats right
Larry Newton November 11, 2013 at 09:10 AM
Jerry, the Church approached the District with an offer of land that would eventually become ours. If any other church wishes to give the Park District land for a park, the Board would consider that too. I don't see how improving a site in a cost share agreement for the park site (not the church's site) is burdensome to the Park District. How cynical does one have to be to think that an agreement hammered out between the church, District, surrounding homeowners and the City of Joliet along with donated services from the Operating Engineers Local 150 is anything but a good deal for our constituents?
Vicky Polito November 11, 2013 at 09:19 AM
Again, if you read the lease (see it in park district board pkt at http://www.plainfieldparkdistrict.com/assets/Site/PDFs/board-minutes/2013/October%209%20Board%20Packet.pdf, pp 45-54) it is false that St. John’s can swindle the park district with this agreement. There is no clause that gives the church the right to bill the district for “any improvements to the property” that the district hasn’t or doesn’t agree to. Not for nothing, there is also NO motivation or sound reasoning that St. John’s would have for doing anything so deceitful and wrong. Who believes that St. John’s is in this to cheat the citizens? It’s harsh to say, I know, but I think you have to be fairly stupid or just plain hateful to believe such a thing. As to other churches and sites: if anyone out there has an offer in hand for 4 acres of free land to be gifted to the PPD for a park for our underserved voters, taxpayers, and neighbors, please do speak up. I’m sure the district would be happy to hear your presentation and offer. (Those of you looking to sell the district your foreclosed-on subdivision’s open space so that you can stop paying to keep it up need not raise your hand, though.) If the PPD had concerns about any clause of this agreement, had felt like there were some clarifications needed, they should have and certainly could have approached the church to discuss them. But, despite Garrett Peck saying “someone” should have called the church over the past year to complain, no one did. Ever. I wonder who that “someone” should have been and who it will end up being. Who was responsible for this and who will be blamed for being irresponsible, if it comes to that?
Vicky Polito November 11, 2013 at 09:37 AM
Mario—to your question as to whether or not P. Hurtado voted for this lease to be executed: he was at the meeting on Dec 12, 2012 but left at about 6:30p, before any action items were taken up. He did not vote on anything that night. See minutes for that meeting at http://www.plainfieldparkdistrict.com/assets/Site/PDFs/board-minutes/2012/121212minutes.pdf
michael ufkin November 11, 2013 at 11:36 AM
So the church wants a nice parking lot in exchange for gifting a whole bunch of land for a park..that has two more desperately needed tennis courts....and the PPB says "no, we don't need any more parks"? It's no wonder we don't have enough courts.
Vicky Polito November 11, 2013 at 11:46 AM
Yep, Mr. Ufkin--that's one aspect of this. AND, just to be clear, they don't want a nice parking lot for the church alone, they are willing to pay for half the installation and maintenance of the parking lot that would primarily be for park patron use (it'll be an additional lot farther away from the lot the church will build for itself at its own expense), partly to be very generous and partly because about once or twice a year, some church patrons may park near the districts section of all that acreage for an annual picnic or some big church event when there may occur some spill-over of cars for attendance. And, I'm with you on the need for the tennis courts--man, that would be great to have some more of around town for our tax dollars!
Ericus Alanas November 11, 2013 at 04:32 PM
With the cost of the DT Plainfield Parking Lot costing more than 700k, I could understand why this may be a very bad idea for the district. it seems like a win win for the church as they get the park, get half off their parking lot, and it sounds like they are in charge of the scale of the park depending on their grant application. Yes there are a lot of very cool items on the list that seem very appealing, but its very very probable that that list gets cut down. Id put this as a TBD based on their grant application and projected cost of driveway and parking lot. Otherwise, I could project us easily at a loss with all the unknowns.
Vicky Polito November 11, 2013 at 05:01 PM
ONE: the downtown/village parking lots and street improvements (it’s not just a single parking lot in that $700K) have nothing to do with the park district or money paid to the district. Property taxes and their expenditure are divided by and for the public entities of things like parks, fire protection, schools, roads, libraries, etc. TWO: it’s NOT “the church” that will “get the park”! It’s all of the residents of the district, roughly 110,000 people, who own and have the right to use EVERY facility in the park district. THREE: the church does not “get half off THEIR parking lot”. They will have a larger lot of their own per the plan, at 100% their own expense. They are kicking in for half the smaller, park district lot (as well as the driveway that will run between and access both). Oh, and the church controls NOTHING about the scale or amenities of the park. I’m telling you folks, read the few pages of the agreement—it’s not complex or hard to understand, apparently just easy to misrepresent.
Kevin November 11, 2013 at 05:32 PM
It is a good deal for the Park District. People are either misinformed or do not understand how to read the lease agreement. The church is not trying to pull a fast one. Something else to consider is the revenue the District will generate after this park is built. Keep in mind, this not a playground being built. There will be tennis courts, volleyball courts and an inline skating rink. Yes, they will be open to the public to use for free, but they will most likely be used for youth and adult programs that the District will generate additional revenue on as well as used for rentals from other organizations/entities.
Vicky Polito November 11, 2013 at 05:37 PM
Oooh, Kevin! You sly fox you--that is absolutely right and a very good point in all of this. I hadn't thought of that, but it's true that there can be good revenue generated by this park and the diverse amenities it would offer. Good catch!
Vicky Polito November 11, 2013 at 05:44 PM
Related to all of this: see the just posted today agenda for this week's meeting at http://www.plainfieldparkdistrict.com/assets/Site/PDFs/board-minutes/2013/111313mtgagenda.pdf.
Ericus Alanas November 11, 2013 at 05:45 PM
Still, there are too many TBD's with cost and the approved Grant amount to just sign-off on this right now.
Vicky Polito November 11, 2013 at 06:02 PM
Ericus A--the only thing the lease actually has the PPD signing off on is paying the either $1 or $10 per year rental to the church to keep the option of developing a park viable. I can't make it any simpler: the lease agreement with the church DOES NOT require or bind the district to any expenditure or use or development beyond that. It is simply a lease agreement with provisions for expenses and rough layout IF a park is developed on this parcel. That said, I say it should be developed and as beautifully planned thus far because, simply put, the park district has the fiduciary responsibility and states as its mission that it is all about the development of good parks and rec facilities and programs and, no matter who says what, it will NEVER get any cheaper to build such a park, in an area that serves people who are and have been paying their share of district taxes without getting the facilities they deserve near their equally taxed homes! What about four essentially free acres of park land in an area without much beyond some subdivision tot lots is difficult to understand or be positive about? And, you’re right, the plan DOES take into account that maybe there will be less grant money available and so the PPD last year made clear that the plan would be to develop the park but with scaled back amenities until such time as there would be money for more.
Jim Esparza November 11, 2013 at 06:26 PM
Vicky, In section II of the lease agreement it states that the land shall be used solely for the purpose of constructing and maintaining open space grass for the purpose of recreational and sporting activities.Is there something I missed in regards to tennis courts,ball fields,playground equipment?
Ericus Alanas November 11, 2013 at 06:35 PM
If it were to just keep the 1$ lease sure, keep that going until some real financials are discussed. The area does need a park, one should have been built in the area a decade ago. I am not against the park, but with the lack of financials for analysis, any analysis on the cost/grant, and the huge issue of a blank check provision. (As written, the Church would have the authority to move forward on any improvements to these areas, billing the park district for half the cost without any need for prior consent.) This is in the lease, which I believe is the major issue around this. So its a bit bigger than just to keep paying a $1 monthly fee, because they can technically move forward, without any financials being discussed, we would have to provide payment when needed without a provided timeline or budget. Yes, cool idea for a park, grant seems pretty out of the economy style and will surely be reduced, provision for payment is forceful without a budget set in place. I just don't see it happening unless the provision can be adjusted or caps put into place with the expected amount of grant budget to actual spending on improvements put into place. Else we could be on the hook and end up with a swing.
Mary Ludemann November 11, 2013 at 11:26 PM
Hi, For further clarification, the parking lot that would be constructed for this park is only going to comprise of 34 spaces that will serve people that want to drive to this park site. The final parking lot that the church will build when they move forward with their church building will be comprised of 220 spaces that will wrap around the back of the church building. The shared driveway will be from Drauden Road into the park parking lot. The remainder of the land that will not be turned into a park will remain undeveloped and seeded for playing fields. The park district's Planning Department knows how to estimate the cost of park developments, which usually include parking lots, and they have estimated the cost for this development to be approximately 1 million dollars. With anticipated grant funding, the land donation and cost sharing for the driveway and park parking lot the total anticipated cost for this park with all its amenities would cost the park district $500,000. To me this makes good fiscal sense. My church membership has nothing to do with my support for this project. To me, this is a good deal regardless of with whom the park district in entering into a public-private partnership.


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