Palos Park, Lemont battle over unincorporated land

CHICAGO (FOX 32 News) - There’s a civil war in the suburbs, and the main battleground may be one of Chicago’s legendary golf courses.

FOX 32: Palos Park you say is trying to take land that is literally next door to your community?

"Absolutely. Absolutely," said Lemont Mayor Brian Reaves.

Mayor Reaves says he's outraged by what he calls theft by neighboring suburb Palos Park.

"I call this a land grab, because at the end of the day the Village of Lemont had no chance to combat what's going on," Mayor Reaves said.

They’re fighting over some 15-hundred acres of unincorporated land held by four property owners, including the Cog Hill and Gleneagles Golf Courses, which is prime real estate for development.

Mayor Reaves says since the land is essentially on Lemont’s doorstep, it should go to Lemont. But he says Cook County politicians are unfairly siding with Palos Park.

"When you're annexing pieces of property that's gonna truly split a town apart, the county should stay neutral on this," Mayor Reaves said.

Next week, Cook County Commissioners, who double as the Forest Preserve Board, will consider a request by Palos Park to annex a small piece of forest preserve property.

Lemont’s mayor says that will give Palos Park the legal contiguity needed to annex the disputed 15-hundred acres of private land next door. He says Lemont was sandbagged by Cook County, because emails obtained through Freedom of Information show negotiations between Palos Park and the forest preserve had been going on for more than a year.

"We learned through the FOIA request that this deal has been working for over 18 months," Mayor Reaves said.

FOX 32: And when did you learn about it?

"Again, literally just four weeks ago," he responded.

"We're committed to annexing these properties into Palos Park," said Palos Park Mayor John Mahoney.

Mahoney says it's Lemont that screwed up. He says they can annex the land even without the forest preserve parcel, and that the property owners approached Palos Park after Lemont turned down their development plans due to density concerns.

"These property owners, and again these are private property owners, can annex to Lemont. They can annex to Palos Park. They are choosing to annex with Palos Park," said Mayor Mahoney.

But did this property battle play a role in the recent vote to increase Cook County’s sales tax by a penny?

Lemont’s mayor says he can't prove a deal was cut, but questions why former Cook County Commissioner Liz Gorman, a Republican who represented the Southwest suburbs, voted present for the tax hike instead of opposing it.

"I can tell you something doesn't smell right. When someone changes or goes outside their norm for voting, and the very next day resigns and someone new comes in, it sure seems like something's not right," Mayor Reaves said.

FOX 32: And you think this--as you call it land grab--could have played into it?

"I think it could have," Mayor Reaves said.

A spokesperson for Gorman says she personally feels insulted by that insinuation, and voted present because she was in the process of resigning.

Her successor, Sean Morrison, calls it "hogwash.” He told FOX 32 that he thinks the Lemont mayor has lost his mind.

FOX 32 also spoke to one of the property owners who says they want to be annexed by Palos Park because it’s friendlier to their potential.