LAKE BLUFF — While the Board of Commissioners of the Lake Bluff Park District seeks ways to keep the Lake Bluff Golf Club open beyond 2018, they are taking steps to assure the land will remain open space safe from potential development regardless of the course’s future.
The board discussed a variety of ideas to secure the course’s future March 19 at the park district offices like raising fees, private fundraising and a long term lease. No vote was taken but the commissioners took concrete action to assure any future use will guaranty open space.
Board President Rob Douglass said there are concerns in the community if the golf course is closed the land will be sold to a private developer who might build homes or condominiums. He said the park district was making moves to prevent it.
Douglass said public land like parks and schools are zoned residential which would allow development if they were sold. For the last 18 months he said the park district and village have been discussing ways to prevent that. He suggested rezoning the land for “recreational institutional open space.”
“It’s time to have a letter sent to the Village of Lake Bluff requesting a zoning change,” said Douglass. “Once and for all park district land will have zoning which has no residential language attached to it at all.”
Three days later Douglass sent a letter to the Village of Lake Bluff requesting the zoning change.
Regardless of zoning, no more than three acres of the golf course’s approximate 160 can be sold without a referendum of the district’s residents, according to a statement by Executive Director Ron Salski in a DailyNorthShore.com March 1 story.
Before the commissioners started discussing possibilities for the golf course’s future, 22 members of the public spoke with 20 asking the course stay open. Some suggested ways to make it viable. One opposed continued golf and another took a neutral stance.
Many of those who spoke are part of a newly formed group, the Lake Bluff Community Golf Association. A majority of the members asked the board to wait at least a year before making a final decision assuring play on the course for 2018 and 2019.
Any decision will have to overcome financial obstacles. Board Treasurer Bob Wallace said the financial situation must be reviewed for the entire park district not just the golf course. He said there are $6.5 million in capital needs in the next 12 years.
“It’s not wants, it’s not wishes, it’s needs,” said Wallace.
Wallace said even if the district spends its entire $1 million reserves and maximizes its borrowing capacity of $1.4 million it has without requiring a referendum, it still has a $4.1 million shortfall. The golf course has lost more than $3 million over the last 12 years.
The commissioners reached a consensus Salski and his staff should look at increasing fees as a way to reduce the loss. Nothing specific was discussed but Wallace said the increase should not be offset by a drop in the amount of golf played generating less revenue.
Another way to erase the financial stress of the golf course is private fundraising through the new association and the Friends of Lake Bluff Parks. Other commissioners talked about marketing the course to Lake Bluff residents. Currently 80 percent of the players are from outside the village, according to the March 1 story.
“I think this is a real opportunity,” said Commissioner Chris Mosbarger. “I think (course operator) Billy Casper Golf has done a nice job of reaching out to non residents. I don’t think they’ve done a great job of marketing to Lake Bluff residents. I played the course several times last year and have never received an email from them about events going on at the course.”
The other concrete action the board took was directing Salski and his staff to develop a plan to seek bids from outside golf or investor groups who would operate the club on a long term leased basis. Hopes were expressed those groups would invest funds turning a money losing proposition for the park district into a positive revenue source.