Hazel Crest could annex a golf course dumped by Homewood

Preliminary talks are underway about a possible annexation and redevelopment of Calumet Country Club that would bring the property to Hazel Crest, according to Mayor Vernard Alsberry.

So far, no formal request for annexation has been made, and Alsberry said Thursday it was waiting to see a proposal on how the property could be developed.

The 130-acre property, northwest of Dixie Highway and 175th Street, is in unincorporated Cook County after Homewood officials in April 2021 voted to allow the country club to stand separate from the village.

It came after village officials rejected plans to redevelop the property on 800,000 square feet of storage space, a plan that drew the ire of nearby residents concerned about truck traffic and the potential loss of value of their homes.

A grassroots organization, South Suburbs for Greenspace, which formed when Homewood was considering the redevelopment plans, released documents it received from Hazel Crest, through the Freedom of Information Act of the ‘state, which show correspondence and meetings of recent months related to a possible annexation to Hazel Crest.

It’s unclear what the latest development proposal is, but emails indicate that a hotel, water park, a handful of retail and warehouse uses are on offer. Officials confirmed the documents released by Greenspace.

The correspondence includes emails between Hazel Crest Village Attorney John Murphey, Hazel Crest Village Administrator Dante Sawyer, Chicago Attorney Langdon Neal and Curtis Thompson with a company called Catalyst Consulting.

Arizona-based Diversified Partners paid $3.3 million in fall 2020 for ownership of the golf course, before Homewood rejected development plans.

The golf course was founded in 1901 and annexed to Homewood in 1980. It was opened to the public for golfing.

Murphey said on Thursday that although there were discussions with Neal and Catalyst about possible annexation, nothing was presented to the village council, which Alsberry confirmed on Thursday.

“Catalyst has indicated that they will come up with something” regarding an annexation proposal, Murphey said.

Alsberry said Catalyst officials told him they were considering a mixed-use development that doesn’t have a large concentration of warehouses.

“Something more positive than concrete and trucks,” Alsberry said.

“We don’t want 150 acres of trucking,” Alsberry said. “It doesn’t help anyone.”

The mayor said he heard things like retail, sports fields, a hotel and a water park among the plans.

Earlier this year, Catalyst mentioned plans including a 200,000 square foot “automated prefab housing facility” to produce doors and windows for prefab homes. Indoor farming and potentially a hotel to accommodate visitors to the planned casino on the border of East Hazel Crest and Homewood were part of the company’s plans.

A youth sports complex, dog park, restaurants and possibly a bank and cafe are also part of the proposal, as well as a facility to “train and prepare individuals for the anticipated 1,000 permanent jobs” that the development would create, according to the Catalyst letter, southern suburbs for green space.

Neither Murphey nor Alsberry knew if Catalyst was working on behalf of Diversified, the owner.

Messages left Thursday for Catalyst, Diversified and Neal, the attorney representing Catalyst, were not immediately returned.

A project of the size proposed by Diversified or Catalyst would need to secure the essential ingredients to make it work, such as water and sewage, something that would come from a connection with a nearby suburb.

Another impediment to attempting development in unincorporated Cook County is that during her tenure, Cook County Council President Toni Preckwinkle prioritized the consolidation of individual properties into incorporated communities.

In a made public South Suburbs for Greenspace email, Murphey notes that the property is not ideal for development as there is no access to municipal utilities, unless it is annexed to a surrounding community. Hazel Crest adjoins the property on three sides and would seem a natural fit after being de-annexed by Homewood.

The July email casts doubt on proposals such as proposed retail along a strip of Dixie Highway, as well as a hotel or youth sports field, the lawyer says in the note to Alsberry and Dante Sawyer, village administrator. Other emails show village administrators were invited to separate meetings to discuss possible annexation and redevelopment.

Murphey says in the July 11 email that he doesn’t believe there is a market for a hotel, given the number of hotels east of Hazel Crest at the intersection of Hwy 80/94 and of Halsted Street. This is also where a casino is planned, which will include a hotel.

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The lawyer also notes that a water park has been thrown into the plans for the property and doubts the viability of such a project, according to the email.

“What market is there for such a facility and who will invest? ” he asks.

Murphey said Thursday the owners would likely want a tax-raise fundraising district to be created, which would be a lengthy process and would involve Hazel Crest hiring outside consultants to help.

If annexation and a TIF district were to be considered, Hazel Crest could seek reimbursement from the developer for those costs, Murphey said Thursday. Such a refund is “a typical element of a negotiation”, he said.

Both Murphey and Alsberry said they didn’t know much about Catalyst executives and couldn’t say whether the company was affiliated with Diversified. The mayor said he spoke with Thompson about Catalyst.

Murphey said if an annexation proposal were to be presented to Hazel Crest, it should include the registered owner of the property.

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Denise W. Whigham