The Roosevelt Road Land-Deal You’ve Never Heard Of

September 26, 2011

Village Government, Winfield 411

By Jed Skillman

Someone has plans for the land along Roosevelt Road, and a mighty effort is being made to move pawns around the chess board in order to make it happen.

THE BACKGROUND

Back in June of this year, newly elected Village Trustees, Tim Allen and Tony Reyes proposed rezoning the northeast corner of Winfield and Roosevelt Road.  There is a Marathon gas station on the corner; but due to an agreement with the Village when the zoning code was established in 1984, that property, like everything around it, is actually zoned residential.  The gas station, which had been operating for decades, was given a special use permit in order to continue.

The Marathon gas station owned by the Patels on the corner of Winfield & Roosevelt Roads.

To newly elected Trustees Allen and Reyes, this artifact of paperwork was a matter that needed their immediate attention.

While this background may be more information than most people would require, unfortunately it also contains more information than the Marathon station’s current owners, P.C. and Falguni Patel, were thought to require.  Despite the claim that the Patels were the beneficiary of this rezoning, they were not deemed important enough to be informed of the matter.  They read about it in the Daily Herald.

Mr. and Mrs. Patel attended the June 2nd meeting to deliver a letter of objection and to protest the rezoning of their property for the very good reason that they are doing just fine, thank you very much, without any help from our two new Village Trustees.  There was some discussion, even pleading on the part of Trustee Tim Allen; but the Patels remained firmly opposed.  The issue was closed and seemingly went away.

Read the Patels’ letter here

However, watching from his easy chair at home, Winfield resident and well-known curmudgeon, Stan Zegel, became curious.

“I asked myself ‘Why would Timmy Allen and Tony Reyes try to sneak a rezoning issue past the owners of the subject property?’  It seemed to me that the Marathon station owners would be the first people they’d want to talk to.”

Mr. Zegel’s curiosity got the better of him and he filed a request under the Freedom of Information Act for all documents, texts, emails, etc. related to Roosevelt Road made since January this year.

Zegel soon received a packet of some 180 pieces of correspondence, some routine, some repetitive, some reflecting a surprising level of aggression.  After examining the contents, Zegel saw enough to conclude that: “It appears likely that someone is using the powers of these two Trustees (Allen and Reyes) to induce the Village to buy a piece of marginally useless property at a significant cost to taxpayers.  The whole matter is so contrived that it would be naïve not to suspect these Trustees were not in some way engaged in an act of ‘friends helping friends’.”

Who are the “friends,” and what “marginally useless” property could this involve?

THE SET-UP

Directly to the east of the Patels’ Marathon station is an acre of open land.  It consists of a wetland full of cattails and critters fronting about 200’ on Roosevelt Road, then extending back along Cleveland and up a slight rise to a small buildable lot.  An attempt had been made to build a single family home there a few years ago, but then the bottom fell out of the housing market.  The land still sits as it has for decades.

The property owned by Bron Gacki.

The owner of the property, Mr. Bron Gacki, lives out of state.  His father, Conrad Gacki, a developer himself, lives in Naperville.  On June 1st, the day before the attempt to rezone the Patel family’s Marathon property, Tim Allen sent a letter to Mr. Gacki, senior.

In the letter, Trustee Allen revealed that the Illinois Department of Transportation has plans to widen Roosevelt Road and will be taking a 14’ slice out of the property.  “I have seen the plans,” Allen confided.  Allen also pointed out to Gacki that “a large part of the property you own are wetlands and unusable” and stressed “this fact, combined with the zoning of residential” – (note this odd detail: he stressed to Mr. Gacki the property is “residential” only one day before he attempted to rezone the Patels’ property, directly to the west, commercial) – may leave Mr. Gacki’s son with an un-sellable and un-buildable lot.  Records indicate that the last year for which the taxes have been paid is 2009.

At this point Trustee Allen cast the bait “With this in mind, I was wondering if you might be interested in parting with the property.”

Trustee Tim Allen then went on to explain that the Village of Winfield was looking for stormwater storage.  Then he mentioned, “I understand that you are still paying taxes on your property.  What I would like to do is offer you an opportunity to get out from under that annual bill.  Please call me when you get a moment, if you are interested….”  Very smoothly done; Trustee Allen gave every impression that he was a Good Samaritan, willing to go out of his way to do a favor for an old man and his tax-burdened son.

This letter showed up in the packet of communications Mr. Zegel received.

THE DEAL

Mr. Gacki, the younger, stated he would consider donating the property to the Village of Winfield under three conditions:

1)      The Village agrees to accept ownership of the property with the taxes unpaid.

2)      The Village of Winfield agrees to waive its right to have an independent appraisal and permit Mr. Gacki to use his own appraiser who would then determine the value of the land.  The Village will then issue Mr. Gacki’s son a receipt for the property in the amount that the appraiser sets.  Presumably Mr. Gacki intends to deduct that amount from his state and federal taxes.

3)      Further, when the Roosevelt Road widening project gets under way, the State of Illinois will pay the Village of Winfield a fair market price for the 14’ slice it will take off the property.  That money, too, will be paid to Mr. Gacki.

Read Gacki’s response to the Village here

Mr. Gacki’s offer, which would result in a very handsome deal for his son, is nothing less than a hosing of the taxpayers, plain and simple.  Mr. Gacki expects to be paid for his property three times: the first time, in forgiveness of over-due property taxes, the second time in the form of a tax deduction, the value of which will be established without consideration of the public interest; and third, and most astonishingly, as the final recipient of the State of Illinois payment for loss of front-footage on property that Mr. Gacki will no longer own.  Looking at the FOIAed documents, Trustee Allen seems to have accepted this initial offer.  There is no indication that he made a counter offer or attempted to negotiate a better deal for the taxpayers.

As a further comment, the quote-unquote “value” that Mr. Gacki’s appraiser determines for this property will likely be used in other proceedings to establish comparable land values along Roosevelt Road and may have the effect of driving up cost of the entire project as the State pays for other property.

Tim Allen has been heavily pushing this deal.  It is worth remembering that during the recent Village election, both he and Tony Reyes were elected on a loud pledge of “No New Taxes.”  Apparently, when it comes to the Gacki deal, they believe in no “old taxes” either.

These questionable details seem to have caused Village President, Deborah Birutis, as well as several other Trustees and Village staff members to hesitate.   Trustee Allen, on the other hand, is in a hurry to consummate the affair.  He wants to approve this deal now.

Further, Trustee Allen does not consider himself a man to be trifled with.  Upset that he had waited from June to August without the Village expressing more than “interest” in the deal, he began throwing unfounded accusations.  Read this August 18th email addressed to Village President Deborah Birutis from Trustee Allen:

“Madam President;

I recognize the slow roll when I see it. I have spoken at length with both Bron and Conrad and they always return my phone calls within about 10 minutes. You are both stalling for political reasons. You can get this to an executive committee where it becomes a secret once again or I will publish a detailed story that includes all the foot-dragging that is going on…,”

He concludes his email by stating, “I’ll move this thing in the press if I don’t get action on the village board.”

Click here to view Allen’s email accusing Village President Birutis of ‘Slow Rolling’

Tim Allen expects things to go his way and reputedly does not hesitate to play hardball.  His statement, “or I will publish a detailed story that includes all the foot-dragging that is going on…” is a blatant threat.  His local political blog, Winfield 411, specializes in smears and hit-pieces aimed at those who get in his way.  With Tim Allen, you either play ball or your name is trashed on the internet.

The last line of that email is interesting, too.  “I’ll move this thing in the press if I don’t get action on the village board.” Are we to believe he has influence with the press?

The fact that his particular brand of political ball seems to be thriving in a small community like Winfield is distressing indeed.

THE DEVIL IN THE DETAILS

Readers can go to Stan Zegel’s Entire Stack of Stuff by clicking to read Part 1 & Part 2.  Everything his FOIA turned up is now publicly available.  But, that leads to another matter.  Notice anything missing?  Much of what is revealed comes through the emails of other Trustees.  Tim Allen’s part of the conversation is often missing.  Then, too, notice how much of the material that Allen did provide appears to have been altered or fudged; times, dates, the list of other email recipients in the stream have often been deleted.  Why?  Would it be reasonable to conclude that Trustee Allen wants to keep the names of people he had copied and consulted on these matters “secret”?  Who might those people be?  Could they be anonymous campaign donors or individuals with personal financial interests along Roosevelt Road?  Could they be the people this deal is intended to “help?”

What about Tony Reyes?  There is nothing from him. Trustee Reyes was a key advocate in the discussion of the Patels’ Marathon property, yet either he wrote not a word concerning Roosevelt Road since January 1st, or he felt comfortable ignoring the Freedom of Information Act.  A FOIA violation is not a serious offense in the “Blago” sense of things, but it carries enough of a penalty that any clear-thinking local official would be well advised to abide by its rules.  Either both these Trustees are negligent or they are hiding something.

Another nugget of interest especially to those who supported Allen and Reyes due to their “No New Taxes” promise, is a sentence in a Tim Allen email exchange concerning Village finances.  Slipped in there, after a pro-forma bashing a prominent civic organization, Winfield United for a Better Community you’ll find this:

“Winfield has a revenue problem caused by a certain political group wanting to hide it’s head in the sand when it comes to growth and sustainable revenues, We can also bond out without a referendum.”

Read Allen’s email commenting on Winfield’s “revenue problem” here

“…bond out without referendum.”  This is a whole other subject separate from any land deals; but it is very revealing about the Allen-Reyes method of operation.  This statement goes a long way toward confirming suspicions that our two new Trustees are looking for a way to circumvent voters and to get around their “No New Taxes” pledge, which was nothing more than a gimmick they used to get elected.

And now, with the Gacki land deal, we find Tim Allen and, presumably, Tony Reyes going out of their way to offer tax money – three times over – to buy a piece of “marginally useless” property for the expressed purpose of water retention, even though it is already a wetland.  With all this in mind, it would take a mighty effort not to suspect some other hidden purpose and that other purpose likely relates to the attempted rezoning of the Patels’ Marathon station.   This is not about helping out a father and son who do not live in Winfield or building a retention pond or fixing a 30 year-old piece of paperwork.  The documents that Stan Zegel acquired invite the public to ask, “What is going on here?”

THE CHERRY ON TOP OF THE SUNDAE

Most business communities are small and the people involved in various professions talk to each other.  For a cherry on top of your sundae consider this email.  It is from Charles Biondo, a municipal financial analyst with the firm of Kane, McKenna and Associates.  Mr. Biondo, a friend of Winfield Village Manager Curt Barrett, heard something through the grapevine and sent an email to Mr. Barrett with the subject line “Heads Up”:

To: Curt Barrett

Subject: Heads Up

Curt,

One of my colleagues in the firm, Chuck Durham, who is currently working on a project in Franklin Park, received a request from an employee of Franklin Park to refer our services to your community. It seems this employee knows or at least spoke with one of your trustees (no name was mentioned) and the trustee was asking questions about setting up a TIF along Roosevelt Road.  Chuck Durham suggested to the employee that he mention me specifically since I have worked with you previously.

Thought you would like to know.

Thanks,

Chuck

Charles J. Biondo

Senior Vice President

Kane, McKenna and Associates, Inc.

Read Biondo’s email here

TIF Districts are designed to revitalize blighted commercial areas in order to attract small business owners to that area.  Winfield is using TIF funds to bring new business to our already established town center.  The “Heads Up” email reveals that a Winfield Trustee, unnamed, is asking officials in Franklin Park for advice on how to set up a TIF District along Roosevelt Road.  Who would that Trustee be and why would he look in Franklin Park for answers?  Roosevelt Road is residential, why does it need a TIF District?  Any legitimate developer who has a plan for Roosevelt Road can make a legitimate presentation before the Village Board, in public, with open discussion.  No need to sneak around.  And no need to add another TIF district to complicate the one we already have.

CONCLUSION

The Gacki land deal does not pass the smell-test.  We can understand Mr. Gacki and his son driving their best deal.  But what are we to make of Trustees Allen and Reyes?  They were elected to look out for our interests and to negotiate in good-faith on our behalf.  Further, as a matter of open, honest government, it is clear that neither Allen nor Reyes fully complied with the Freedom of Information Act request.  They ignored a red light and blew right through the intersection.  This is unacceptable and it may well be illegal.

Mr. Stan Zegel has turned these documents over to the Illinois State Attorney General’s office for review.

About Positive on Winfield

Positive on Winfield is a blog with articles on local issues, local events, and local interests in Winfield, IL. Positive on Winfield is the blog website of the local civic action group, Winfield United for a Better Community.

View all posts by Positive on Winfield

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