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County to divvy up land in Oak Forest
Commercial developers likely to secure portion of property

Wednesday, July 25, 2007
Daily Southtown
by Jonathan Lipman Staff writer

Cook County plans to divide excess land at Oak Forest Hospital among the state, county forest preserve and private developers, county officials said Tuesday.
A parcel along Cicero Avenue, south of the hospital's campus at 159th Street, likely will be sold to a commercial developer, possibly for a big-box store, said Anna Ashcraft, special assistant to Board President Todd Stroger.
"The city of Oak Forest doesn't want to buy it, but they are eager to have input, and they'd like to see that turned into commercial property," Ashcraft said.
This parcel, of about 23 acres, is the most valuable land surrounding the hospital. A county board committee Tuesday declared nearly all the land excess property -- starting a process of appraising, surveying and selling the property, which Ashcraft said likely will stretch into next year.
The county has more than 300 acres stretching between Cicero and Crawford avenues, south of 159th Street to about 164th Street.
Oak Forest Hospital takes up less than a third of the property on the western side.
The rest of the property, originally bought in 1908, served as a farm that fed and funded the county's poorhouse, which also was on the site, Ashcraft said. When poorhouses went out of style in the 1950s, the farm was closed.
Much of 100 acres in the center of the property was used as a pauper's gravesite. Former Cook County morgue official Mike Boehmer said 67,000 people were buried there between 1908 and sometime in the 1960s.
"This was not just for Cook County, but for anyone who couldn't afford a burial," Ashcraft said.
The county has surveyed the property using ground-penetrating radar, Ashcraft said, and will turn over any land that includes graves to the forest preserve district.
The county board approved a $13 million transfer from the forest preserve to the county during the February budget process in exchange for the promise of an undetermined amount of land at Oak Forest Hospital.
The 60 or 70 acres left over on the eastern third of the property also will be put up for sale. Ashcraft said the state might buy that land as a way of offering the cash-strapped county some help.
The state's department of mental health is interested in at least 8 acres to build a new mental health center to replace the one the state sold in Tinley Park, Ashcraft said.
The state or the county might then offer the remaining land for more development, Ashcraft said.


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