Chester Stranczek served as mayor of Crestwood for 38 years, tightly controlling everything in the village government. But as far as we know, he didn’t control the Cook County Forest Preserve District.
That’s why a group of Crestwood homeowners is out of luck in trying to keep their expansive back yards, which extend 40 to 50 feet onto district land.
The forest preserve district routinely surveys its massive land holdings to protect its property, and such a check last spring found several residents of Sandra Lane, south of 135th Street, had back yards not as large as they thought.
They had installed various yard improvements — such as sheds, fences, aboveground swimming pools and fish ponds — on district land. The district wants them removed and is threatening residents with $500 daily fines.
The homeowners are understandably upset, accusing the district of reneging on an agreement it reached many years ago with Stranczek, who used to live on Sandra Lane. Some residents said Stranczek told them directly they could use the district land.
But there’s a problem. Neither current village administrators nor forest preserve officials know of such an agreement. There’s nothing in writing. The elderly Stranczek now resides in Florida and apparently suffers from dementia.
We sympathize with the homeowners’ dilemma. They’ve spent much effort and money improving their yards and want things to stay as is.
But the forest preserve district is very protective of its property and rightly so. Its vast tracts of woods, prairies and lakes (about 68,000 acres) were acquired, starting in 1916, as nature preserves to be enjoyed by the public. They are an invaluable public resource.
The Crestwood residents have, however innocently, intruded on public land. How would they feel if the village or forest preserve district did so on their property?
It’s unlikely both sides can agree on a resolution that protects their mutual interests. If not, the homeowners have no legal standing and must get off the public’s property.