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Golf club in zoning fight in the suburbs keeps calm, caddies on

Business is said to be brisk at the Calumet Country Club in the south suburbs, but its owner said he still plans to develop the property.

The clubhouse at Calumet Country Club, 2136 175th St. in between Homewood and Hazel Crest. Many nearby residents oppose plans to develop the property as a trucking hub.
Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

There’s something peculiar going on at the Calumet Country Club in the south suburbs.

They’re playing golf there. It wasn’t supposed to happen. At the end of last year’s season, the place closed for good, it was said. A developer bought the property. Members waved goodbye, and the clubhouse was locked tight.

Golf is not a good business these days. It takes time and money people can lavish on other outlets. Also, the south suburbs have a surfeit of golf courses. It becomes all about the land at some point.

Yet there are people on Calumet’s links, surprising many driving by on 175th Street, said Assistant Manager Chris Fitch. “Business is actually doing really well” as people tire of being cooped up in the pandemic, he said. “We get a lot of old caddies coming by, former members visit to hit a round and pick up a T-shirt. People are surprised to see us,” he said.

As for the future, Fitch said, “I haven’t heard a word. Truth be told, I haven’t asked either.” Smart man.

The 127 acres were sold to an affiliate of Diversified Partners of Scottsdale, Arizona, which develops property around the country. Diversified CEO Walt Brown Jr. said in addition to paying $3.3 million for the club, he paid its back taxes worth about $500,000.

The sale was recorded in November, at which time real estate firm CBRE issued a news release saying Diversified hired it to market the site for 800,000 square feet of trucking facilities, offering space to store 1,000 trailers. Goodbye trees and grass and libations at the 19th hole, it seemed.

Instead, Brown finds himself the reluctant owner of the club, making what money he can from it this year while mired in the most vehement land-use fight in the Chicago suburbs. It’s due to a, pardon the term, grassroots movement for green space and against truck traffic that caught Brown and local official unawares.

The club was mostly within Homewood. But in April, the Homewood Village Board de-annexed it after turning down the zoning for the trucking hub. Village officials were caught between residents who slammed the project during hours of public hearings and the need to settle a lawsuit Brown filed.

He said he would offer his property for annexation by Hazel Crest, which already has a swatch of it. Homewood officials feared he had a strong case for damages because they had negotiated development scenarios with Brown for more than two years.

But the protests over the development were heard in Hazel Crest, too. Dante Sawyer, the village manager, said in an email, “Hazel Crest will not consider annexing this property based on this developer and the proposed development plan.”

He did not directly answer a question about the tax revenue Hazel Crest might realize from a fully developed site. “The president and board of trustees express their wholehearted support for cooperation amongst stakeholders regarding any future development of Calumet Country Club. Any future development must be in the best interest of our region,” Sawyer wrote.

The group South Suburbs for Greenspace continues to monitor the situation. It has shown it can turn out angry crowds, and its lawn signs saying “Truck No!” and other slogans are common in the Homewood subdivision south of the club. Member Liz Varmecky said she worries a plan will reappear via Homewood when village leaders think the fuss is gone.

Brown and his property seem marooned on a patch of unincorporated Cook County. But he insisted he’s in a good position. He minimized the need for a municipality’s help in adding water and sewer hookups. “It’s only a matter of time before it gets developed,” he said. “We all know jobs are what’s best for the community. Besides, this is private property.”

His last point is worth an explanation. Calumet Country Club, dating from 1901, used to be only for members and guests. Public access now is a stopgap to help Brown with expenses that include an annual property tax typically more than $275,000. Most neighbors have never seen the course.

But Brown has not convincingly countered the argument that he would bring in noise, traffic and pollution. The Cook County Forest Preserve District considered acquiring the course in 2019, but spokesman Carl Vogel said keeping it a golf course would have required a subsidy. Furthermore, the land is unconnected to other forest preserves and would bring limited benefit as open space, he said.

Meanwhile, golfers can enjoy the summer on a course designed by the renowned and prolific Donald Ross. Fitch said the toughest hole is the 5th. “It’s an uphill par 3, 213 yards. But it plays a lot longer,” he said.

Anybody in this fight would know the feeling.

Some homes near the Calumet Country Club display signs opposing the property’s redevelopment.
Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times