When the little white ball leads to 300 trucks a day

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The commentary below represents the ideas, observations and opinions of the author.

My father, many years ago, regularly played golf at Calumet Country Club.

Dad was a pretty good golfer – he’d learned the game while caddying at Beverly Country Club in the 1920s – and his friends and work colleagues were always eager to have him along as a member of their foursome at Calumet.

I was just a kid back then but remember my father heading to the golf course a couple of times a month on summer Saturdays. By my recollection, he golfed at Calumet for about a dozen years, ending in the late 1960s.

At some point, I asked him about country clubs and how they worked. I learned that you had to be a member and that was an expensive proposition. There was a pricey initiation fee and hefty monthly costs after that. He told me that he played with country club members who invited him as a guest. Some of those members worked with Dad, but more were prominent employees at his firm.

  The Calumet Country Club clubhouse on 175th Street 
  in Homewood would be demolished if a developers 
  plan to put a distribution center on the property 
  is realized. 
(Chronicle file photo)
 

It was an interesting lesson. I already knew that we were not rich. We lived in a modest bungalow in a middle-class neighborhood on Chicago’s South Side. My father had definite priorities for the family, and joining a country club was not one of them.  At the same time, I had just about everything I asked for, so I didn’t think much else about country clubs or who belonged to them.

And, to be honest, I haven’t given country clubs a great deal of thought since then. Playing golf has never interested me and I have made a concerted effort over the years to engage in activities that aren’t expensive, mainly because I never had much money. In my world, that means I go for a lot of walks, often in the forest preserves, but won’t spend any time chasing a little white ball.

There is, of course, the matter of exclusivity at country clubs and how they appear to have been organized so that wealthy people could spend more time together, all the while putting their social status on display. But again – I knew I was never going to be a wealthy person so I didn’t think about this too much either.

In the last couple of months, though, we have seen what can happen when exclusivity takes a sharp turn toward industrialization. This summer, the principals at Calumet Country Club filed a lawsuit to deannex from the village of Homewood so that plans for a warehouse development on the property can move forward.

The country club, under the name of CCC Investors LLC, claims in the lawsuit that it meets six criteria for deannexation, most of which stipulate that Homewood will not be irreparably harmed if Calumet leaves the village. Chris Cummings, Homewood’s village attorney, has said that meeting those criteria gives the country club a strong case. Meanwhile, Homewood has hired an outside attorney to represent the village while the case moves through the Cook County Circuit Court system.

If you are a regular reader of the H-F Chronicle, you already know a lot about this story. We’ve had more than a half dozen articles on Calumet, so you may have read that meetings between the village and the country club’s development firm, Arizona-based Diversified Partners, took place earlier this year. And that Homewood officials said they wanted retail on the site. Diversified Partners CEO Walt Brown says his firm was unable to find anyone interested in retail or housing on the property. Brown also says Homewood was open to industrial use on the site during the talks, a claim denied by village officials.

We’ve also reported that both the village and developer have set prices for the country club property and that there is a big gap between the two numbers. Cummings said the village offered to pay $3.2 million for the 116 acres currently in Homewood and that Diversified Partners said it would settle for $17.5 million.

Then there is the matter of what happens after denannexation. Homewood says Calumet wants to annex to Hazel Crest – where a 12-acre chunk of the country club is already located – if the lawsuit is successful. Hazel Crest officials have said they are currently neutral on this issue.

The Chronicle has also written about residents in Homewood’s Governors Park neighborhood, located just south of Calumet. They are facing the possibility of an estimated 300 trucks daily going in and out of the warehouse area on what is now country club land. They very well could have the most to lose if this project becomes a reality.

I have been told that zoning issues always go back to what is the best and highest use of land. Calumet Country Club is currently zoned for “public land and open space,” which is interesting because it is private land that is not open to the public. But I digress.

The country club is just a couple of minutes away from an entrance and exit on and off the nation’s busiest road, Interstate 80. That makes it very attractive for those 300 trucks a day. But does that alone make industrial zoning the highest and best use of the land? Other factors have to come into that determination, such as the people living south of 175th Street in Governors Park.

I’m not sure why Hazel Crest would want to be involved in this project. Any developer at this site is almost certainly going to ask for tax breaks – that’s a given when you do business in south Cook County these days. Also, I don’t know if Hazel Crest officials want Governors Park residents crowding their own village board meetings before annexation takes place, and afterward too.

I estimate that it will take at least a year before this lawsuit is settled. In the meantime, Calumet Country Club, on its website, is offering seasonal memberships for 2020.  That seems to indicate that club officials know this is going to take time.

Finally, I must mention that the world has changed mightily since my father spent all those Saturdays at Calumet Country Club. The number of private country clubs across the U.S., which spiked when Tiger Woods was at the height of his career, has been declining since the 2008 recession. There are lots of reasons for this, including a lack of interest from millennials.

Calumet’s members are getting ready to throw in the towel. Challenging times could be ahead for other country clubs too.

It just might mean that exclusivity ain’t what it used to be. 

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