While trustees calmly carried on a shortened board meeting inside [the Romeoville IL] village hall, about 75 protesters marched outside the building, chanting and carrying signs.
The Picket and Pray rally was organized by supporters of the Friendship Centre at HighPoint subdivision to protest an eminent domain suit filed by the village over disputed land on Weber Road.
Chants of "Save our rec center" could be heard during the board meeting. Gina Marasco, holding a megaphone, urged protesters to let their feelings be heard by the trustees. Dennis Taylor, who works at the center, said supporters have been phoning trustees to tell them their side of the story.
For the past year, Mike Vickery, executive director of the Friendship Centre, has organized protests at board meetings.
At issue is undeveloped land near the center that the village wants to develop into open space and recreational uses. The land is on the west side of Weber between Airport and Taylor roads.
Vickery says if the village takes over the land, the center will lose revenue and may be forced to close. "Right now we are $50,000 in the red," Vickery said.
The 10-year-old center uses assessment fees and charges minimal fees for its programs.
In a development agreement between Bigelow Group Inc. and the Institute for Community, certain homes and apartments in HighPoint are assessed a fee that goes to the center to develop and run community programs. When building stopped, so did additional assessment fees.
Under a 1995 annexation agreement between Bigelow and the village, apartments were to be built on the land. Building was at a standstill until recently when Bigelow came to the village with a plan to build homes. Village officials have said the property was never developed as originally agreed and the site plan no longer fits the village's master plan. The site is now considered "high priority" for open space by the village.
Mayor Fred Dewald said he wants to be known as the mayor who saw a need for open space and quality of life for all Romeoville residents.
The eminent domain issue now rests in Will County Circuit Court, though all sides say they are willing to meet at any time and any place.
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