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New leadership may resolve Bensenville fight

October 13, 2009 3:23:40 PM PDT
The new mayor of Bensenville hopes to come to an agreement with the city of Chicago over land for the O'Hare expansion project. Only a handful of residents remain in the Bensenville neighborhood that Chicago wants to acquire for the runway expansion.

Chicago has spent $331 million buying homes and businesses in Bensenville to make way for O'Hare expansion and another $39 million to relocate the people who once lived there. Bensenville over the years has spent millions trying to stop it.

The battleground, a section of Bensenville, today has the eerie feeling of a ghost town. Nevertheless, the landscape, both political and real, is changing.

Even though they're in Bensenville, the city of Chicago owns most of the homes there, nearly 570 properties. They all wear labels slating them for demolition and O'Hare expansion.

Apart from the crickets and jet noise in the distance, there are few if any signs of life. Half a dozen homeowners remain. The rest have moved away, or soon will.

The signs of opposition, once so prevalent here, are disappearing too. Soon they'll be gone.

MEINCKE: "Is Chicago Bensenville's friend now? "

"I would say we're not enemies anymore. Whether or not we're friends, that's yet to be determined," said Frank Soto, Bensenville Village President.

Soto was elected Bensenville's new village president earlier this year. And in marked contrast to his predecessor, Soto believes O'Hare expansion is reality, and resistance to it at all costs is unrealistic.

Soto Tuesday also said something that would have been absolutely unheard of during the last 20 years.

"I think at some point, if Mayor Daley and myself just got into a room together, reasonable people can work things out. ...I'd love to have that opportunity," Soto said.

Lower-level peace talks have been underway for weeks. Bensenville has a pair of lawsuits meant to block O'Hare expansion. Soto says they will not be pulled, but his administration's desire is to negotiate an agreement with Chicago. He wants one that will safely deal with demolition in the short term, and one that helps the village recoup the property tax dollars it has lost in the long term, while setting up Bensenville as O'Hare's western gateway.

"What we're trying to do is become whole again. ...What we have to do is get past the entrenchment and reach agreements that protects everybody's interest," Soto said.

Soto, to be sure, has critics who contend he's a Daley puppet and is selling out, but Soto last spring beat long-term incumbent John Geils with the message that Bensenville was blindly spending in a legal fight it realistically could not win. He asked, why not change course, and work for the best possible outcome?

There had been a court appearance in the case scheduled for tomorrow, but it has been postponed until November, maybe an indication of attempts to reach an agreement before a judge forces one.


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