25-year battle over O'Hare expansion ends

November 17, 2009 4:35:34 AM PST
The city of Chicago and the village of Bensenville have reached a deal to demolish 600 homes and businesses to make way for new runways at O'Hare International Airport.Demolition could begin within the next couple of months.

Bensenville officials say it's a good deal that ends 25 years of fighting over land that- in the end- their village was still going to lose.

Chicago has spent hundreds of millions of dollars buying up homes and businesses in Bensenville and relocating the owners for O'Hare Expansion.

And Bensenville has fought tooth-and-nail to stop it. But a new administration in the suburb next to O'Hare sent signals of compromise out months ago, and now there is a deal that will end one of this area's longest running legal battles.

On Monday, Chicago's aviation commissioner and the Bensenville village president stood together--smiling. It's a picture hardly imaginable even last year.

"We don't want to be standing here 15, 20 years from now when this project has not been built and telling all of you we told you so," said John Geils, former Bensenville president in August 2008.

The long, costly and acrimonious court battles between Bensenville and Chicago are now over. Bensenville has agreed to drop its lawsuits that were meant to stop the demolition of roughly 600 homes and businesses.

"In exchange, the airport will pay Bensenville $16 million. This settlement is beneficial for the village of Bensenville and the city of Chicago," said Chicago Aviation Commissioner Rosemarie Andolino.

In addition to receiving a one-time $16-million payment from Chicago, Bensenville also retains control over aspects of how the demolition process is carried out. The city will erect landscape barriers around the airport expansion area, and promises to partner with Bensenville in future economic development on the west side of O'Hare.

"Bensenville has been stagnated for a good 10 to 15 years and has really appreciated no real growth or development. Part of it is because all of our resources, all of them were generated into legal fees as we were fighting this defense," said Bensenville Village President Frank Soto.

Bensenville's new village president campaigned on a promise to carve an agreement out of what his administration feels was an economic sinkhole for the village. By some estimates, Bensenville spent in excess of $20 million in thee years of fighting O'Hare expansion.

There's no firm start to the oft-delayed demolition plan. But this area of now empty homes will be sectioned off and torn down - a process that will take nine to 12 months. This part of Bensenville will become Chicago and then part of O'Hare.

"The open dialogue and the president's objective is really what got us to be able to come to an agreement here today," said Andolino.

Bensenville's former village president - who ABC7 was unable to reach Monday - consistently said over the years that O'Hare expansion would collapse under its own economic weight. His successor clearly feels differently, and that a continued fight would ignore reality, continue to hurt property values and cost money the village doesn't have.


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