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District 428 official says land swap still on

DeKALB – Although DeKalb School District 428 has withdrawn a proposal to rezone property it intends to swap with homebuilder ShoDeen Construction, the land swap plan is still on track, officials said Tuesday.

A public hearing on rezoning part of Kiwanis Park for commercial use scheduled for the city’s Planning and Zoning Commission meeting today was canceled after the school district withdrew the petition Monday.

District 428 Superintendent Jim Briscoe said the district had given ShoDeen permission to see how the land, located south of Huntley Middle School and west of the intersection of Fourth Street and Fairview Drive, could be zoned. That will not happen for the foreseeable future, Briscoe said, in part because district officials do not want people to think the developer already owns the land.

“It’s to resolve any confusion from the public about the land,” Briscoe said.

Both Briscoe and ShoDeen President David Patzelt said they still want to go ahead with the land-swap plan, in which District 428 would trade the roughly 41-acre park for about 34 acres of land ShoDeen owns around DeKalb High School.

District officials see the land near the high school as more valuable because it could be used for future expansion. The primary use of the Kiwanis Park property is for community soccer fields.

The deal also would free the district from paying $42,000 a year to ShoDeen starting in 2013 – a debt the district incurred when it bought the land for the new high school.

In October, the district initially agreed to the land-swap agreement and began crafting the legal language for it. Briscoe said the district’s attorney still is meeting with ShoDeen’s attorney on the legal language.

Patzelt said the district remained obligated to pay the $42,000 to ShoDeen if 2012 ends without a land swap agreement or another agreement eliminating that payment.

“If there’s no change to the contract, the district has to abide by the terms of the contract,” Patzelt said.

There has been public opposition to the land-swap deal, with opponents urging local governments to find an alternative to developing the park land.

Opponents, including former DeKalb Mayor Bessie Chronopoulos, have been using public meetings to lobby officials to save Kiwanis Park even if they are not directly involved with the land-swap deal.

“Don’t be shy about stepping on the toes of other governmental units,” Chronopoulos told the DeKalb City Council at its meeting Monday. “You all serve the same taxpayer.”

Briscoe said he understood and sympathized with opponents of the land-swap plan, but he added that the deal was a small part of alleviating the district’s financial woes. District 428’s budget for the 2012-13 school year includes a $2.3 million deficit.

The district does have a $28 million construction grant that it can use for anything, but school officials have previously said that the money will be used for educating the district’s students.

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