Real Estate Investors Profit Off Park While NBPD Seeks Buy-in on $5 Million Referendum
North Berwyn Park District sold Unity Park for only $21,500 in 2019 to L&MC Investments LLC, a Freedom of Information Act request revealed. The double-parcel lot has two distinct property index numbers encompassing 1227 Kenilworth and 1229 Kenilworth. Five months after the purchase, L&MC Investments sold it to a developer for at least $55,000. A newly constructed home at the site is now selling for $739,900, and a second home is under construction.
Unity Park had been built with an Open Space Land and Development grant through the State of Illinois and featured a playground and picnic area. NBPD announced the closure of Unity Park in a Facebook statement in May 2019, at first stating, “Notice: Unity Park located at 1227 Kenilworth will be permanently closed. Please visit us at one of our other locations. Thanks!”
When residents questioned the lack of transparency and community input on the decision, Executive Director Joseph Vallez edited the post to include a longer statement, citing the high cost to replace aging playground equipment and alleged recurring negative activities at the park, including vandalism.
Vallez went on to list NPBD’s accomplishments and future projects. The list included projects that would fail, including a new swimming pool at 15th & Maple. A WhyBerwyn post revealed NPBD was forced to return a $200,000 check it received from an OSLAD grant for the pool and was banned from applying for all grants from the Office of Grant Management and Assistance for two grant cycles. The decision came after status reports revealed no progress had been made on the development for years.
North Berwyn Park District Has Faced Scrutiny Before
A federal probe of the late former Illinois Senator Martin Sandoval, who had plead guilty to bribery charges in 2020, revealed North Berwyn Park District’s lucrative deal with Puentes Inc., Sandoval’s former translation company. From 2014-2018, NBPD paid Puentes $108,000. It is unclear what work Puentes Inc. completed. A FOIA request to NBPD revealed no contracts between the park district and Puentes on file. In addition, NBPD has been criticized by residents for its lack of bilingual resources. Its website, seasonal brochures, and social media are only available in English.
NBPD Executive Director Joseph Vallez was also the subject of several news articles after a Daily Herald article revealed that Vallez worked at four park districts simultaneously, including North Berwyn Park District, collecting pensions for each. Vallez currently earns $122,449 for his position at NBPD alone. He has the highest paid position at NBPD. His partner Inara Canino, who also works for the park district (her job title is listed as “Marketing”), has the third highest salary at NBPD, earning $52,000 a year. Canino has worked for the park district since 2007 and earns only slightly less than the park district’s longest-serving employee, Administrative Supervisor Nancy Woods, who began working for NBPD in 1984.
North Berwyn Park District Seeks $5 Million Referendum
This month NBPD is seeking community support for a proposed $5 million referendum for renovating the park at 15th & Maple and the VFW building at 15th & Harlem. One meeting will be held Saturday, June 11th at 10am and the second meeting will be held Thursday, June 16th at 7pm. Both will take place at the VFW, 1529 Harlem.