There was much agreement among the three candidates seeking two seats on the Park District of Highland Park in a recent debate.
Barnett Ruttenberg, incumbent Cal Bernstein and David Sogin fielded questions from the community during a March 10 forum hosted by the League of Women Voters that covered a variety of subjects, from the environment to specific park facilities and finances.
They concurred on a topic that drew community dissension — approval in January by the City Council of a $4.7 million redevelopment project at Rosewood Beach. It includes four permanent structures — a lifeguard house, concession stand, restroom and interpretive shelter, or multi-use building — as well as a boardwalk and lookout at Highland Park's only swimming beach.
Ruttenberg served on the Rosewood Beach Task Force that recommended the project, including the controversial interpretive center, "which we felt, for the most part — there was one dissenting vote — would be a positive enhancement to the community."
Sogin said he had preferred the interpretive center be located at the top of the beach, rather than closer to the water, but that it wasn't a "deal-killer."
"I think what's important now is to look at the site and to be certain that the Army Corps of Engineers puts the appropriate amount of buffered land between the center and the beach," he said.
As a commissioner, Bernstein voted to approve the Rosewood Beach plan, and commended the decision-making process.
"I think we created a template for when we're dealing with big, important issues in our community, (for) how do we attack it. And we attack it by bringing the community in seeking their input," Bernstein said.
One looming issue that may divide residents is what the park district decides to do regarding Highland Park Country Club and its golf course. If the park district assumes the property from the city, it would be the second — the other is Sunset Valley.
All three candidates said the issue needs further study.
"We don't really know how much it would cost the park district if it would take over the golf course," Sogin said. "I think the entire economics needs to be looked at, as well as what the community desires are, what its actual utilization is. Are Highland Park residents the primary users of these two golf courses? Is one preferred versus the other?"
Bernstein pointed to a master planning process that has just begun, which will look at park facilities, including Highland Park Country Club. Its focus groups or town hall meetings will allow park commissioners to "get a feedback of what the users of both the Country Club and Sunset Valley want, take that information and make a decision."
Ruttenberg said the park district should commit to taking the property, but not constrain itself to keeping it a golf course.
"We might want to consider a nine-hole education-type course here and use the rest for public space, for walking trails or for soccer fields, not just limit ourselves to it being a golf course," he said.
The election is April 9.