By STEVE LORD AURORA BEACON-NEWS | SEP 11, 2019 | 8:07 AM
Aurora may apply for a grant from the state to upgrade McCarty Park, including installing more playground equipment there.
The $218,000 Open Space Land Acquisition and Development grant from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources would go toward the playground equipment as well as to fix up the water feature that is already there, city officials said.
The money, if awarded by the state, would be part of the second phase of the renovation of McCarty Park, which started years ago under the Tom Weisner administration. The city budgeted $130,000 to go toward the local match for the grant in the 2020 budget.
The second phase of the McCarty Park renovation has been in the city’s Capital Improvement Plan since at least 2015, according to paperwork in the document. The current plan was adopted by the City Council in December 2018.
McCarty Park has been at the heart of a dispute between the city and Wayside Cross Ministries, which has its facility just down the street from the park on New York Street. City officials said earlier this year that more detailed information made officials realize that the ministry is within 500 feet of the park, and that meant 19 residents at Wayside who are registered child sex offenders had to leave.
The Aurora Police Department sent notices to the residents that they had to leave within a month. Two civil rights attorneys filed a lawsuit on behalf of the residents, and so far a federal judge has sided with the residents.
One of the attorneys, Adele Nicholas, described the situation in court as “a stand still agreement.” The city has decided not to take any action to evict the residents, as long as they follow the rules of the Master’s Touch program at Wayside, and register with the city as sex offenders.
She also said the Kane County State’s Attorney’s Office “hasn’t expressed” any desire to prosecute any of the residents.
The lawsuit was based on two basic claims: that McCarty Park is not a playground and was never intended to be; and that the city ought to make an exception for the residents, a sort of grandfathering, because Wayside is a religious community with rules and regulations of its own.
During the original renovation of the park, it was thought that it would not have playground equipment, that it was not that kind of park. Also, there is a park with slides and swings just a few blocks east on New York Street.
Ken Schroth, the city’s Public Works director, said the second phase for McCarty Park “has been on the books for several years.”
“It’s been a long-time plan to make these improvements,” said Alex Voigt, deputy chief of staff in the mayor’s office.
Open Space Land Acquisition and Development grants are given by the state to local jurisdictions for buying open space and also for developing it. John Russell, the city of Aurora’s grant writer, told members of the City Council Infrastructure and Technology Committee this week that unlike many grants, the City Council has to approve applying for the grant, not just accept it.
The grants are competitive, and officials are unsure if the city would get the money. But the city, as well as other area governmental agencies, have received the money in the past for many acquisition and development projects.
“I salute you for trying to stretch the city’s money,” said Ald. William Donnell, 4th Ward, a committee member.
While the committee discussed the grant this week, it passed it along to the council’s Committee of the Whole meeting next week without a recommendation so the full council can discuss it.