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Skokie Synagogue Wants To Swap Empty Lot For Piece Of Park To Build New Parking Lot; Some Call It A Land Grab

SKOKIE, Ill. (CBS) -- A land grab is what opponents are calling a plan to put a parking lot in the middle of a north suburban park – they say it is swallowing precious green space.

But the synagogue that wants to build the parking lot is offering something in exchange. And as CBS 2 Political Investigator Dana Kozlov reported Monday night, they do not expect something for nothing.

The proposal calls for a public-private land swap – in which an empty lot would also be involved.

Right now, just east of a basketball court in Skokie's Seneca Park – which stretches between Keystone and Karlov avenues just south of Dempster Street – sits an open field. But that green space could soon be swapped with the nearby empty lot, which sits a bit south of the basketball court.

And in the green space, which sits a bit south of the basketball court, the Lubavitch Chabad of Skokie hopes to build a parking lot.

"It just seems wrong on so many levels," said parking lot opponent Leslie Riley.

Riley lives right across the street from the basketball court and the synagogue. She is one of dozens of people who oppose the parking lot plan.

Riley even started a position to fight it.

"I'm overwhelmed by the prospects that another green space will be taken up for concrete," she said.

The aesthetics are not the only concern.

"Things like neighbors who are concerned about their property value; things like questions about the transparency, and whether everybody in the neighborhood was sufficiently consulted," said parking lot opponent Shira Hammann.

But Lubavitch Chabad's Rabbi Yochanan Posner said this not a land grab.

"I thought we were doing something nice for the neighbors," he said.

Rabbi Posner emphasized that it is actually a swap. The synagogue now owns the empty lot – which would become park space.

The plan was even approved by the Skokie Park District Board. Posner said the ensuing opposition hurt his feelings.

"My response to them is please don't fight with me," Rabbi Rosner said, "Talk to me."

Posner said many park neighbors support the swap, which Skokie ordinance allows – as long as the swap is even.

Opponents don't care.

"It's about putting a parking lot in the middle of a park. Now it's not a nice, beautiful park anymore," said Hammann. "And yeah, you've got the same square footage. But if you don't have the same possible uses, you don't have the same park."

"I truly believe that it's possible to work together, and to talk to each other, and to figure it out," said Rabbi Posner.

There are still many hurdles to clear before the project gets the green light. Skokie Mayor George Van Dusen also said the plan is being reviewed by the village's legal department.

Also of note, those against the plan say it is strictly because of the loss of park space – and religion has nothing to do with it.

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