|Subject: Shireland Update
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Date Posted: 09:11:03 01/05/06 Thu
Kane: Raze Shireland
Horsing around on property prompts county's decision
By Gloria Carr
The Courier News
HAMPSHIRE TWP. — The latest police report generated from the abandoned amusement park Shireland involved an adult movie star and a photographer taking shots of her au naturel for her portfolio.
Kane County officials moved Tuesday to stop such escapades by requiring the park's owners to raze the eight buildings there.
The Kane County Board Development Committee approved a resolution — which must be ratified by the entire county board — giving the owners 15 days from the time a notice is mailed to demolish all the buildings in the deserted amusement park, said Mark VanKerkhoff, Kane County building officer. If no action it taken, the county would seek a court order authorizing it to do the demolition, he said, and the owners would have to reimburse the county for the costs. If those costs are not repaid, Kane County officials could place a lien on the property, he said.
Former owner Thomas Smrt constructed the park in 1990 but closed it a year later, VanKerkhoff said. The park, on 120 acres northeast of U.S. 20 and Interstate 90 near Hampshire, showcased Shire horses. The breed is the largest of England's native horses and was brought to the United States in 1853, according to www.horses-store.com
The amusement park has been shuttered for several years, and its buildings have become a nuisance, authorities say. Vandals have repeatedly broken into all eight buildings on the site, VanKerkhoff said.
The land has been placed in a trust, VanKerkhoff said, but the county has had conversations with the owners since May to resolve the problems. A North Barrington man who is a trustee for the property could not be reached for comment Tuesday.
VanKerkhoff said the owners applied for a demolition permit last week to tear down six of the buildings but that the county wants all the buildings demolished.
"There is no telling how long those buildings will be standing," said Phillip Bus, executive director of the Kane County Development Department. "We feel it is appropriate to take some action."
Bus said legal action would be the last resort and hopes the owners will comply with the notice.
Kane County has taken such action previously in Aurora, Aurora Township and Valley View, Bus said. But the Shireland property is unique. The park land is part of a 300-acre parcel that is zoned for planned-use development, specifically for an amusement park. The land cannot be farmed and likely would be annexed into Hampshire if any residential development occurs, he said.
"It's a very valuable property," he said.
The sheriff's office asked the county development department to take action after receiving 23 complaints in the past year about trespassing. Sheriff's deputies have responded to complaints 49 times over the past five years, according to a staff report. Sheriff's Deputy Jamie Gartland said trespassers have been able to walk under a gate to enter the property. The incidents have included vandalism and illicit activities, such as drinking parties involving out-of-state visitors, Gartland said.
On Tuesday, fresh snowmobile tracks could be seen in what had been the main entrance and parking lot. Steel posts and wires, outlining what had been a huge circus tent, could be seen from the roadway, along with the shell of a carousel. A miniature castle had smashed windows and graffiti at the very top. Some trespassers at the site broke benches and tried to pry open doors.
A faded "Welcome to Shireland" sign was painted on a building, and nearby there was what looked like a picnic grove.
Patty Waterman has lived nearby for 21 years and remembers when Shireland opened. It did reopen briefly in 1993 but closed again. Waterman took her children to the park once but said no one was allowed to touch the horses.
The park also had Medieval-style jousting, along with coach and horse rides, she said.
Smrt kept up the land, mowing the fields regularly, until five years ago, Waterman said. She heard he developed health problems.
Then it became "a dump," said Waterman, who greeted news of Kane County's action with a thumbs-up sign. She said her family contacted the sheriff's office last year after hearing gunshots coming from the property. Last summer, there was a car parked on her land with Wisconsin license plates, and the sheriff's office brought out a K-9 unit to search the Shireland property.
"It was just a big hangout," she said. "We see kids all the time."
Waterman had not heard about the photo shoot.
That incident took place in October, Gartland said. The caretaker contacted police, and a report was generated.
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