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Attractive Arbors entry to El Toro commercial area may soon be restored in Lake Forest

Two mini parks that mark the entrance to Lake Forest’s retail district may soon get improvements after more than a year of being closed off behind chain-link fencing.

Lake Forest leaders on Tuesday, Aug. 17, will decide whether to approve a construction plan for upgrades, including new landscaping with native plants, to the Arbors at El Toro Road and Rockfield Boulevard.

The small parks, which were constructed in 2006 to be an appealing entrance to the El Toro commercial corridor, were enclosed in metal fencing in November 2019 because of damage and deterioration.

Lake Forest spokesman Jonathan Volzke said people using the space to settle and sleep broke electrical boxes to charge personal devices and “nailed nails and other pieces of hardware into the woodwork,” resulting in “a substantial amount of physical damage.”

Regular power washing “for health and safety” added to the wear and tear on the parks, he said.

The designs for the proposed improvements at the parks mirror each other, with new fencing and drought-friendly landscaping.

The south Arbor, which backs up to two restaurants, may eventually be used as an outdoor entertainment and dining space. The city is in talks now with one of the businesses about leasing a portion of the nearly half-acre park, Volzke said.

While the mini parks would generally be restricted to foot traffic, they could be opened up for small events such as garden club parties or holiday caroling, Volzke said.

“By and large, it’ll be closed off and just an attractive entry, but not a gathering place,” he said.

City officials sought input from residents on the redesign of the spaces, during which Volzke said the public voiced wanting it “to return to an attractive entry point that did offer some abilities, that if we wanted to do something there, or have some sort of special event or some gathering, that it would be open to do that.”

The pandemic and the requirement for the city to meet provisions of the state’s Surplus Land Act, slowed the project’s progress, Volzke said. At one point, city officials were making headway on the plans, but took a step back when the possibility of negotiating with one of the restaurants behind the south Arbor arose, he said.

“The No. 1 goal is to make sure we get it right,” Volzke said. “And so it’s, you know, better to go a little more slowly than to rush and miss an opportunity.”

If the City Council approves the proposal from Elegant Construction, the total cost of the project would be roughly $370,000, and it could be completed within 45 days, officials said.

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