Chicago Ridge approves adding rental inspection fees

  • Written by Dermot Connolly

The Chicago Ridge Village Board at the Tuesday meeting voted to amend the section of the village code pertaining to rental properties to add inspection fees for the first time, among other things.

          The idea of requiring annual inspections of rental properties had been discussed at recent meetings, so it was passed without too much discussion. Starting in January, owners of rental properties will now be required to pay $200 for annual inspections of houses being rented, and $75 for condos or apartments.

          Mayor Chuck Tokar noted afterward the amendment that was passed also removes the language that had assessed fines to owners of properties for excessive 911 calls.

          “We had to change that, because we don’t want to discourage people from calling 911. It could be a case of domestic violence, and if police need to be called daily so be it. That is what they are there for,” he said.

          Tokar said he and the trustees agreed that requiring that rental properties be inspected is needed for health and safety reasons. The fees will go toward paying for a part-time inspector, who will have to be hired.

          “We want to make sure that the properties being rented meet the fire code, and are in livable condition. We need to look at them, and ensure that the houses and apartments are not being subdivided and rented to multiple families or anything like that. If there are mattresses all over the floor, we will know something is wrong,” he said.

          “Most landlords are very good, but some aren’t. We’ve seen houses being rented with windows covered in cardboard or wood, and we can’t have that. We want Chicago Ridge to be a respectable community.”

          Prior to voting on the amendment to the village, Trustee Jack Lind said he would like it to also include penalties for leaving pets unattended for long periods of time.

          He and Tokar explained that they have received reports of dogs being left on balconies all day and even overnight in some cases.

          “I want to put some teeth in this ordinance to prevent that from happening,” Tokar said.

          At Tokar’s suggestion, the board agreed to approve the ordinance as-is, and then amend it in the near future because it was important to get other changes enacted immediately.

          Trustee Amanda Cardin pointed out that a newly enacted state law that will go into effect on Jan. 1 will make leaving pets outside in extreme weather a Class A misdemeanor if the animal is injured or dies. Pet owners could pay a $2,500 fine, or face up to one year in jail if found guilty.

Acting Village Attorney Burt Odelson said that the language in the state law could be incorporated into the new village ordinance as well.

Local police are prepared in wake of worldwide alert

  • Written by Joe Boyle

A meeting is scheduled for this week among members of the Chicago Ridge Police Department and officials at the Chicago Ridge Mall to discuss security after calls for a three-month worldwide alert following the terrorist attacks that took place in Paris.

The Islamic State has claimed responsibility of the attacks that occurred several minutes apart at a soccer stadium, concert hall and restaurant in Paris on Nov. 13. The attacks resulted in 130 dead and over 350 injured.

As a result, cities across the U.S. and the municipalities that surround them are dealing with how to prepare for any unusual activity at businesses, schools and shopping centers.

Chicago Ridge is one of the first southwest suburban villages to be mentioned due to the presence of the Chicago Ridge Mall, which features 120 stores and a variety of events taking place to mark the holiday season.

While ISIS has mentioned malls as possible American targets, Chicago Ridge Mayor Chuck Tokar said his staff and police department will proceed with diligence as they have in the past.

“We are going to be stepping up our patrols at the Chicago Ridge Mall,” said Tokar. “Well, you know what, we should be doing that. There will be larger police presence at the mall. Unfortunately, that’s the way it is.”

Tokar said that he has not been notified directly by Homeland Security. However, he did say that Homeland Security contacted Chicago Ridge Police Chief Rob Pyznarski on Nov. 23. Tokar added that was to be expected because of the mall. The mayor said the police department has gone through extensive training and prepare for the possibility of an attack.

“Our police department has gone through a lot of training,” added Tokar. “So, this is not new. We are increasing patrols there (the Chicago Ridge Mall). It’s the right thing to do.”

The U.S. State Department issued a worldwide travel alert on Nov. 23 for American citizens for the next three months due to a reported rise in terrorist threats. The state department is not only concerned about ISIS, but al-Qaeda, Boko Haram and other terrorist groups. They believe more terrorist attacks in various regions are planned.

The alert will continue until Feb. 24 after ISIS said they were not only responsible for the Paris attacks, but also for the downing of a Russian plane in Egypt that killed 224 people.

Oak Lawn, which has a population of 56,690, does not have a mall but does have an assortment of businesses along 95th Street and Cicero Avenue. The Stony Creek Promenade, at 111th and Cicero, has seen rapid development in the past couple of years, and is anchored by Mariano’s and Cooper’s Hawk Winery and Restaurant.

Mayor Sandra Bury said that she would not be contacted directly by Homeland Security. The Oak Lawn Police Department Emergency Management Agency would be the first to be notified by Homeland Security if suspicious activity or a physical threat was targeting the village.

While Oak Lawn may not have a mall, they still could be a target, the mayor said.

“We have the Advocate Christ Medical Center, which is the largest trauma center in this area,” said Bury. “We also supply water for communities to the south.”

The mayor said the Emergency Management Agency is well trained and conduct mock drills on how to complete tasks during a heightened alert.

Evergreen Park once had The Plaza, a well- known mall that became dated over the years and is in the process of being demolished. However, Evergreen Park Mayor James Sexton said the village has been attracting lots of businesses during the past few years. He is aware of the worldwide alert but is confident in his police force.

“We have not heard from the Office of Homeland Security,” said Sexton. “But we get daily alerts. Hey, our guys (police department) have been on high alert since 9/11. We have schools and businesses that we check on.”

Sexton said the police department has undergone extensive training and receive daily alerts.

“We have not had any credible threat to Evergreen Park and the surrounding areas,” said Sexton. “However, that doesn’t mean were not ready.”

Evergreen Park, Oak Lawn for new businesses

  • Written by Joe Boyle

Evergreen Park Mayor James Sexton has nothing against Oak Lawn.

However, if he can attract a few businesses to his village instead of his southwest suburban neighbor, he is all for it.

Sexton, who in his 14th year as mayor, said that he is delighted at the recent prospects for Evergreen Park. While The Plaza was brought down by the wrecking ball last month after years of underachieving, The Evergreen Marketplace, which will replace the once iconic mall, is drawing plenty of attention.

“We are redeveloping what was The Plaza,” said Sexton. “And now I’ve heard that (Chicago) Ald. (Matt) O’Shea has said that he has been contacted by businesses who are interested in the development at the old Plaza. This is something that can help everyone out.”

Sexton informed a crowd that attended his “State of the Village” address Nov. 23 at the Evergreen Park Senior Center that the Evergreen Marketplace is expected to attract Dick’s Sporting Goods, Whole Foods, TJ Maxx, Party City and DSW Shoes. The Carson Pirie Scott that was part of the old Plaza and is still operating, will be rebuilt and added to the Marketplace.

Evergreen Park also has Mejer’s Grocery, BInny’s and Mariano’s. A Wal-Mart and Pete’s Market has also been part of the Evergreen Park business community for several years.

Sexton said that competition for businesses between Evergreen Park and Oak Lawn is healthy. However, he adds that both villages win because competition actually helps draw other businesses.

“It works out well,” said Sexton. “Naturally, I would like all the businesses to come to Evergreen Park. But we are succeeding at attracting businesses. Even when a business goes to Oak Lawn, it can help us in the end because it may attract someone else.”

Oak Lawn Mayor Sandra Bury is in agreement. She believes that it is a healthy competition that benefits both villages.

“If Evergreen Park is successful, Oak Lawn is successful,” said Bury. “For instance, we have at least 20 optometrists up and down 95th Street. Now, some would say that is too many, but actually this draws more doctors to the area. They come because the other optometrists are successful.”

Bury can point to the wide variety of businesses along 95th Street and Cicero Avenue. The Stony Creek Promenade District at 111th and Cicero has drawn more businesses since Mariano’s and Cooper’s Hawk Winery and Restaurant opened. Both well-established businesses drew record crowds for their opening days and have continued to attract customers.

“The Stony Creek Promenade resonates with us,” said Bury. “We have one of the top Mariano’s and Cooper’s Hawk in the area. They are glad they chose Oak Lawn. We are glad they came here.”

Sexton is in complete agreement. However, what pleases him is the stigma that was once attached to the southwest suburbs has eroded with the surge of development taking place in Evergreen Park and Oak Lawn.

“They (developers) should have been looking this way for years,” said Sexton. “We are no longer anyone’s leftovers.”

Oak Lawn favorite going strong in new location

  • Written by Dermot Connolly

Flap-jacks restaurant has been a popular breakfast and lunch destination in Oak Lawn since it opened in 1995 at 111th and Cicero Avenue, and many feared it would be lost when the redevelopment of the commercial property it was located on necessitated a move.

However, the owners, brothers Nick and George Stamos, were adamant about staying in Oak Lawn, where they have lived since the 1970s, and were able to find a new spot in the corner of another shopping strip at 4710 W. 95th St.

“We opened in August 2014, and business has been great. It has been great due to the support of the community,” said Nick Stamos. “You should see this place on Saturdays and Sundays.” The restaurant known for its pancakes and omelettes, is open from 6:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily. George Stamos is credited with creating the restaurant’s five homemade batters, seven homemade syrups and toppings.

“We’re on a busy corner (just east of Cicero Avenue) — we might be in a quieter corner, but we like this spot,” said Stamos. “Of course, we would have liked to stay where we were too,” he added with a smile.

He was reluctant to move from the original location, and the village ended up giving the owners $2.3 million in compensation for having to move out of the TIF district.

“Coopers Hawk restaurant is now where we were located,” Stamos noted.

He said the new location, formerly the site of the Top Notch restaurant, required a lot of updating and rehabbing, but “we were lucky to find this. Suitable spaces for restaurants are hard to find in Oak Lawn.”

“We spent seven months working on it, but I enjoyed it. The only thing left of the old Top-Notch is the floor,” he said.

“We’re very thankful to Mayor Sandra Bury and the other village officials who helped us,” he said.

“If we were older, maybe in our 70s, we would have considered retiring. But we’re in our 50s, and we wanted to keep working,” said Stamos, who just got married in August.

“Because the community has been good to us, we want to give back to the community,” said Stamos, explaining why the restaurant holds regular fundraisers for Park Lawn, a social service agency serving people with intellectual and development disabilities.

Flap-Jacks also serves as a drop-off point for donations for Toys for Tots.

The original Flap-Jacks was located about a block from the Park Lawn site at 5040 W. 111th St.

“Over the years, we’ve developed a great friendship with them,” he said. “Several times a year, on Saturdays, we hold fundraisers in which 10 percent of each bill is donated to Park Lawn,” said Stamos, pointing out that the next fundraiser will be on Dec. 19.

“And it is not just the money we bring in, we contribute our own money, too,” he added. “I think Park Lawn does great work. The people it serves would be lost without it.”

He said the restaurant recently hired a client of Park Lawn as a bus girl. “She does a great job, and it is good for her to be able work and earn a paycheck,” he said.

Stamos said that while business has been good, they probably have lost some former customers who lost track of where they moved or what happened to them.

“A lot of our business comes by word of mouth,” said Stamos, admitting he doesn’t use rely much on advertising or social media. “We let the food speak for itself.”

Mayor, trustee spar over cafe liquor license

  • Written by Sharon L. Filkins

What started as a routine Worth Village Board meeting on Nov. 17 took a quick turn when the approval of a business application for Eli’s Café located at 10607 S. Harlem Ave. sparked a heated discussion about granting another liquor license for a video gaming café.

Over the strong objections of Trustee Colleen McElroy, the application was approved in a 5-1 vote.

McElroy, who co-chairs the Economic Development Commission with Trustee Rich Dziedzic, who also oversees Building, Licensing and Ordinances in his role as trustee, adamantly objected to the vote because the Economic Development Commission had recommended in its Nov. 12 meeting that it not be approved.

“What are we doing here?,” she asked. “What is more important to the village, sales tax revenue or the appearance of our village?” She reminded the board that Roma’s Café, also a video gaming business, had been approved last month and granted a liquor license.

“We are working on a long-range plan for the village with the RTA and hired a consultant to advise us. They have recommended to us that we look at the number of same-type businesses allowed to determine what is best for the overall future of Worth. Are we just wasting everyone’s time?

Citing a recent Open House Town Hall meeting on the Long-Range Plan, McElroy said it seemed apparent that residents want more restaurants, both fine dining and family-style, along with a better atmosphere for the village in general.

McElroy suggested that the role of the EDC be reevaluated. “It would be nice to get some direction from the Board. What role do you see for the EDC?”

“What they are doing, is good. Our last meeting was just a little rough,” Dziedzic responded.

Trustee Kevin Ryan said, “The EDC is a recommending body, but we (the Board) have the final word. We don’t want to be counter-productive.”

Agreeing with him was Trustee Pete Kats. ”I agree, we need to control our liquor licenses, we need to take a good hard look at it and set a number. But to say ‘No’ to this one would be wrong. A lot of hard work has gone into this project.”

Prior to the vote, Dziedzic responded to McElroy’s comment about the earlier approval of Roma’s Café, stating that there had been a misunderstanding with the owner of Eli’s Café about the timing of the paperwork needed for his application.

“They have come forward in good faith and provided the information needed and have offered to make the changes we had requested regarding the type of food they will serve. We are comfortable with allowing another liquor license at this time.”

In a statement before the vote was taken, Mayor Mary Werner said, “I have supported this project from the beginning because the business owner, Elias Mseeh, also owns the property and has proved to be a good business partner with the village.”

In a later interview, McElroy said, “We need to make sure we are all on the same page with our long-range plans and what we want for the village. We (the EDC) need more communication from the liquor commissioner (the mayor) and building, licensing and ordinances. These applications should be coming to the EDC first for review, especially on businesses prohibited by our Municipal Code. How long are we supposed to wait for paperwork to be in order? We need more control of what is coming in. I believe we are over saturated with video gambling businesses and I am not in favor of any more being approved.”

Werner later addressed those issues.

“The heart of the problem seems to be that the Board has the authority to change an ordinance,” said Werner. “There are two mandates in our Municipal Code; the number of liquor ordinances allowed and the number of tattoo licenses. If we want to add a liquor license, we can change the ordinance, which is what we did in this case.”

Werner reiterated that she had been for this project from day one because the business owner was also the landlord and had proved to be a good partner with the village.

“The building has been empty for a long time and he has maintained it and kept it in good shape,” she said.

She added that even though there had been a delay in the paperwork being turned in, when Mseeh returned in September still expressing the desire to open the business, Werner sent an email to the trustees on Sept. 10 asking if they were interested in adding a liquor license. All were in favor except McElroy.

Werner said she notified Dziedzic of the responses on Sept. 14. In October, the required paperwork was returned. The next step was for the EDC to review it. On Oct. 6, all the information was provided to the EDC so they would have it for their Nov. 12 meeting.

“The bottom line is that even though the EDC does not recommend an approval, the Board has the final authority” Werner said.

Currently, there are 24 liquor licenses in Worth, with 13 of them issued to businesses with video gambling, including the recent approval of licenses for Roma’s Café (not open yet) and Eli’s Café.

In other business, the board voted approval to continue its Electric Aggregation Program and Power Supply Agreement with Eligo Energy LLC. The contract calls for a flat rate charge to residents and no charge for opting out of the program.