Some Worth residents oppose multi-family units for village

  • Written by By Sharon L. Filkins

A number of residents who attended an Open House Long Range Planning meeting for the Village of Worth last October returned Tuesday to hear the first report on the findings of the group at the village board meeting.

However, some residents were not pleased about some aspects of the report.

Farr and Associates, a consulting firm, was hired last year through a $75,000 Regional Transportation Association grant received by the Village for the purpose of establishing a Transit Oriented Development project near the 111th Street METRA Station.

During an hour-long presentation, Doug Farr, principal founder of the organization, outlined a report indicating that Worth has 5,129 residents living within a half mile of the station. Sixty-seven percent of commuters using the station drive to the station and are mostly from the northwest areas, including Palos Park. Only 17 percent of the commuters walk to the station.

In the October meeting, Farr had explained that TOD projects are designed to find ways to improve rider access to public transportation, while attracting residential and commercial development to the area. Increased walkability in the area is the goal, which could draw restaurants and shops appealing to commuters.

Farr’s presentation on Tuesday hit a snag when he mentioned a proposed design scheme for six-story multi-family units along Depot Street with up to 48 units per building. A number of people in the audience spoke up, saying that Worth did not need any more multi-family units and the problems that often come with them.

Her stated that prior to the meeting he had met with the village officials and learned that three-story, mixed-use buildings, with commercial/retail use on the first floor and apartments on the second and third floors, would be more acceptable in the village.

Farr said he was willing to revise the proposed designs but he also asked the audience to think in terms of a 30-year plan.

“None of this is going to happen overnight. We have to start really small. This is the most dramatic change that could be made in Worth,” he said.

“A row of three-story buildings with small shops on the first floor would encourage people to walk to the station. It could be done by small businesses, such as a small coffee shop, or a bakery, making it a cute place, with a nice ambiance. Worth doesn’t have anything like this now.”

Farr added that there has not been any new construction in Worth in more than 30 years, with the exception of the Chieftain’s Irish Pub on 111th Street.

“Developers need to know that there is a market here for new construction, and it is the responsibility of the village leaders to set the table for developers. Developers need to know that the market will support an up-scale apartment building. An occupied first building will attract a second building,” he said.

When questions arose about developments in northern suburbs and why they couldn’t be repeated in Worth, Farr suggested that he could provide a bus tour for village officials and the Long-Range Planning Steering Committee to view TOD’s in other communities.

After the meeting, Mayor Mary Werner said that the bus tour was a great idea and that she would be working with Farr to put it together. “This project is definitely a work in progress,” she said.

John Staunton, owner of Chieftain’s Irish Pub and chairman of the village’s Economic Development Commission, said that he thought the presentation had been well-received overall. He added, however, that he realizes there is some fear among the residents of any large changes.

“This is a very small manageable project and it has to happen in Worth, if we are going to move forward,” he said.

In other business, the board approved an amendment to the village’s Intergovernmental Agreement with the Worth Park District for the exchange of services between the two entities, calling for an annual meeting at the beginning of each year to determine the scope of services requested by each party regarding grass cuttings and asphalt services.

Also approved was expenditure, not to exceed $3,000, for a beautification plan for the northeast corner of 111th Street and Harlem Avenue.

The mayor also announced that the Water’s Edge Golf Club was hosting a new event, the Penguin Open, beginning at 10 a.m. Saturday, Feb. 27 with a shotgun start. The cost is $50 per person, which includes a continental breakfast, green fee, cart fee and a buffet lunch following play. For registration, call (708) 671-1032.

Trustee Tedd Muersch Jr. was absent from the meeting.

Hickory Hills reviews dispute between ComEd and USIC

  • Written by By Sharton L. Filkins

A routine council meeting in Hickory Hills took an unusual turn on Feb. 11 when Public Works Director Larry Boettcher presented a letter from the Hasse Construction Company requesting assistance from the city in a situation involving ComEd and the U.S. Infrastructure Corporation.

The letter from Hasse Construction outlined what they perceived as problems with a project on 85th Court, east of Hillside Drive, in which attempts to complete work on underground lines had been hampered because ComEd had not indicated which lines had been de-energized in back yards and side yards on 85th Court.

Included in the contractor’s complaints was a lack of communication between USIC and ComEd, which resulted in the contractor having staff and equipment showing up for work and not being able to complete the assignment.

Hasse was seeking compensation for the downtime, which was estimated at $20,000 for labor, $25,000 for equipment and $25,000 for lost time.

Village Engineer Mike Spolar said, “This is a very unique situation. Hasse is not looking for an exorbitant amount, but it is hard to get compensation for economic loss.”

Cutting right to the chase, Mayor Mike Howley said, “This situation is clear as mud. Everyone is pointing a finger at everyone else. How is the city involved in this?”

Ald. Mike McHugh (1st Ward) said he did not think the city was liable in this situation and Boettcher agreed with him.

Village Attorney Vince Cainkar said he would look into it to see if the city had any legal obligation in the matter. The council agreed to delay a decision until hearing from the attorney.

In a later conversation with the mayor on Feb. 12, he indicated that Hasse Construction was scheduled to be back on the job this past Tuesday. The work is expected to be completed within 10 days. He added that the city will support Hasse in whatever they wish to file against ComEd and USIC.

The mayor said he had spoken with a ComEd representative and that ComEd is aware that Hasse Construction may pursue a lawsuit. But at the present time, all entities are now co-operating with each other.

In other business, the council approved a resolution allocating $500,000 from the Motor Fuel Tax revenue for the maintenance of streets and roads in the city.

Also approved were business licenses for Exclusive Cuts at 8859 Roberts Road; Clover’s Flower Garden, 8800 W. 87th St.; and Moe’s Lord of the Wings, 8033 W. 87th St.

Ald. Debbie Ferrero (2nd Ward) and Ald. Tom McAvoy (3rd Ward) gave notice that they were not going to attend the meeting.

Oak Lawn mayor views rising revenue as hope for future

  • Written by By Joe Boyle

While admitting that pension payments still has to be reckoned with, Oak Lawn Mayor Sandra Bury said she is confident in the village’s future and points to increasing revenue sources as a reason for optimism.

Bury mentioned during her “State of the Village” address Tuesday afternoon at the Hilton Oak Lawn that the sale tax had increased in the village.

“Oak Lawn is 19 out of 1,299 Illinois municipalities in Illinois in revenue,” Bury told a crowd of about a 100 who attended the luncheon. “That is something to celebrate.”

The sales tax is up 7.8 percent in Oak Lawn this year and has increased by 12 percent since 2011, said Bury. Business licenses are at record high in the village and the mayor believes that trend will continue.

She mentioned many new businesses that have opened up in the last year, including Cooper’s Hawk Winery and Restaurant, Massage Envy, Meatheads, Mooyah Burgers and Oak Lawn Bank and Trust, to name a few.

She joked that Cooper’s Hawk, which along with Mariano’s serve as anchors for the Stony Creek Promenade at 111th and Cicero Avenue, “did not cut any ribbons for the opening but uncorked a few wine bottles instead.”

But the Oak Lawn mayor said that the pension crisis that affects all municipalities in the state, and is not being dealt with during the current budget impasse in Springfield, has to be addressed.

“We have lowered our pension debt the past couple of years,” said Bury. “But in 2019, we have to double the amount of the funding. It’s very challenging. The way that you do that is to lower the village debt. We have to come up with ways to meet our pension obligations.”

An encouraging sign is that the municipal tax levy has decreased by 5.6 percent. Bury added that the village has lowered property taxes for the third year in a row.

“Lower taxes drive businesses to a community,” said Bury. “High taxes drive businesses away from a community.”

Bury said that all the taxing bodies that serve Oak Lawn should try to keep taxes low. The Oak Lawn mayor added that 72 percent of every dollar from the village is spent on employees. Providing employment is a top priority, the mayor said.

“We don’t want to diminish our services,” said Bury. “We want to enhance services.”

On the issue of crime, Bury stated what Oak Lawn Police Chief Mike Murray had told her. The figures fluctuate over the years. The mayor said crime statistics did spike over the past year but overall have been decreasing since 2011. She pointed to 84 violent crimes reported in 2011 and 82 in 2012. But compare that to 2015, in which 70 cases of violent crime was reported, Bury said.

Bury said that Oak Lawn has more police officers and less firefighters today on the basis of statistics. The 911 dispatch service company Norcomm handled 191,967 calls in 2015, according to Bury.

Bury had high marks for the village’s Public Works Department, which for the 19th straight year has received the “Tree City Designation” for planting and caring for trees. The Metropolitan Water Reclamation District has made available rain barrels for residents. Bury said that 4,190 residents have received the rain barrels.

Work continues on the Harker Water Plant, which will bring water to 325,000 homes. The project is scheduled to be completed this December. The Reich Plant is 20 percent completed and is scheduled to done in July 2017, said Bury.

The mayor said that the number of part-time employees, which is at 81, is the same amount as it was in 2010. The mayor admitted that full-time jobs have decreased due to budget constraints. But Bury mentioned that Steve Radice, who heads Oak Lawn’s Economic Development department, said that the Stony Creek Promenade TIF District had resulted in 870 new jobs in 2015.

Bury applauded the efforts of Radice, who she said has worked hard to secure jobs for the majority of Oak Lawn residents. Bury also said that the old Pappa Joe’s restaurant location will become a Culver’s this fall.

The Oak Lawn mayor reminds seniors that the village is still looking for new site for the center. Bury did applaud the efforts of Genesis, which provides services and conducts programs for seniors. She said talks continue with the Johnson-Phelps VFW Post about moving senior services there. The mayor also said that Trustee William “Bud “Stalker (5th) is also looking into ideas for a new senior facility.

Bury also hailed the efforts of the Oak Lawn Library, Oak Lawn Park District and Oak Lawn Children’s Museum. The new tower at Advocate Medical Center and the efforts of Advocate’s Children’s Hospital drew raves from the mayor. Bury said the children’s hospital is in the top five percent in cardiovascular surgeries for youths in the U.S and Canada.

“Oak Lawn is doing awesome,” said Bury. “We have a lot of things to be proud of.”

Chicago Ridge mayor said congestion at 95th Street interchange needs relief

  • Written by By Joe Boyle

Chicago Ridge Mayor Chuck Tokar said he has seen enough of traffic jams that extend on and off the ramps at the 95th Street tollway interchange that borders Hickory Hills on the west and Oak Lawn on the east.

“It’s a mess,” said Tokar during a Southwest Conference of Mayors meeting on Jan. 27 at the Chicago Ridge Village Hall. “It’s a complete disaster that needs plenty of work.”

Tokar is a member of the Central Tri-State Planning Council, which filed its final report on Jan. 21. Thirty officials are on the Corridor Planning Council, including Tokar and several other mayors. The recommendations included in the report for the Central Tri-State Master Plan. The Master Plan will examine various reconstruction alternatives that incorporate the council’s input.

The suggestions by the council will also be considered, such as the conditions of existing corridor assets and on-going corridor maintenance needs. The Corridor Planning Council Report and the Master Plan results will be shared with the Tollway Board of Directors as they make decisions for future phases of the project.

Tokar and Justice Mayor Kris Wasowicz have attended the meeting the past seven months. Tokar said a lot of discussion has taken place and although the project will take some time to be built, he sees progress in the future.

“The number one and two problems are congestion and access to the tollway,” said Tokar, referring specifically to the 95th Street interchange. “They (Tollway Board) need to address this. There are some other problems. There is just not enough signage. We should have signs indicating that Christ Hospital can be found depending on if you are traveling north or south. We should also have a sign for Moraine Valley Community College in Palos Hills. I suppose there should be a sign for the Chicago Ridge Mall. I’m not trying to be self-serving but there should be signs, especially for hospitals.”

The Chicago Ridge mayor is concerned about the congestion. He points to the fact that drivers who try to enter 294 going north to Wisconsin are in a line that often stretches nearly three blocks. Not only does it back up traffic, it could be hazardous when traffic along Harlem Avenue begins to enter 95th Street going north, Tokar said.

In 2011, the Illinois Tollway Board of Directors approved a 15-year, $12 billion capital program, “Move Illinois: Tollway Driving the Future.” As part of the capital program, $1.6 billion was set aside to reconstruct 294 beginning at 95th Street. According to the Tollway Board, the corridor carries the heaviest amount of passenger and commercial traffic on the tollway system, with commercial freight accounting for much as 20 percent of traffic in some sections.

Tokar said a variety of options have been discussed to relieve congestion. Ramps have been discussed at 103rd and Southwest Highway and even the old Yellow Freight property in Chicago Ridge. The mayor said they are just in the discussion phase, but something has to be done about the congestion. He again referred to vehicles that are lined up to get on 294 north.

“It’s like being in the Brookfield Zoo parking lot,” said Tokar, “So, there definitely is a problem there. Nothing moves. You don’t want to go there at rush hour.”

Other local mayors also opinions on what should be built at the 95th Street interchange

“We would like to see a transportation center built at the intersection,” said Palos Hills Mayor Gerald Bennett, who is also the president of the Southwest Conference of Mayors. “From an economic standpoint, I think that would be good.

Tokar said that the IDOT engineers will go over the report and will make plans that may take a couple of years to be approved. Originally constructed in 1958, the Tri-State contained two lanes from 95th Street to the Stevenson Expressway (I-55), and three lanes from I-55 to Balmoral Avenue.

After the master planning process is completed in 2017, preliminary construction of the roadway is programmed to begin in 2020, according to the Tollway Board.

“It may sound like a lot of money, but it is important for access to Christ Hospital and Palos Community Hospital,” added Tokar.

Reduce rate for Palos Hills Municipal Golf Course

  • Written by By Michael Gilbert

A new, reduced green rate has been established for the Palos Hills Municipal Golf Course in 2016 in the hopes of doubling attendance from the previous year, the chairman of Golf Course Committee said last week.

Ald. Ricky Moore (4th Ward) told the council and a handful of residents in attendance at the meeting Feb. 4 that the new fee for golf at the nine-hole course is a flat rate of $10. Last year the fee to play the course was $17 for adults, $13 for seniors age 60 and older and $10 for players under 18.  

“The golf course is there 7/24 no matter how many people are there,” said Moore, who serves as chairman of the City Council’s Golf Course Committee. “Let’s see how this new rate works out. Golfing (attendance) as a whole has kind of been in the dumps everywhere. We are obviously hoping to increase attendance by a lot.”

Moore said the goal for 2016 was to double attendance from last year. Figures for 2015 were not available at last week’s meeting.

With the new rate comes the elimination of all promotions and discounts including the “Siesta Special,” which allowed for the purchase of two rounds of golf for the price of one from noon to 3p.m. Moore said a 10 percent discount will still be offered for all members of the military playing the course.

“We feel that if we have the best, cheapest golf in the southwest suburbs that we will have higher activity at the course,” Moore said. “Our motto has always been to provide the best golf for the best price in the southwest suburbs and we believe we are doing that.”

The golf course, 7301 W. 105th St., is just one year removed from a major $200,000 clubhouse renovation.

“We are always trying to improve the course,” Moore said. “We just put a couple hundred thousand dollars into the clubhouse last year and we are always looking to update and maintain.”

The course boasts a pair of Par 5 holes, three Par 3s and four Par 4s. The championship tees offer golfers more than 2,800 yards of course.

“It’s a challenging course,” Moore said. “A lot of the people I talk to say ‘it’s not Pebble Beach, but it’s a challenging course.’

“You are going to improve your game if you play here.”  

Moore said fellow Golf Committee members and aldermen A.J. Pasek (3rd Ward) and Joan Knox (1st Ward) were also in favor of reducing the rate.

“Our goal is to appeal to the masses,” Moore said. “I don’t know where they are going to get nine holes any cheaper than $10. That is the message we want to get out.

“Is it a little bit risky that we’re doing this? It is, but hopefully it will work out.”

The cost of cart rentals has not changed from last year, Moore said.

In other news, Mayor Gerald Bennett told the council he intends to present them with a recommendation for the city’s new building commissioner by Feb. 15, and is hopeful a hire can be made at the meeting three days later.

The city is looking for a permanent replacement for Gene Nelson, Palos Hills’ longtime building commissioner who died on Oct. 29 at age 79. Gene Newman, a plan commission member and architect, was named as Nelson’s replacement last November.

The city has since decided to make the building commissioner a full-time position and Newman recently indicated he would not be interested in taking on the position on a full-time basis, Bennett said following the meeting last week.

“There’s just too much work for (the building commissioner) to be a full-time position,” Bennett said. “Technically Gene Nelson was working 20 hours a week but he was putting in many more than that.”

Bennett said the city received around seven applicants for the building commissioner, which has a salary of around $75,000.