Possible change in OL ordinance brings out more than 100 to meeting

  • Written by Dermot Connolly



David and Cassie Dawe have their say regarding possible changes in Oak Lawn’s policies on RVs and boats on people’s property.


Fears that trustees were planning to pass an ordinance making it harder, or even illegal to store most recreational vehicles and boats on residential property brought more than 100 concerned – and sometimes irate -- citizens to Tuesday’s Oak Lawn Village Board meeting.

The meeting room was overflowing for the 7:30 p.m. meeting, and the line of people waiting to sign up to speak extended into the hallway.

Before opening the floor to public comment on the controversial issue, the board moved to table the controversial issue, listed on the agenda as an ordinance “amending certain sections of the Oak Lawn Village Code pertaining to the parking of recreational vehicles on residential property.”

Trustee Mike Carberry (6th) tried to reassure the irate crowd that there was never any intention of voting on the proposed ordinance that night, saying it was only on the agenda as a discussion topic.

But judging by the grumbles in the back of the room, some of the RV and boat owners didn’t believe him.

Carberry said the proposed ordinance had been addressed at the June 4 meeting of the Legislation, Licenses and Ethics Committee that he chairs, and the decision was made then to bring it put it on the agenda for discussion by the full village board.

Other trustees at the committee meeting included Alex Olejniczak (2nd), Bud Stalker (5th) and Terry Vorderer (4th).

Cautioning that it was never intended to be voted on in its current form, Village Attorney Patrick Connelly read the proposed ordinance, which would have imposed fines on residents found in violation, either by not keeping the RVs or boats well-maintained, or out of public view.

Currently, RVs, boats and trailers can be kept on driveways, but the new legislation would have required most to either be shielded from public view by a fence, or those over 20 feet long to be stored in a garage.

Carberry said there had received a few complaints about large RVs or boats either kept in poor condition or so close to the front property line that they create hazards for people walking or driving by.

Many residents who spoke thanked Trustee Bob Streit (3rd) for bringing the issue to their attention. Streit said he noticed it when the agenda was issued on Friday, and sent an email to residents who receive his newsletter.

“You almost got away without public debate. The residents have a right to be heard,” Streit, said.

 Olejniczak referred to Streit’s comments and tactics as “grandstanding,” and maintained that the public always has the opportunity to “vet ordinances,” and this would have been no different.

“This is a good discussion,” he added.

Dennis and Cassie Dawe were among the 25 residents who spoke about the issue, and cited the financial hardship the new ordinance would impose on them.

“I’m saddened that I had to learn about this from Trustee Streit,” said Dennis Dawe. “Where is the transparency?”

“We as campers and boaters are already tied to large mortgages (on our vehicle),” said his wife, Cassie. “The financial hardship would be too much for us. I really hope you reconsider this.”

“We have a small pop-up camper and a long driveway. I know there are some eyesores, but ours is licensed and insured. Camping with our children is wonderful. This is the only way we can afford to go on vacation,” said Wendy Cafagna.

Several residents said that they were required to pay for storing their RVs and boats, they would leave Oak Lawn. Others said going after poorly maintained vehicles is understandable, but not all of them.

“My boat costs more than some houses here,” said one man. Others pointed out that larger RVs would be required to be stored in a garage more than 10 feet high, which would require a zoning variance.

“The ordinance was badly written,” said Stalker afterwards, citing one more reason why it was not going to be voted on without more discussion.

“We got an earful,” said Mayor Sandra Bury after hearing all the comments. She encouraged people for and against the proposed ordinance to contact her or their trustee. “We want to hear from you.”

Carberry said he appreciated seeing so many people come to the meeting, and encouraged them to stay engaged, and even run for office.

"Hopefully, they will stay involved. Maybe some will put their names on the ballot." There are no immediate plans to take any action on the proposed ordinance. It may be referred to a committee  such as planning and zoning. But Carberry said he liked the idea one resident had of "letting the people decide."

"Maybe putting it to a referendum would be the best way to handle it," he said.     


Gyro hero to stay in business

  • Written by Dermot Connolly


Photo by Jeff Vorva

Sandy DiGangi will not be selling her gyro restaurant and still plans on hosting free holiday meals for the poor.


By Dermot Connolly

Staff Reporter

Oak Lawn restaurateur Sandi DiGangi, known for providing thousands of free holiday meals to the elderly and underprivileged over the past five years, is recovering from a health crisis made her question the future of her Big Pappa’s Gyros restaurant, 10806 S. Cicero Ave.

But things have turned around for her since April, when DiGangi spoke at the Oak Lawn Village Board meeting about her plans to sell her business due to poor health.

“I got was misdiagnosed with throat cancer,” DiGangi said last week, explaining why she was considering the move. She also has battled infections and other complications since having her appendix removed, and spent several weeks in Advocate Christ Hospital.

“I’ve been through two major operations, but things are starting to look up,” she said last week. “Thanksgiving is a go, and Christmas is a go,” she added, referring to her Feed the Needy annual tradition of preparing and giving away thousands of turkey dinners with all the trimmings on both holidays. Donated toys are also collected and given away to children getting meals on Christmas.

Even when she was thinking of selling the business she founded with partner Eddie Memishi, her first concern was finding another location to prepare the holiday meals. She said several area VFW and American Legion halls had offered their kitchen space.

But that will no longer be necessary because Big Pappa’s is staying open now that her health is improving.

 “I got a bit lucky,” she said. “I’m still recuperating, but I am improving every day. The doctors haven’t cleared me to work full-time yet, so I am part-time for now.”

She credits her son, Anthony, 19, for working long hours every day to keep the business going in her absence. Her daughters, Nicolette and Mikey, also help out.

Her mission of feeding the hungry on holidays, and collecting toys for children is done in memory of her son, Gary Edward, 5, who died in a house fire in Chicago's Bridgeport neighborhood in 1995. Neighbors donated money for the funeral, and since then, she and her family have spent the holidays helping others.

DiGangi acknowledged that the reluctance of the Oak Lawn Village Board to approve a liquor license for a prospective buyer at an April 28 meeting now feels like “a blessing in disguise,” since she no longer wants to sell.

Many trustees expressed reservations about issuing the liquor license, because they were concerned about the business plan, and it was not even brought up for a vote. DiGangi had received a liquor license last year, allowing her to having gaming machines, but several trustees said in April that they had only approved it then because hers was an existing business and she had given so much for the community.

DiGangi said her phone was ringing off the hook when word got out that she was thinking of selling.

In a message posted on the restaurant’s Facebook page, DiGangi expressed her thanks and explained why she has decided to stay in business.

I am so honored to have such great support from all of you. I thank you and my children thank you for supporting Big Pappa’s and for all the love and concern you have shown us. Oak Lawn is awesome and I am so proud and honored to meet and get to know so many wonderful people,” she said.

On May 16, the Swallow Cliff chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution, based in Palos Heights,  presented her with an award for her service to the community.

“It was a blessed day. It was a beautiful day for all of us,” she said.

DiGangi also pointed out that she has a policy of providing free meals throughout the year to the needy. “This goes on 365 days a year. If someone comes in and is homeless or hungry and has no money, we will give them a meal.”

“It happens sometimes five to seven times a week,” she added. “Making sure someone has a good hot meal and a full stomach is more important than the money.”


Jeff Vorva's Im-PRESS-ions: Finally some good news in a bad story

  • Written by Jeff Vorva


Jeffs Col Impressions


Finally, there is a little something good to feel about in a feel-bad story.

A tragedy on Nov. 8, 2013 occurred in Worth when 18-year-old Brittany Wawrzniak was killed when she fell out of a moving car in the parking lot near the village’s boat launch.

It rocked a lot of people’s worlds.

A dead teenager is never a pleasant story and things escalated in the coming months when her family was upset with the way the police and village officials were handling the situation.

A pair of heated board meetings in April, 2014 resorted to name calling, yelling and people had to be frisked to get into one of them because of threats on social media. Family and friends vowed to come to every board until they were satisfied with the resolution. That didn’t happen.

The bottom line is did she jump or was she pushed?

The Brittany camp says she was pushed. Worth officials say otherwise. They say the case is closed and there are mountains of pages of the investigation available to anyone who wants to read them.

There are no winners here.

Family and friends lost a loved one at an all-too-young age. The cops and officials, who had to stay silent while the investigation went on, lost in the public relations battle while the family hurled accusations at them.

But on June 2, there was finally a little bit of positive news to come out of this.

The Worth board voted unanimously to allow a memorial bench to be built at the Worth boat launch at 115th Street and Beloit Avenue. The family will pay for it but the village will install it.

Brittany’s parents, Patrick Wawrzniak and Rebecca Tully showed up at the meeting. Patrick thanked the board and they both left and had no further comment after our correspondent, Sharon L. Filkins, approached them.

The atmosphere was chilly but Filkins said the brief public conversation between Mayor Mary Werner and the parents was “very respectful.’’

I wasn’t expecting a lovey-dovey reunion here. I wasn’t expecting smiles, high-fives or backslaps.

But given the powderkeg meetings from April, 2014, I wasn’t sure if a family member or friend was going to pop up and re-open some old wounds. That wouldn’t have been the time or place for it and I’m glad that didn’t happen.

So in the coming weeks, Worth Public Works personnel will be putting up a six-foot side wrought iron and rosewood bench in Brittany’s memory.

“It is just a peaceful place where people will be able to sit on the bench and enjoy the quiet,” Werner said.

Years from now, some people will see Brittany’s name and lament about the death of a teenager who was strongly loved by her family and friends. Some will not have known or forgotten the controversy surrounding her death.  This bench is going to have a lot of interesting history behind it.  

The family did the right thing by going through proper channels to get this done.

The village did the right thing by approving it.

It was the first good news to come from this story.


Could Evergreen Plaza look like this?

  • Written by Jeff Vorva





Photo courtesy of Lormax Stern Development Company

The Plaza, has finally been sold and will be torn down and one of the new owners, Lormax Stern, has developed malls in the Midwest including the Macomb Mall in Roseville, Michigan.


It’s official.

The talk is over.

The speculation, guesswork and rumors are put to bed.

It’s dotted-line time.

The large pimple in Evergreen Park known as the Plaza will finally be popped.

The Evergreen Plaza Mall was officially sold Friday and soon a redevelopment will begin, including tearing down the old place.

According to a news release, EP Mayor James Sexton said Lormax Stern Development, in partnership with DeBartolo Development, has purchased the mall, which was built in 1952 at 95th Street and Western Avenue.

Just four stores remain open and it’s been mostly a ghost town since 2013 and a thorn in Sexton’s side for many years before that.

“The Plaza is a significant part of our village, in terms of our history and economy,” Sexton said in a news release.  “This is a prime location and a great opportunity for developers and retailers. There’s a bright future for this property – one that will serve Evergreen Park residents and surrounding communities for decades to come.”

Plans call for the majority of the existing 800,000-square foot mall to be demolished and be replaced with a new, approximately 425,000-square foot open-air retail center on the 32-acre parcel.  Construction is anticipated to be completed in 2017. 

“The purchase has been closed and we are off and running,’’ Sexton said. “And while we aren’t at a point at which we can disclose specifics just yet, we have already had expressed interest from national retailers to become part of Evergreen Plaza. It will be a real win-win, providing jobs, an expanded property tax base and enhanced shopping choices for our region.”

This is the 10th redevelopment of a major retail mall undertaken by suburban Detroit-based Lormax Stern Development Company.

 The company recently redeveloped the Centerpointe Mall in Grand Rapids, Mich. and is finalizing the redevelopment of the Macomb Mall in Roseville, Mich.

Tampa, Florida-based DeBartolo Development, LLC is a one of the largest private real estate investment and development companies, specializing in opportunistic acquisitions and ground-up development of retail, multifamily, hospitality and mixed-use properties.

The company is currently developing a 1.4 million-square-foot regional shopping center in West O’ahu, the first new mall to be built on the island of O’ahu in over 30 years.



 Photo by Jeff Vorva

The Evergreen Plaza has been sold and will soon be torn down.


An icy reunion

  • Written by Sharon L. Filkins

Sharon L. Filkins


Patrick Wawrzniak and Rebecca Tully, parents of Brittany Wawrzniak, who died at the age of 18 in a tragic event in Worth on Nov. 8, 2013, were back in attendance at a board meeting at the Village Hall on Tuesday night.

This time it was icy as opposed to the red-hot fiery meetings they attended in the past as the family and friends were at odds with village officials and the police about the handling of the tragedy.

In contrast to their attendance at meetings in April, 2014, this meeting was calm and quiet, as they requested permission to erect a bench at the Worth Boat Launch at 115th Street and Beloit Avenue, in memory of Brittany.

Board members agreed unanimously in approving the installation of the approximately six feet wide, wrought iron and rosewood bench. “The family will purchase the bench, but the village’s Public Works Department will install it at the site,” said Worth Mayor Mary Werner.

Patrick publicly thanked the Mayor and the board and the couple left the meeting after the vote. They declined further comment when approached by a reporter. During one volatile meeting last year, both had plenty to say before, during and after the meeting, which was also covered by Chicago television statons.

Werner’s only post-meeting comment Tuesday was regarding the selected site for the bench.

"It is just a very peaceful place where people will be able to sit on the bench and enjoy the quiet.”

She added that the Wawrzniak case is closed and declined any further conversation on it.

Brittany was killed  when she fell from a moving car and struck the pavement. She was pronounced dead at Christ Hospital less than one hour later.

An investigation into her death resulted in tumultuous meetings with the Worth Village Board as the Wawrzniak family and supporters sought the truth about her death and accused the Worth Police Department and Village officials of not conducting an effective investigation.

Werner, who previously had come under profane attacks from Wawrzniak supporters in several board meetings in 2014, said Tuesday that the bench would be a very nice addition to the village.”

"The area there near the walking trails and boat launch is beautiful and very peaceful,” she said.