Worth board OKs amendments with eye on economic development

  • Written by Sharon L. Filkins

In accordance with its ongoing economic development plans for Worth, the Board of Trustees approved amendments to two municipal codes at its Tuesday meeting.

According to the ordinances, the amendments will restrict certain businesses in the B-1 and B-2 business districts. However, the modifications will apply to future businesses, not the existing businesses.

In the B-1 district, all business establishments will be retail establishments dealing directly with consumers. All goods produced on the premises will be sold at retail on the premises where it is produced.

“Our primary focus as we move forward with our economic development plans is to encourage businesses providing sales tax revenue,” said Mayor Mary Werner.

Examples of permitted businesses include antique shops, automobile accessory stores, bicycle stores, camera and photographic supply stores and studios, clothing, footwear and dry goods stores, department stores, drug stores, etc.

Permitted uses in the B-2 district will include businesses such as amusement establishments within enclosed buildings, such as bowling alleys, gymnasiums, swimming pools, skating rinks, automotive vehicle and automotive equipment sales, banks, catering establishments, health clubs, gymnasiums, reducing salons and massage therapy establishments, medical and dental clinics and laboratories, pet shops and restaurants.

Certain businesses fall into a category designated as special use, such as places of assembly like theaters, churches and community centers.

Village Attorney Greg Jones suggested that the board consider eliminating these from the list of permitted uses in the amended ordinances. “It will not impact existing facilities, but will prohibit any additional future use,” he said.

In another discussion, Trustee Pete Kats, who is the liaison to the Public Works department, raised the issue of parked cars prohibiting the snow plowing efforts on village streets.

“I have received numerous complaints from residents whose street is not plowed because of cars being left on the street,” Kats said. “This is a major epidemic and is becoming a health and safety hazard. With cars parked on both sides of some of our streets, there is no way an ambulance or fire truck could get down the street.

“I am asking our board to consider this situation and formulate an ordinance prohibiting parking on both sides of the streets and after snowfalls of more than two inches,” added Kats. “We need to get something in place and then stick to enforcing it. Our residents need to realize that they can benefit themselves by not parking on the street.”

In other matters, the board heard a report on the recent audit conducted on village finances. The report was presented by John Williams of Hearne and Associates.

He reported that the village saw a slight decrease in its revenue this past year. 2015 revenues were $12.2 million as compared to $12.4 million in 2014. He attributed it to a reduction in property taxes collected.

Werner commented later that the reduction amounted to $200,000 not collected. She attributed it to people who appealed their tax bills and those who simply could not pay.

Total expenditures for the year were $12 million. “All expenditures were below budget,” Williams said.

Other board action approved a payment of $9,106.25 to Mid America Tree & Landscape, Inc., for flowers for the village’s annual planting day.

Also approved was a Resolution authorizing the village to close 111th Street from Ridgeland Avenue to Harlem Avenue on Aug. 28 for the Worth Days Parade.

Trustee Colleen McElroy said that the Beautification Committee is inviting businesses to participate in this year’s Patriotic Banner Program. Cost of the banner is $175 for the first banner and $150 for a second. They will be placed along 111th Street and Harlem Avenue, from Flag Day through Oct. 1. For further information on the program, contact McElroy at the village hall, (708) 448-1181.


Local mayors are cautiously optimistic about 2016

  • Written by Joe Boyle

Southwest suburban mayors have their hands full as they enter a new year dealing with tighter budgets and uncertainty in Springfield . However, ongoing projects are reason for optimism

Chicago Ridge Mayor Chuck Tokar said that he can’t wait until Miller’s Ale House is completed at the corner of 95th and Ridgeland Avenue outside of Chicago Ridge Mall. Miller’s Ale House replaces Tilted Kilt, which closed abruptly this fall.

“I can’t wait until Miller’s Ale House opens up,” said Tokar. “They have great food and we have heard great things about them. They are way ahead of schedule.”

Workers were busy with the framework of the building on Tuesday morning. Tokar said the workers have been busy and have taken advantage of the mild December temperatures. Tokar said that if the weather cooperates, Miller’s Ale House could open at the end of March or the beginning of April.

Tokar said at the top of his list is the Harlem Avenue TIF District, specifically the area surrounding 103rnd and Harlem. The mayor would like to see some development there.

“We would like to get a shovel in the ground there soon,” Tokar said.

The mayor also would like to see RTA associated development occur soon. The Southwest Conference of Mayors was able to get a $1 million grant for local municipalities for development with the RTA’s assistance. Chicago Ridge will receive $800,000 in RTA grant money for development.

“That will be great,” said Tokar. “We could use new signage and new pedestrian sidewalks. I’m pretty excited about it.”

Tokar is realistic that much will depend on movement in Springfield. He is pleased that Gov. Rauner signed a bill and the Senate released funds for the motor fuel tax, 911 system and video gaming. Tokar does not side with either Rauner or House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-22nd).

“I don’t just blame one person,” he said. “I blame them both. Until they get this settled, we are just going to have to be careful.”

Evergreen Park Mayor James Sexton is looking forward to when the Evergreen Park Marketplace is built. The Marketplace is replacing The Plaza, which fell to the wrecking ball this fall. The iconic structure that was built in 1952 had become dated and was in decline for years. The Marketplace will be more efficient and will have several notable retail businesses. The mayor said there will be a little more than 30 businesses at the Marketplace.

Carson’s was a longtime fixture of The Plaza and continued operating even when the mall had become nearly vacant. A new Carson’s will be built to replace the old one. Sexton can’t wait for that to happen.

“I would like to hear the cash registers at Carson’s,” said Sexton. “They are rolling along over there. They are moving quickly.”

Sexton said the new Carson’s could be completed by the end of July. The mayor said that some restaurants and retail businesses have been contacted. He said that it is too soon to mention any names.

“We are talking to a few of them and it is our hope that some of them will come to fruition,” said Sexton.

Hickory Hills Mayor Mike Howley said that he has a few projects he would like to see get off the ground. The 2016 Beautification Program comes to mind first. The removal of diseased trees is a priority for the city. Thirty trees will be replanted in each of the city’s four wards.

Howley said that the trees that will be removed will be replaced by trees designed to flourish and avoid becoming victims of diseases.

New water meters will be a boost for Hickory Hills, according to Howley. The new devices will be able to determine if there are leaks or other defects in a home.

“These are services that may not sound sexy but are important,” said Howley, who also pointed to sanitary sewer system replacements through a $150,000 block grant.

Oak Lawn Mayor Sandra Bury is looking forward to more development of the 111th Street Stony Creek Promenade TIF District. A pancake house will be built just east of Mariano’s. The mayor said she hopes to have an announcement about Phase 2 of the projects.

The next direct phase is Stony Creek North at the nearby old Edgar Funeral Home property. Bury is confident that an announcement will be made soon on a specific project.

Bury said that she would like to see plans for a permanent senior center facility. While the Johnson-Phelps VFW Post has indicated they would be interested in helping, nothing has been decided.

“We are still looking at ideas,” said Bury. A ribbon-cutting ceremony was held Wednesday for the expansion of Advocate Christ Medical Center.

“Oak Lawn is open for business and we are excited about the future,” added Bury.

Palos Hills Mayor Gerald Bennett said the city is working on economic development. A $15 million nursing home will open in June. Webb Chevy is coming to Palos Hills.

Bennett said the one difficulty for Palos Hills is that it is surrounded by malls. It has been difficult to draw businesses to the community. But Bennett is encouraged by some of the businesses that have come to the city.

“We have challenges,” said Bennett. “We are working on filling vacant businesses. But we are moving forward like most other towns. We just have to be very cautious.”

Worth Mayor Mary Werner would like to see more development along 111th Street, including money from CMAP for development near the Metra train stations. The medicinal marijuana dispensary will open sometime this month. Werner said that it will bring more revenue to the village but also something more.

“One of the key things is that it could draw more people to the village who have never come here before,” said Werner. “I look at this as a win-win situation.”

Werner would also like to see some development along 111th Street. A new Italian café shop will open soon that will specialize in fresh foods. The Italian deli could open by the end of January.

Oak Lawn restaurateur sells business after another show of generosity

  • Written by Dermot Connolly

Sandi DiGangi quietly sold her Big Pappa’s Gyros restaurant, at 10806 S. Cicero Ave. in Oak Lawn a few days after her seventh annual feed the hungry program on Christmas Day.

DiGangi, who has become known for giving away thousands of freshly cooked traditional meals on Thanksgiving and Christmas, said she plans to continue the tradition at another location.

“I had a good seven-year run,” said DiGangi on Tuesday. “I survived, and built up and improved the business,” she said.

DiGangi herself went through a bout of ill health last spring that caused her to seriously consider selling the business. She said she was misdiagnosed with cancer, but had two major operations that kept her in the hospital and out of the restaurant for weeks at a time.

Last April, one offer she received to sell the restaurant fell through when the Oak Lawn Village Board rejected the business plan put forward by the prospective owner.

But DiGangi said that when she got another offer, it was too good to turn down.

“With my health, although it is good now, I thought this was the right time to sell,” she said.

As she said in the announcement made on the restaurant’s Facebook page on Dec. 30, “The time is right. I just need to relax a little.”

“I gained so many great friends and met so many amazing people, and I was supported by so many wonderful people in Oak Lawn....I really thank everyone for everything. It was all of you who made Big Pappa’s what it is,” she added.

She has no plans to slow down, or go on vacation. Rather, she said she now has more time for volunteer work.

“I just increased my volunteer work from five hours a week to 30 hours a week,” she said, explaining that she regularly visits several area seniors, doing their grocery shopping and other errands. She also makes regular visits to seniors in hospitals and nursing homes.

“I miss the restaurant, but I have been very busy,” she said.Top of Form

“I could have closed in November, but I wanted to wait until after Christmas,” she said, explaining that the sale was finalized on Dec. 28.

So on Christmas Day, she and her three children — Tony, 20, Michaline, 17, and Nicolette, 14 — were again busy preparing and handing out free meals for the needy, as well as toys for children.

“We had another successful year. We gave away more than 3,000 meals,” she said. In addition to delivering locally to shut-ins, and giving meals to people who lined up at the restaurant, DiGangi said more than 245 meals were delivered to homeless people in downtown Chicago,

“We had a few vans go down there,” she said. “We helped a lot of families and churches.”

DiGangi said that after a slow start, the amount of donations coming in to help fund the project picked up. “I had to go into my pocket a little bit, but that is OK,” she said. “I figure if my son was alive, I would be spending the money on him, so instead, I spend it on this,” she said, referring to her son, Gary, who died at age 5

“Feeding the needy on holidays won’t stop. I’ll be looking for another location, somewhere with a full kitchen, in the next few months,” she said. “A VFW hall or someplace like that would be nice, so people could sit down and have their meals. I didn’t have much space for that in the restaurant.”

DiGangi said the new owner, whom she knows as Frank, has promised to “provide the same great quality food at low prices,” and she is encouraging her longtime customers to continue patronizing the business.

And she plans to remain living in Oak Lawn also, so she is not looking at the sale as a “good-bye.”

“Oak Lawn is my town and I love living here. I am not going anywhere,” she said.

DiGangi said her son, Anthony, who has worked alongside her in the restaurant for the last few years, is looking into opening his own fast-food restaurant.

“I’m not sure what town it will be in,” she said. “It will be all his. He learned a lot at Big Pappa’s, working from open to close. I’ll be giving my little support in the background, but I told him I won’t be working there,” she said with a laugh.

Top 10 sports stories of the year unveiled rare treasures

  • Written by Jeff Vorva

Page 1 perfect

Photo by Jeff Vorva

Nicole Nonnemacher of St. Xavier is just the second pitcher in NAIA history to throw a perfect game and strike out every batter she faced.


This year was pretty rare when it came to area sports.

Like most years, it had its share of highs and lows. But for some reason, 2015 featured a fair share of accomplishments that you hardly ever see. Some you may never see again.

To quote legendary coach Bob Hallberg, who made the top 10 list for being the first coach in history to lead a men’s and women’s college basketball program to No. 1 in the nation: “There are very few people in this world that can say they did something that nobody else has done. If you climb Mt. Everest, you are not the only guy who did it. More than one guy have walked on the moon.’’

So, here are the top 10 area sports stories for 2015:

$11.       A perfect afterNonn for SXU pitcher

St. Xavier University junior pitcher Nicole Nonnemacher became just the second pitcher in NAIA history to throw a perfect game while striking out all 15 batters that she faced.

She beat Trinity International University, 9-0 on April 14 in Chicago, striking out 15 and threw 57 pitches – 50 for strikes. TIU hitters made contact just five times and all were foul balls in the 73-minute doubleheader opening game. Thirteen of the 15 strikeouts were swinging and two were called.

The Bloomington native joined Central Baptist Arkansas pitcher Emily Guess, who did it twice in two games in 2011, once in a 27-0 win over Hillside Free Will Baptist (Oklahoma) and once in a 13-0 win over Crowley’s Ridge (Arkansas) four days later.

$12.       Moraine player drafted into the NBA

For the first time in the history of Moraine Valley Community College, a former Cyclones basketball player was drafted by an NBA team.

Richaun Holmes, who played at the Palos Hills school in 2011-12, was drafted in the second round and 37th pick by Philadelphia on June 25.  The 6-foot-9 Holmes moved from Moraine to Bowling Green. Before coming to Moraine, he was a good, but unheralded player at Lockport High School.

“Moraine gave me a running start to hone my skills,” he said. “Nobody (on the Division I level) was knocking at my door).’’

$13.       First in state, fourth in nation

Sandburg’s boys cross country team won its first Class 3A boys cross country state championship in November and one month later, finished fourth in the nation in the Nike Cross Nationals event in Oregon.

For the Eagles, the state win was “surreal” according to senior Sean Torpy, who finished third in the state individual to lead his team. The national finish, however, was not as high as the Eagles wanted as they were ranked No. 1 in the nation by multiple national websites for most of the year.

 “It was a heck of an effort,” Torpy told MileSplit USA after the race. “We were wishing we could finish higher.’’

$14.       Marist’s whirlwind state softball championship

The Illinois High School Association Class 4A state softball championship title game between Marist and Lincoln-Way East was scheduled to start at 5:30 p.m. on June 13.

But an ominous weather forecast for the East Peoria area forced officials to start the game in the morning. By 5:30, players, coaches and fans were in the Marist cafeteria in the middle of a celebration of that morning’s 1-0 victory over East eating cake and celebrating.

One player echoed Torpy’s sentiment on winning the state title.

“The entire experience has been surreal,” said Orland Park’s Brooke Wilson, who was also on the 2012 state title team and became the first female athlete in the school’s history to win two state championships.

$15.       Gold Coyne

Last year, Palos Heights native and Sandburg graduate Kendall Coyne helping the United States hockey team to a Silver Medal in the Olympics was the No. 1 story. This year, she makes it to the top 10 again by helping the U.S. beat Canada, 7-5, to claim the Women’s World Championship in Sweden on April 4.

She had a goal and assist in the Gold Medal game.

She has won three gold medals and a silver medal in world and Olympic competition.

$16.       SXU Women reach No. 1

St. Xavier’s woman’s basketball team picked up the No. 1 ranking in the nation among NAIA Division II schools for the first time in the program’s history on Dec. 8.

Coach Bob Hallberg became the first coach in history to lead a men’s and a woman’s team to No. 1 in the nation. He also coached Chicago State’s men to No. 1 in the nation when it was an NAIA school in 1983.

$17.       Vander Laan’s the man

Former Chicago Christian football star Jason Vander Laan is leaving Division II Ferris State with an armload of records and awards.

The senior quarterback most impressive feat in his final year is that he set the record for most career  rushing yards by a college quarterback. 

Vander Laan finished his career with an NCAA record for any division with 5,953 rushing yards and if the only player in NCAA history to run at throw for at least 1,000 yards in all four years of play.

$18.       Big football scores                              

En route to finishing second in the state in Class 8A, Marist’s football team, which had four losses heading into the playoffs, knocked off Barrington, 59-56, in the quarterfinals in Chicago. The game set an IHSA record for most points in a Class 8A playoff game. Quarterback Brendan Skalitzky accounted for 633 yards and eight touchdowns.

One week later, 16th-seeded St Xavier University nearly knocked off No. 1 Morningside in the first round of the NAIA playoffs and suffered a 75-69 loss in four overtimes. It was the highest scoring playoff game in NAIA history and the second highest score in any NAIA game ever played.

9. Half-Marathon hi-jinx

For the first time in the eight years of the running of the area’s half-marathon and 10K race in Palos Heights a bandit entered the 10K race and won it. The man claimed to be from Cicero and his name was Juan Munoz but he didn’t officially enter the race or pay the fee to run in the May 3rd race.

Race co-director Mel Diab said bandits usually show up in bigger events.

Meanwhile on the women’s side, the half marathon was won by Kailey Green, whose family wasn’t there to see it because they were in downstate Washington moving into their new house after their old house was destroyed by tornado on Nov. 17, 2013.

10. A fixed broken record

Brianna Markusic became Oak Lawn High School’s all-time girls basketball scorer on Jan. 29, but leading up to it, she wasn’t sure whose record she would try to break.

Kathy Krzak owned the record from 1995-99 with 1,235 points. But LaTondra Brooks was deemed the scoring leader by OL officials with 1,448 points, which caused some protest from Krzak’s family because 1,132 of those points came with Oak Lawn from 2011-14 and 316 came as a member of a Missouri varsity team when she was a freshman.

Oak Lawn officials reversed their decision and Krzak, who is married and goes by the last name of Levin, was back to No. 1 and was in the Oak Lawn gym to watch Markusic break her record.

It was a stormy year on so many fronts

  • Written by Joe Boyle

Southwest suburban residents weathered through a series of storms that blew through 2015. But while the year featured plenty of chaos and friction, there were some highlights that showed the better side of the human spirit

The year was dominated by the impasse in Springfield that has not resulted in a budget. And as we enter 2016, there are no discussions or a sense of urgency to end this stalemate.

  1. The budget (or lack of)

This is the number one story of the year because the grudge match between the new Gov. Bruce Rauner and House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-22nd) has so many ramifications. The new governor essentially wants reform but will not discuss higher taxes or other proposals unless until unions lessen their grip on the workforce.

Critics state that he wants to diminish the powers of unions to bring down salaries. Madigan continues his constant phrase during the fall that Rauner is “too extreme.” So, that’s where the budget talks stand entering a new year.

  1. Mayors strike back

While the budget impasse entered a fourth month, the Southwest Conference of Mayors said they had enough. During a meeting in October at the Lemont Village Hall, the mayors voted in unison against Rauner’s proposal to provide low-interest loans to municipalities for the motor fuel tax, 911 funds and video gaming revenue. Palos Hills Mayor Gerald Bennett, president of the Southwest Conference of Mayors, said these funds have nothing to do with the budget and should be provided to municipalities in the state.

The vote seemed to create a chain reaction in which a variety of organizations spoke out about the governor’s proposal. Bennett said it was like going to the bank to take out money and then informed that you had to pay a fee to do it. The mayors also rejected Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle’s call for a hotel tax. Both Rauner and Preckwinkle quickly took those proposals off the table.

  1. End of The Plaza

       While it became official in June, the end of The Plaza was a bittersweet episode for southwest suburban and Chicago residents who grew up with the iconic mall. The Evergreen Plaza, as it was once known, was erected in 1952 with great success and later in the 1960s became the first indoor mall. While the structure had become outdated, Evergreen Park Mayor James Sexton, who made the first dent in the demolition proceedings with a sledgehammer on the old Montgomery Ward’s building, said it was a sad day before a large crowd who came to watch. The Plaza will make way for the Marketplace, which will have notable retail shops and a variety of businesses to replace The Plaza at 95th and Western.

  1. Methodist churches unite

   Much like The Plaza, membership had been dwindling at Worth United Methodist Church, 7100 W. 111th St. A decision was made in in May to unite the congregations of Worth United Methodist and Palos United Methodist Church, 12101 S. Harlem Ave., Palos Heights. The new congregation is at the Palos Heights church.

  1. Medicinal marijuana in Worth

After a year of meeting to alleviate fears and misconceptions residents had, the Worth Village Board approved a medicinal dispensary to officially open sometime in January. While there was originally some anger over the idea, a large crowd attended a town hall meeting in September. Residents asked a variety of questions but most of the comments were favorable. Worth Mayor Mary Werner said the paperwork has been approved and the renovation of the facility at 11425 S. Harlem Ave. is currently taking place.

The marijuana is designed to alleviate pain from patients who have a variety of ailments. Illinois law has 39 conditions and diseases that already qualify for medicinal marijuana use with a doctor’s signature. Cancer, glaucoma, HIV, hepatitis C and multiple sclerosis already qualifies.

  1. Survives earthquake

Palos Hills native Corey Ascolani, 34, somehow managed to survive a 7.8 magnitude earthquake in the mountains of the Himalayas. The earthquake caused massive damage and fatalities when it hit and appeared to be little hope that Ascolani would be found alive. Ascolani, a graduate of Stagg High School, had been living in Barcelona and teaching English when he went on the hiking trip to the HImalayas with 26 other people. Helicopters managed to find Ascolani and others five days later after receiving faint messages from cellphones.

  1. Firehouse reopens

The Chicago Ridge Village Board and the fire department settled some differences after a tense period and agreed to add part-time firefighters to the staff. The positive negotiations resulted in a critical step for Chicago Ridge Mayor Chuck Tokar, who wanted to reopen the firehouse at 107th and Lombard. A ribbon-cutting took place on March 21.

  1. Hospital expands

While this was expected, expansion plans for Advocate Christ Medical Center, 4440 W. 95th St., Oak Lawn, and related support facilities were approved by the Illinois Health Facilities Service Board last January. The $85 million expansion will provide a boost in adult and pediatric emergency stations from 42 to 70.

  1. Gift of life

In one of many positive stories this year, Bobby Sianis, 15, a student at Stagg High School, was attending his grandmother’s wake when his father, George Sianis, suddenly fell to the ground. Bobby kept his cool and coached his mother to tilt George’s head back and to blow air into his lungs. George survived his ordeal due to Bobby’s actions. Bobby later received the Citizens Hero Award from the Roberts Park Fire Department.

10) Ride of devotion

Marist teacher Owen Glennon took a cross country trek on his bike from upper state New York to the high school this past summer to raise money for Marist. Glennon was honored at Marist when he rode up to the school at 4200 W. 115th St., Chicago. Glennon said he did it because he loves the school and wanted to give something back.