Hickory Hills green-lights Sabre Woods development

  • Written by Sharon L. Filkins

After a lengthy period of agreements and disagreements during the Hickory Hills City Council meeting last Thursday, an ordinance was approved for the proposed Sabre Woods development.

The planned unit development (PUD) proposal would take in the site of the old Sabre Room, 8900 W. 95th St., Hickory Hills. The once iconic center was the site of wedding receptions and noted performers who took the stage there, including Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin. The Sabre Room closed last year and the building was recently demolished.

The approved special use for PUD, which is located in a R-4 Single Family Residence District and C-3 Highway Commercial District, will allow a combination of commercial and residential uses, including retail stores, independent and assisted living apartments, senior apartments, senior single-family ranch homes, and property that may be donated to the city for use as a public library or other public purposes.

Hickory Hills Mayor Mike Howley said that he and 3rd Ward aldermen Tom McAvoy and Brian Fonte had met with the Koziarz Group, owners of the property; Retown, the development manager; and Chicagoland Realty, marketing and sales, to review the numerous plans that have been presented to the city.

“We finally hammered out an agreement that was agreeable to them and satisfied our zoning and building commission requirements,” Howley said.

In a later conversation, Howley stated that it would be a great benefit to the city if the parties involved are able to attract a developer or developers who can conform to the zoning and building guidelines for the proposed development.

“We are in need of quality senior care in Hickory Hills,” said Howley. “I have talked with many residents who want to stay in the area and when they decide to downsize, or their health needs require a change in their lifestyle. They don’t want to move away from their families and friends. They want to stay close.”

Howley also added that a development restricted to senior level living would not place a burden on the city’s school system.

The approved ordinance addressed several issues of concern such as required footage for setbacks of single-family residences (setbacks were increased from 10 feet to 20 feet to allow cars to park in the driveway of a residence).

An earlier concern of the council was who would be responsible for the detention, retention and storm water areas. The ordinance states that management and maintenance will be the responsibility of a master association. The association will consist of all privately-owned property comprising the site and shall be responsible for the maintenance and repair of all facilities and the common area.

The ordinance also states that the proposed commercial area would be limited to 45,000 square feet.

In his later conversation, Howley also stated that the council was aware that any future developer would need some flexibility in some areas such as the number of single-family homes.

“We will do our best to work with them as long as the plan conforms to our concerns and zoning guidelines,” he said.

Oak Lawn police lawsuit settled for $2.7 million

  • Written by Dermot Connolly


An Oak Lawn man who alleged that two Oak Lawn police officers brutalized him in his home without provocation while his two young daughters were nearby has settled his civil rights claim for $2.7 million.

The case was settled on Feb. 24, and the payment was approved by the Oak Lawn Village Board. But there was no admission of guilt or responsibility, village attorney Kevin Casey said on Tuesday.

According to the 11-count complaint filed by Piotr Niton and his two daughters in federal court, Niton said that shortly after midnight on July 27, 2013, he was asleep on his couch in Oak Lawn when he was awakened by “loud and persistent banging on his front door,” and found two uniformed Oak Lawn police officers on his front porch. His daughters were in their bedrooms nearby.

The complaint alleges that the officers began shouting commands at him, questioning him about a hit-and-run that occurred earlier that evening. He told them he had not driven his vehicle that night and said they demanded that he come outside and show them his van. In the complaint, Niton said he refused to leave the house but offered to open the garage door and let them check it out.

The complaint states that an officer then “forced his way into Niton’s home and violently shoved him backwards” onto the floor, and struck him with his fists and knees. The officers also allegedly struck him with steel batons and one of them allegedly placed his knee on his face.

David P. Sterba, the Nitons’ attorney, said that one of the officers repeatedly lifted Niton off the floor by his belt, slamming him back down on his back with such force that the belt broke. The other officer allegedly put him in a chokehold and handcuffed him.

Sterba said that one of Niton’s daughter witnessed the violence, while the other one heard it from her room. He said the $2.7 million awarded was for Niton’s pain, suffering and emotional distress, as well as compensatory damages for the daughters for their “severe emotional distress.”

Niton was arrested and charged with two felony counts of aggravated battery to a police officer and resisting a police officer. But he was found not guilty by a jury following a four-day trial and 45 minutes of deliberation in November 2015.

Sterba said that police eventually determined that another man, not Niton, was responsible for the hit-and-run incident. The other man was an employee of Niton, and the vehicle involved was registered to Niton’s company.

The attorney, a partner in the Palos Heights law firm of Walsh, Fewkes and Sterba, said this week that Niton had to undergo one back surgery as a result of the incident and still requires another operation for “spinal fusion.”

“It’s over for us. We’re very proud of the Niton family for displaying the courage to stand up and fight for justice. And this is a very good day for justice,” said Sterba.

He suggested that the Oak Lawn Police Department should review its policies for handling situations like this in the future.

Oak Lawn Police Chief Michael Murray said the two officers involved in the case are still working for the department. But he said that the agreement prevented him from commenting on the details of the case.

Palos Hills girl's recovery is cause for celebration

  • Written by Kelly White

junnah hamed photo 3-9

Photo by Kelly White

Junnah Hamed, 7, of Palos Hills, prepares to cut the ribbon for the new pediatric emergency room department recently at Advocate Children’s Hospital in Oak Lawn. She is assisted by her sister to her right, Amenah Hamed, 9, and Dr. Omprakash Sawlani.

Junnah Hamed is a typical 7-year-old girl. She enjoys school and spending time with her family and friends. But in November of 2016, her life took an unpredictable turn.

It was then when Junnah, of Palos Hills, was admitted into Advocate Children’s Hospital in Oak Lawn with a persistent fever. After arriving, she suffered a heart block and went into cardiac arrest. She spent two weeks in a coma in the pediatric intensive care unit. Doctors diagnosed her with streptococcal toxic shock syndrome.

Junnah’s treating doctor, Dr. Omprakash Sawlani, medical director of the pediatric emergency Department, reports she has since recovered and is doing well today.

In fact, she is doing so well that she joined Sawlani, her mother, Sawsan Abdallah; her father, Ayman Hamed; her 9-year-old sister, Amenah, and a team of medical professionals that included Dr. Brian Sayger, chair of the Department of Medicine, and Mike Farrell, president of Advocate Children’s Hospital, 4400 W. 95th St., Oak Lawn, on March 1 to personally cut the ribbon of the hospital’s newly remodeled pediatric emergency room.

“They did a wonderful job taking care of Junnah,” her mother said. “They went above and beyond in care and treatment. It was like she wasn’t just a patient; it was almost as if she were the daughter of all of the doctors and nurses on staff. Really an outstanding job.”

Junnah, a first grade student at Sorrick Elementary School in Palos Hills, was the one to cut the ribbon to the new pediatric emergency room, alongside her big sister Amenah, and Sayger and Farrell.

Farrell reported it was the quick and exceptional response within the emergency room department that saved Junnah’s life.

“They did a really good job taking care of my little sister,” Amenah said.

“Situations like Junnah’s are exactly what amplifies why we come to work every day,” Sayger said.

Sayger was one of the members behind the planning of the new unit.

“This emergency room was designed to be only for pediatric medicine and built from the ground up,” he said. “It was all about the patient when we were planning this expansion.”

A blessing of the department was held along with the ribbon-cutting ceremony. The kid-friendly atmosphere officially opened to patients on Tuesday.  

The state-of-the-art department contains an expanded capacity with six additional treatment rooms, Level I pediatric trauma rooms, as well as psychiatric and isolation rooms. In 2016, 37,000 children, including Junnah, were treated in the emergency room.

According to hospital staff, the expansion meets a growing community need.

Initially, the pediatric emergency area was only made up of five beds within the adult emergency department. Over the years, a designated space was carved out specifically for pediatric emergency patients. First, it was an area made up with eight beds, then it doubled to 16, and now, the new emergency room will have 22 individual rooms.

With the remodel, the physical space has doubled, making room for the 22 exam rooms with beds. There are also two trauma bays, resuscitation rooms and critical care rooms designed specifically for the hospital’s sickest patients. The original department also only had two isolation rooms with ante rooms for caregivers to suit up before entering the patient's room. The new space has eight rooms to accommodate for communicable disease in order to separate really sick patients from the rest of the population.

The department also features a fully functioning sugar free slushy machine for all patients to enjoy.

In August 2016, a pediatric annex was added. It essentially functions as a fast track for the lowest acuity patients who can be quickly treated and released from the hospital. This space will continue to exist outside of the pediatric emergency department.

Plans for the new design began in 2012 in an effort to grow capacity and provide a better experience for patient, family and caregivers.

The space is much more spacious than the previous department and all of the new equipment is the latest and greatest, according to hospital staff.

The hospital staff has inspired Junnah’s future career choice as well.

“When I grow up, I want to be an eye doctor because I love doctors,” she said with a smile.

National treasures: SXU takes second in the nation in NAIA DII

  • Written by Jeff Vorva


Semifinal juby

Photo by St. Xavier University 

SXU players rejoice after winning a national semifinal game on Monday.

St. Xavier’s women’s basketball team started a long trip to Sioux City, Iowa, on a bus on March 8 and there was some slow going on the way there because of hail.

The Cougars were hoping for a long stay in Sioux City with the end result of being hailed as the NAIA Division II champions.

A bookend of hails, so to speak.

They did stay in Iowa a long time. And for the first half of Tuesday night’s championship game at the Tyson Events Center, it looked like they were about to grab that title as they owned a 30-23 lead.

But the Cougars were pelted by baskets and were outscored 24-8 in the third quarter and dropped a 66-52 decision to defending national champion Marian (Ind.) to finish in second place – the best finish ever by coach Bob Hallberg and his program.

SXU (34-3) and its fans saw a little of everything on this five-game journey.  They saw a 30-30 quarter. A 6-6 quarter. They saw a couple of blowouts, a couple of come-from-behind victories and, ultimately, a loss after holding the lead as late as 3 minutes, 10 seconds in the third period in front of a crowd of 1,600 at the Tyson facility and a large crowd watching the feed of the game at the Shannon Center in Chicago.

Brittany Collins led the Cougars with 14 points and eight rebounds.

Junior Kara Krolicki was limited to 10 points but after the game was named the NAIA Division II Player of the Year.

“You can’t judge (the season) off of one game,” Krolicki told reporters after the game. “I had a great time playing this season. I loved playing with all these girls and this is the game that everybody wants, but this time it didn’t come out in our favor. . . We are hoping that we can come back here next year and get what we want. I couldn’t ask for more this season.”

To get to the final, the Cougars trailed Concordia University (Neb.) 28-11 early but went on to dominate the rest of the way in a 91-83 triumph. Unlike Tuesday night, when the Cougars had their share of woes in the third quarter, the third quarter of the semifinal game saw them outscore their opponent 25-9.

"It's amazing; just an unbelievable feeling," said Krolicki, who had 26 points.

"We went into halftime with the lead cut down. We knew we could do it. We had another 20 minutes of basketball left. The first half we had to get used to what they were doing and settle down and see what worked for us. We were a little calmer."

Freshman guard Maddie Welter connected on a pair of three-pointers in under a minute in the third to give the Cougars the lead for the first time. Senior guard Mikayla Leyden drained a long-range shot at the third-quarter buzzer to head into the final 10 minutes ahead, 61-53 and the Cougars never looked back.

Junior center Collins continued to be a force on the glass as she pulled down a team-high 11 rebounds – 10 on the defensive end.  She also scored 18 points on the night to log her 20th double-double of the season.

Concordia, making its second national semifinal in three years, was led by junior Dani Andersen who recorded a team-high 21 points.

Collins had 21 points and a career-best 23 rebounds in a 69-53 victory over the College of the Ozarks in the quarterfinals Saturday to reach the Final Four.

SXU never trailed and led by as many as 24 points (33-9) in the second quarter.  Collins became just the second player in Saint Xavier women’s basketball history to grab 20 or more rebounds and score 20 or more points in a game.

Freshman forward Chanel Fanter added 12 points, six rebounds and three blocks to aid the victory. 

The Cougars set all kinds of records and milestones in a 96-66 over Friends University (Kan.) in the second round on Friday night. The team set a record for wins (32) and Krolicki became just the second player in program history to go over 2,000 points for her career as she scored 29 points. Morgan Stuut (2011-15) is the only other player in Cougar history to hit that mark. Senior Leyden set a single-game Cougars record for assists with 13 and broke the SXU career mark with 511.

The Cougars got off to a slow start falling behind by as many as seven points (12-5) near the midpoint of the first quarter but the team righted the ship and dominated the rest of the way.

The team opened the nationals with a 100-61 victory over Indiana University-Kokomo as Collins had 24 points and 12 rebounds. The team shot 63 percent from the field, with Collins dropping 11 of her 12 shots. It was the 12th time this season the Cougars scored in triple figures. 


Palos Hills mayor: We will protect our revenues from state

  • Written by Michael Gilbert

Palos Hills Mayor Gerald Bennett made it clear last week the city will not sit idly by should Illinois legislators try to slash the funds provided to local municipalities in an effort to help patch the state’s roughly $9 billion budget deficit.

“There has been some positioning down [in Springfield] about taking local government revenue and we are all over that,” Bennett told the council on March 2. “We are going to protect our revenues to the last breath.”

Bennett said he is “getting very, very concerned” the state is going into another year “without some type of a budget.”

“It’s getting more and more serious,” Bennett said of the state’s budget impasse. “When they don’t solve the problem they look for other revenue sources and for them it seems that when in doubt to go to local government sources.”

Bennett said he has heard from state Sen. Bill Cunningham (D-18th) and state Rep. Kelly Burke (D-36th) — both of whom represent Palos Hills — as well as other leaders in Springfield that it is not the state’s intention to take money from the Local Government Distributive Fund to shore up the budget. However, not all feel that way.

“There are some members in the General Assembly who want to go after that [LGDF] money,” Bennett said.

This is not the first time Bennett has had to take a stance against the state potentially cutting income tax revenues. In 2015, Gov. Bruce Rauner proposed reducing LGDF dollars in half, and last year there was a period of time the state briefly withheld distributing the money to local governments. Palos Hills receives about $2 million in income taxes from the state, Bennett said.

“That [$2 million] goes right into our general fund and it’s out of an operating fund of $8 million so you can see how significant it truly is for us,” he said. “It would be a huge disaster to not only our city but every city to lose that type of money.”

Bennett said his decision to discuss the state’s budget impasse at the council meeting last week was more to provide a notice to city officials than a call to action.

“It’s not yet the time for residents to write or call their legislators,” Bennett said. “I just wanted to put the council on notice that [the state] has not solved the budget crisis down there, and when those things are not solved they start looking at other avenues again.”  

The mayor noted the uncertainty surrounding the state’s budget will not prevent the city from moving forward and passing its own budget by May 1.

“We are going to go ahead and continue to present the budget with that revenue,” Bennett said. “Even if they were going to propose [cutting LGDF dollars] we wouldn’t know how much so there is no way I can try to budget on an assumption.”

In other news, Bennett said Palos Hills will recognize the 50th anniversary of Moraine Valley Community College by dedicating the fireworks show at this year’s Friendship Fest to the school.

The fireworks show typically concludes the four-day festival, which is held annually during the second week of July on the Moraine Valley Triangle. This is the first time in the fest’s nearly 40-year history that its fireworks show has been dedicated to anyone or an organization, Bennett said.

“Moraine Valley is a magnificent campus that we can all certainly be proud of,” Bennett said. “We are proud to be the home of Moraine Valley Community College and I congratulate them on their 50th anniversary.”

Bennett noted the college was founded by the Oak Lawn Rotary and enrollment was originally projected to be around 6,000 students. This school year has an enrollment of around 34,000 students, he said.

“The trickle effect of 34,000 students coming and going each day certainly adds to our economy,” Bennett said.

The mayor also praised the college for its “academic excellence.”

“The academic excellence provided to students is second to none [for a community college],” Bennett said. “They could write a book on stories of people who decided to go to junior college because they had no other option and went on to have great careers because of what they learned there.”

Bennett said the city has also invited MVCC officials to set up a booth at the event to share information about the school to event-goers.