Palos Hills approves ordinance for four chickens per family

  • Written by Michael Gilbert

Palos Hills officials believe their fowl ordinance is now a bit more fair.

The city council voted 7-2 with one abstention to amend its chicken ordinance Sept. 15. The most noteworthy change is in the number of years granted for one to comply with the city’s rule that no homeowner may own more than four chickens.

When the ordinance was approved in 2015 it stated residents who had more than four chickens on their property had three years to get in compliance. City officials opted to amend the ordinance last week to give residents up to five years to comply. Ald. Joan Knox (1st Ward), who serves as chairwoman of the legislation and ordinance committee, said the impetus to grant an additional two years came after a resident who owns 15 chickens told city officials that three years may not be adequate time for some of her fowl to live out the rest of their lives.

Ald. Ricky Moore (4th Ward) was the most vocal in granting an additional two years. With the average lifespan of a chicken around seven years the thought by the council was most chickens will have reached the end of their life within five years. Residents with more than four chickens may not replace any chicken that dies or is lost if it would push the number of chickens they own past four.

“I would rather error on giving citizens more than enough time,” Moore said. I’m going to support amending the ordinance to allow for five years instead of three.”

Ald. Mary Ann Schultz (5th Ward) and Marty Kleefisch (1st Ward) cast the votes against amending the ordinance while Ald. Pauline Stratton (2nd Ward) abstained from voting.

Schultz said after the council meeting that she believed three years was an “adequate amount of time to comply” with the ordinance and did not believe granting an additional two years was necessary.

“If you want to keep 15 chickens then buy a farm,” Schultz said. “I’m sorry but I would not want to live next to someone who has 15 chickens.

“I have no problem with someone keeping a chicken or two in town it’s just that having a dozen or more can get excessive.”

Prior to approving the chicken ordinance last year, Palos Hills had no restriction on the number of chickens a resident could own. The city settled on the number four after taking into consideration average lot sizes and researching chicken ordinances in other municipalities, Knox said.

“Probably the most thought about the ordinance went into the number (of chickens one can keep),” Knox said. “We tried to be fair when it comes to lot size because we have some very big lots and we have tiny lots in Palos Hills. The council kind of debated the number back and forth and four (chickens) was kind of the general consensus. That was the number we were most OK with.

“I think there were some residents that had a lot of chickens and their neighbors weren’t really loving the idea,” Knox said. “We tried to make it equitable for everyone.”

The ordinance prohibits any chicken from roaming at large and instead the bird must be kept in a coop or run, which must also be located in the rear of the yard at least 25 feet from the property line and at least 25 feet from another house. In addition, the coup shall provide a minimum of four square feet of floor area per chicken and the run provide a minimum of eight square feet of floor area per chicken. The ordinance requires those residents who wish to maintain chickens on their property to purchase a coop permit at a fee of $25. Residents must also register their chickens with the city, but there is no fee for the registration.

Those found to have more than four chickens without the grandfather clause are subject to a fine of $80 per day, according to Beverly Williams, the city’s animal control officer.

In other news, Ald. Mark Brachman (2nd Ward) told the council he would like to see a way in which the city could assist those residents who have to remove dead ash trees from their properties.

Brachman said he would be in favor of the city working with a contractor to offer discounts to residents who have to rid deceased ash trees from their yards.

Mayor Gerald Bennett said residents could contact the city and Public Works Commissioner Dave Weakley could recommend a nursery, but he was uneasy about contracting a company to offer reduced rates to residents.

“We can talk to someone about doing that but the problem we’d have is if something does go wrong it could turn around and bite us,” Bennett said. “What happens if we recommend some contractor and then the tree end up dying within a year?”

“It’s a bit of a sticky wicket,” Weakley said. “If we start making these recommendations to specific contractors it’s like we are creating an exclusivity to that particular contractor and then other contractors are offended by that and could call us out saying we are showing favoritism.

“I’m much more comfortable recommending registered contractors that are in our building department’s registry.”

Brachman said after the meeting he had a solution if a contractor came to the city and was upset there was a discounted program with another contractor.

“My feeling is that’s fine then do it for the same price,” Brachman said.

Brachman said he will discuss the idea with Weakley in the near future but was uncertain his plan would become a reality.  

Sabre Room auction officially closes out once popular hall

  • Written by Dermot Connolly

sabre room sabres photo 9-22

Photo by Dermot Connolly

Auctioneer Bret Walters sells a pair of swords that had once been on display in the Sabre Room, 8900 W. 95th St., Hickory Hills.

The Sabre Room has been closed since May, and on Sept. 14, just about everything in the iconic banquet hall at 8900 W. 95th St. in Hickory Hills went up for auction, including the kitchen sink.

More than 150 people signed up in person as bidders for the all-day event, and hundreds more were bidding online at the live auctions held from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. by Grafe Auction Company. Many restaurant owners were among the bidders, and they went away with vans loaded with china plates, cups and glassware, pots and pans, and even stone planters. But quite a few seemed to have come for nostalgic reasons, hoping to get one last look, and maybe pick up a souvenir or two, from a place they remembered visiting on all sorts of happy occasions.

Arnold and Marie Muzzarelli opened the Sabre Room in 1949, on the 30-acre grounds of the former Dynell Spring Spa. The Muzzarellis had connections in the entertainment business, and seating for more than 2,500 people, so top stars began performing in the 10,000-square-foot building. During its heyday, with Frank Sinatra appearing in 1976, and Dean Martin in 1977, the Sabre Room became one of the most popular concert venues in the Chicago area. Elvis Presley, as well as Liberace, Bob Hope, Dorothy Lamour and Rudy Vallee also made appearances.

“It is a neat, historical event,” said auctioneer Bret Walters, as he led a group of bidders from one banquet hall to another, selling everything with a numbered tag on it. He said as many as 600 people could have been involved in the bidding, conceivably from anywhere in the world.

He reminded his audience that Elvis had appeared there, as he held up a compilation of Presley’s music, which was quickly snapped up for about $60. Beside it was a one-of-a-kind ship made out of cooling racks by one of the chefs, just one indication of the plethora of things that were available for sale.

Among the other music-related items that Walters sold was a collection of 45 rpm records.

He also sold two antique swords that had been on display on one of the walls.

Mellody Kelleher, of Chicago Ridge, did not get the swords, but she was able to buy a set of bongos that she had her eye on.

Each banquet room had its own free-standing bar, and each of them were up for sale as well.

“My brother’s wedding reception was here, and my aunt was one of the (Sabrette) dancers for many years, so being here brings back a lot of happy memories,” she said. “I was happy to get the bongos.”

More often in recent years, wedding receptions, New Year’s Eve parties, quinceaneras and other social and ethnic events were held in its spacious rooms. And a collection of New Year’s Eve hats was among the least expensive items for sale in the main kitchen.

Judd Grafe held court there, running the auction for the “back of the house,” while Walters ran the front. In the kitchen, he sold everything from a chocolate fountain tht was popular at parties, up to the ovens and chef’s islands that included sinks and warmers.

Hector Brambila, of Chicago, was looking for supplies for a bakery he is opening, and picked up industrial-size mixers, some antique mixing paddles sold separately, and large bowls as well.

“There are some good deals here, but you have to pay attention,” said Brambila. “Some things are expensive, and a lot of it is old. I think some people forget that they have to pay a premium on top of the auction price too,” he added.

Keith Vanselor, of Oak Lawn, said he wasn’t looking to buy anything in particular, but just wanted to see the place one last time.

“I didn’t see any of the big names here, but I was at a lot of events here over the years. It is a shame to see places like this go. With the Martinique already gone, it was the last of its kind.”

Hickory Hills officials said back when the Sabre Room closed in May that the 30-acre site will not be broken up into separate parcels. Expectations are that it will eventually be turned into a mixed-use development of businesses and residences, but no definite plans have been presented yet.

Message of Columbine victim inspires District 124 students

  • Written by Claudia Parker

Rachel Joy Scott’s life was cut short during the Columbine High School shootings in Colorado on April 20, 1999.

But her short life still has meaning all these years later. Evergreen Park Elementary School District 124 accepted “Rachel’s Challenge” to start a chain reaction of kindness, which took place last week. All District 124 students in kindergarten through eighth grade were encouraged – and ultimately challenged – in developmentally appropriate ways to choose kindness over prejudice, bigotry and apathy.

District 124 students and parents listened as Rachel’s uncle, Larry Scott, shared the inspiring true story of her dream being fulfilled over a decade after her death. The acts of kindness Rachel displayed in her short 17 years of life provide a powerful reminder of the little things everyone can do each day to make the world a better place, he said. Rachel wrote in one of the many essays that her uncle shared, “You never know how far a little kindness can go.”

“Rachel was the first student to die in the Columbine shootings,” said Scott. “Her death devastated our family. She was the middle child of five; she had two sisters and two brothers.”

Scott said that Rachel kept journals to chronicle her thoughts and good deeds. Those journals unveiled that Rachel had wisdom beyond a typical 17-year-old girl. “She knew she was going to die before her time and she knew her life was going to impact millions of people,” said Scott.

According to Scott, Rachel’s Challenge has been facilitated in over 20,000 schools nationally and internationally combined. It’s a message of hope, inspiration and a call to action to change the world for the better.

“I believe true healing happens when we use our lives to help others to the extent we’ve been hurt,” said Scott. “Today our family is doing well and that’s largely because of our faith and the work we’ve done through Rachel’s Challenge.”

Last week marked the third year for Rachel’s Challenge in District 124. Supt. Dr. Robert Machak said that the program continues to positively impact the school community.

“Our disciplinary numbers go down every year; the Challenge is a big part of it,” said Machak. ”It’s really about accountability to ourselves and to one another -- the idea of setting goals and writing them down, signing your name to the banner, these all speak to the real commitment we are making to try to get better every day.”

The banner is a large poster passed around each school that every student and staff member is invited -- not required -- to sign. By signing it, participants agree to honor the five tenets of Rachel’s Challenge, which include using kind words and doing kind things for others.

In referencing the banner in his meeting with District 124 parents last week, Scott said, “Tell (your children) not to sign it if they don’t mean it.”

Chicago Ridge targets rat population

  • Written by Dermot Connolly

Chicago Ridge officials promised to remedy a rat problem that is concerning many residents, as evidenced by the standing-room-only crowd at a town hall meeting on the issue Saturday morning at Village Hall.

Nathan Comanse, of Guardian Pest Control, spoke during the three-hour meeting about the work his company has done since being hired four months ago, and what residents and businesses can do to reduce the rodent population.

“Everyone has to work as a team,” he said.

Many residents become alarmed when they heard the village had closed the Royal Palace banquet facility indefinitely last week due to a rat infestation found in the basement of the building at 6254 W. 111th St. A broken dumpster behind the Pepe’s restaurant at 6336 W. 111th St. has turned into a feeding ground for rats, infuriating nearby residents who are finding rats in their yards. Other badly maintained dumpsters behind some multi-unit buildings around the village have also been blamed.

When asked how the problem at Royal Palace could be allowed to get so bad, Trustee Bill McFarland said the latest available paperwork shows that an inspection of the property was done last April. However, Trustee Bruce Quintos argued that several other documents provided to trustees indicate there had not been an inspection since last year. He said the information showing the April inspection was not date-stamped, and was only turned in to the village by the health inspector on Friday.

“It could be a clerical error,” said McFarland after the meeting, acknowledging that trustees were given three different documents with conflicting data about when inspections were done.

Comanse focused much of his talk on what residents can do to help solve the problem. He said preventing rats from getting access to the “food, structure and water” they need to survive is the first step. “There are no free rides, Make life as difficult as possible for them.”

The exterminator said the poison bait his company puts outs “is only good if something eats it. Rats aren’t really picky, but they know what they like. If they have other preferred foods available, they won’t eat bait.”

“Dog feces is a fine food source for rats. It is like filet mignon for them, unfortunately,” he said, stressing the need to pick up after dogs immediately, on public streets as well as yards.

Comanse also advised against using birdfeeders, because rats and mice eat the seeds that get scattered on the ground.

He said rats live near water sources, and fixing leaky spigots and pipes would cut off access to it. He said just as with mosquito prevention, getting rid of any standing water is also be helpful,

When a woman asked if she should drain her backyard pond, Comanse said no.

“If it provides you with enjoyment, there is no need to go that far,” he said. “You’re never going get rid of all the water sources.”

Keeping properties well-maintained, without high grass or woodpiles or debris for rats to hide or nest under is also advisable, he said.

“We don’t want to incite panic,” said Trustee Sally Durkin, pointing out that officials from neighboring communities such as Oak Lawn, Worth and Alsip have reported similar problems.

After a couple of residents reported seeing “hundreds” of rats in place, or being afraid to go outside, Comanse cautioned against exaggerating the numbers involved, and or the danger posed to humans.

“It’s really easy for fear to take over. When people start talking about hundreds or thousands of rats, I have to say that those numbers are very unlikely. While he said that rats can give birth seven times a year, to as many as 12 per litter, he never encountered more than 40 rats in one place.

“Unless you’re trying to feed them by hand, there is little chance of being bitten,” he added. He said most rat bites are inflicted on children sleeping on floors, often with crumbs on them. He also noted that the active ingredient in modern rat poison is an anticoagulant similar to the drug Coumadin or warfarin and would have little effect on humans or dogs or cats.

“I’ve learned more about rats than I ever thought possible. We have to take this to heart and make changes and make changes to the way we live. If we all work together, and this means the businesses too, we can solve this,” said Mayor Chuck Tokar.

“If we have to pay more, we’re going to pay more,” said Tokar.

He pointed out that the multi-unit buildings and businesses identified as problems have already been given seven-day notices to clear up the problem. Otherwise, fines will be imposed and more businesses could be closed.

Last week, the village board authorized the hiring of four part-time property inspectors to help deal with the problem, and earlier this year, fines were raised to as much as $750 for ongoing problems with dumpsters.

Responding to residents complaining of getting no response when calling the village about rat problems, Trustee Jack Lind said that would be fixed too.

“We’re putting our money where our mouth is. If you’re telling me that no one is calling you back, it is not sitting well with us. The situation will be rectified or people will lose their jobs,” said Lind.

Chicago Ridge Board settles in court case involving former police officials

  • Written by Dermot Connolly

The Chicago Ridge Village Board at its Sept. 6 meeting approved a $200,000 payout to settle the village’s part in a Cook County court case involving former Police Chief Tim Baldermann and former Deputy Chief Dennis Kapelinski.

The vote was 5-1 to approve the settlement, with only Trustee Bruce Quintos voting against it.

“I am against the deal. I am against any settlement,” said Quintos.

The case dates back to 2010, when Baldermann left on disability and Kapelinski retired from the police department.

Tokar pointed out that the suit against the former officials was originally filed by the Police Pension Board, and the village signed on later. The Police Pension Board is seeking to amend a disability package extended to the village’s former police chief, and the retirement package awarded to Kapelinski.

The issue centers around how their final salary figures were calculated to determine their benefit packages, with the value of accrued vacation time added to the final salary figures, resulting in “pension spikes.”’

When a resident asked during public comment why the village was settling, Tokar said it would actually save the village money. “We’ve had bills of $15,000 and $17,000 per month on this,” said Tokar.

“It is almost always better to settle and get half a loaf, than maybe not get anything at all. The court could end up ruling against us,” said the mayor.

Tokar pointed out after the meeting that Quintos was a trustee when the pension spikes were approved, and he voted for them. “I was the village clerk, without a vote. I had nothing to do with it,” he added.

The mayor said that since the Pension Board is continuing with its lawsuit, there is a chance that much of the $200,000 could end up back in the village coffers if the board wins the case.

Quintos acknowledged that he did vote for the pension spikes, but blames what he called bad advice the board received from the law firm of Odelson & Sterk.

“That is a vote I regret to this day,” said Quintos this week, asserting that it was worth continuing to fight the case.

“So far, we are winning, winning, winning,” he said.

As a result of the pension spike issue, the Pension Board filed a lawsuit against Odelson & Sterk, which conducted Baldermann’s disability hearing. The board alleged that the firm was “careless and negligent” for signing off on the final salary figure used to calculate the former chief’s disability package. But Burt Odelson said his firm only conducted a disability hearing, and did not provide any advice

The issue caused a rift on the Village Board this year as well, after Tokar appointed Odelson as village attorney without the approval of a majority of the trustees. Five of the six trustees then approved an ordinance requiring a board majority to approve all mayoral appointments, which led Tokar to file suit against the board. He is seeking a declaratory judgment, maintaining that the move was unconstitutional because it changed the way the village is governed without a referendum.