Still reeling from June’s torrential downpour – a “wrath of God” storm, according to Fire Chief Steve Glinke – Forest Park residents were wrathed once again a month later as more overnight rain flooded the village.
The unforgiving rains caused devastating damage for property owners. Dozens of cars were submerged up to their hoods in oily water, washers and dryers floated around basements and a number of mattresses, couches, carpets, clothes, toys, photo albums and other items were utterly destroyed. The second storm, dumping about 7 inches of rain, temporarily shut down the Eisenhower Expressway and the Blue Line el tracks in Forest Park.
In the aftermath of the storms, the village increased the amount of garbage pickup as homeowners cleaned out ruined goods from filthy, water-logged rooms. The federal government later declared the village, as well as surrounding communities, a disaster area.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency toured Forest Park, assessing damage, and has since doled out more than $1 million in relief to property owners in the village, according to Mayor Anthony Calderone. Though the agency responded well to homeowners, FEMA has not come to the aid of village government, which racked up a $100,000 bill for “extraordinary expenses” due to the flooding. Cook County was just $2 million short of qualifying for federal aid, according to FEMA.
The disaster also pushed village hall to look into grants to help homeowners with the cost of installing various flood prevention systems on their properties.
A couple of fatal accidents in 2010 took the lives of three young Forest Park residents. In September, Lovie Sanders, a 39-year-old teacher, was hit by a car and killed as she crossed Madison Street to grab her morning coffee before work. Sanders, described as “very career and goal focused,” had taught at both the college and high school levels. A reading specialist, she focused on low-performing and under-resourced students.
More recently, 43-year-old Stephen Peters was shot and killed alongside a Chicago Police officer on the city’s Southeast Side after Peters’ Mustang – his pride and joy – was broken into while parked in his mother’s garage. The alleged robber, a 19-year-old male who lived nearby, reportedly returned to the scene of the theft to retrieve some hidden car parts when he saw the men standing in the alley by the garage, then fired shots and fled.
Peters, who had a special affinity for the Superman character, wrote on his Facebook page that he was “always smiling” and could “find something positive in any situation.”
Earlier in the year, Patrick J. DeCola, 46, died after he fell from the rooftop deck of a Forest Park apartment building. At the time of the incident, around 2 a.m., he had been arguing with men from the bar next door – a fight that apparently began over the noise from fireworks.
A woman who was involved in the dispute – the mother of his two children – said that DeCola was actually pulled over the railing of the deck, causing him to fall to his death in the alley below. Forest Park police, though, deemed it “an unfortunate accident.”
DeCola, a talented carpenter who could “build a home from the ground up,” was supposed to start a new job the Monday after he died.
Village acquires fire-damaged building
The two-flat at 512 Desplaines Ave., across the street from village hall, made the news numerous times throughout the past year. A fire at 3 a.m. on July 8 blazed through the building, totally destroying the roof and the interior. It took two and a half hours of work by several nearby fire departments to finally put out the inferno. Fortunately, no residents were home at the time.
It was later determined that the fire was caused by arson, allegedly started by Frank Corduan, a convicted sex offender living on the first floor of the building with a woman, believed to be his wife, and her 3-year-old daughter.
In the months that followed, the Village of Forest Park entered negotiations with Deutsche Bank, which acquired the property after it was foreclosed on, just days before the fire. The two struck a deal, though not official yet, and the bank has agreed to donate the property to Forest Park.
As for what will come of the abandoned building, a few ideas have surfaced, including turning it into a new village parking lot or a home for the Historical Society of Forest Park.
Roos negotiations continue
Another property in Forest Park caused a stir in 2010 – the Roos building.
At the beginning of the year, residents approved a tax referendum to fund the park district’s $6 million project to acquire the Roos property and develop the 2.5 acres into park space. The extra tax called for an additional 12 cents for every $100 of assessed property valuation. Later in the spring, an error by the park district was discovered and a bill had to be approved in Springfield to allow collection of the money. As of now, the park district is still in negotiations with the bank to purchase the land for $1.9 million.
Meanwhile, the building itself has been deteriorating. Steve Glinke, fire chief and head of the Department of Public Health and Safety, described it as “a house of cards,” especially dangerous because of its close proximity to the Eisenhower Expressway.
“This thing is going to tumble, and we’re just hopeful it’s not going to tumble with someone in it,” he told the Review. The past few months Glinke has been imposing fines on the building on a daily basis – totaling more than $16,500 in citations. Some work has been completed securing the building but more still needs to be done – including the hiring of a structural engineer to assess the soundness of the structure.
Hello, Farmers Market
This past summer, Forest Park saw the debut of its first farmers market, open every other Friday night in the parking lot of the Community Center.
Kim Zandstra, a Forest Park resident and proponent of organic food, spearheaded the effort to bring local, fresh food to the community. A multitude of vendors signed up for the market and offered a wide range of products, including meat and fish, organic tomato sauce and salsas, ice cream, specialty caramel corn, dog treats, breads, honey, hot sauces and skin care products. Purveyors were either local farmers who raise their own produce or animals or local businesses. Those who did canning, made salsa or offered baked goods were required to use at least 25 percent local ingredients.
Vendors were also asked to make a donation of $10 worth of food to the Forest Park Food Pantry.
Many deemed the market a success, especially considering most markets in the area were facing low attendance in the aftermath of the flooding and because of the high summer heat. Zandstra had said she was going to look into opening the market once a week next year.
Circle Theatre moves to Oak Park
After more than 20 years in Forest Park, one of the village’s prized venues – Circle Theatre – performed its last show, The Philadelphia Story, at 7300 Madison St. in September.
The award-winning theater company signed a 14-month lease at the Village Players building two blocks away at 1010 Madison St. in Oak Park while they search for a permanent home.
Circle, which began in Forest Park, has been named Chicago’s favorite theater by Channel 7 viewers and called “theater at its best” by Chicago Sun-Times critic Hedy Weiss. Many also praised the theater as a destination point which drew people into the village.
But actors and staff had to deal with a number of troubling maintenance issues at the building on Madison Street, including leaking ceilings and a crowded lobby. Artistic Director Kevin Bellie said the new spot offers more space, better lighting, more comfortable seating and improved bathrooms.
Forest Park salutes U.S. troops
On Sept. 2, Forest Park hosted a warm celebration welcoming home 25 soldiers from the 318th Public Affairs Operation Army Reserve Unit, which is based in Forest Park. The troops were the first group of American soldiers to return to the Chicago area from Iraq since President Barack Obama declared an end to the U.S. combat mission in Iraq.
After a one-year deployment in Baghdad serving as media liaisons, the soldiers arrived to Chicago in the morning and received a standing ovation as they walked through the concourse at O’Hare Airport. Friends and family were brought to tears as they greeted loved ones.
From the airport, the troops and their families rode in police-escorted buses through nine different towns on their way to Forest Park. Hundreds of people lined the streets, waving, saluting and whistling their appreciation.
Gov. Pat Quinn joined the parade outside the reserve center on Roosevelt Road in Forest Park. The motorcade then made its way down Madison Street and eventually ended at a grand celebration in The Park, where a large crowd – including school children dressed in red, white and blue – welcomed the soldiers home.
Teaching good behavior
The schools, library, community center, park district and police department joined forces to teach kids how to be responsible, respectful and safe through an innovative new method called Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports.
PBIS was first implemented in the schools, but Forest Park has recently become one of the few places in the country to start using the educational curriculum across the entire village. The goal is to deliver the same message about proper social behavior to children throughout town – not just at school.
One way of doing that is by modeling what they should do, rather than simply telling them what they should not do. Instead of “Don’t walk on the grass,” PBIS recommends, “Please walk on the sidewalk.”
As Beth Kovacic, assistant principal at the middle school, told the Review, “You can’t expect kids to act a certain way until you teach them first.”
The data-driven program has shown astounding results at the schools, with a 50-percent reduction in infractions at the middle school compared to last year.
Representatives from various community groups have been through PBIS training and are now trying to figure out how best to make it work throughout the whole village.
Police focus on rental housing
Another new program was initiated – this one aimed at combating gang- and drug-related problems that plague the village.
Police have identified rental properties that have become a troublesome spot for criminal activity because tenants are more transient. Through the Crime Free Multi-Housing Program, the department has begun to target landlords who lease these units and introduce a unique concept of crime prevention.
In multiple phases, police teach building owners how to prevent criminal activity on their properties, including tips on how to better light and secure the property, as well as how to conduct background checks on prospective tenants. Police hope the efforts will result in fewer “problem tenants” – and therefore less crime.
One of the drawbacks as the police move forward with the initiative is that the program – which includes seminars and other informational tools – is voluntary, and landlords who need it most might not take the time to attend, according to Detective Mike O’Connor, program coordinator.
Zoning ordinance changes
The village council approved an amendment to the Forest Park Zoning Ordinance that simplifies the zoning process for owners of legal, non-conforming two-flats.
The reform allows owners of such two-flats the same rights as residents who own single family homes in the village, in terms of building additions or making other improvements to their property. If more than half of the two-flat is burned or destroyed, owners will now be allowed to rebuild the property as it once was – as a two-flat. The changes do not apply to owners of coach houses, however.
Speaking of zoning, a couple of local businesses created a stir earlier this year because they were not in compliance in the downtown business district. In the Team Blonde case, the boutique had been offering spa services despite an ordinance that mandates 500 feet separating businesses that offer personal grooming. A long battle ensued as the opposing sides debated whether or not Team Blonde should be granted an amendment to allow them to operate with a license.
“This has gone on long enough,” Mayor Anthony Calderone said at the final meeting on the matter. “And it’s been an emotional matter for our business community. The competition is lined up here in the front, and this is a very touchy situation.”
The council eventually approved changes that allowed Team Blonde to offer facials, massages, hairdressing and nail treatments in the salon located at the back of the shop.
Another controversial zoning matter developed during the restaurant expansion at Gaetano’s, which was found to be in violation of a number of zoning rules and building codes. The addition, for instance, had been approved as a beer garden, but after construction, the section was fully enclosed for year-round use. Village council ended up approving a zoning variance that brought the addition into compliance.