What happened in the village in 2014? Time to look back over the year at Forest Park’s biggest stories:
Medical Marijuana – at a corner near you?
Four, and then three, Forest Park companies rushed their paperwork together to apply for a license to open one of 60 medical cannabis dispensaries allowed in the state.
Clerical screw-ups meant Zoning Board of Appeals meetings were set up, then cancelled, then set up again, then rendered null. Public comment went on for hours as neighbors filled village hall and objected, submitted petitions and complained.
One hopeful, St. Fiacre’s, proposed for the old Kevil’s site at 7228 Circle Ave., was denied zoning approval at one meeting. That meeting was declared void because zoning notices had been sent to the wrong addresses. St. Fiacre’s was approved at the second ZBA meeting.
Green MC Meds, represented by former Oak Park and River Forest High School basketball star Evan Hilton was approved for “Mon Cherie” at the old WaMu Bank location, 7501 Roosevelt Road. Curative Health, LLC, got approval for a remodel of the old blade-sharpening business at 7621 Roosevelt. A fourth company withdrew an application to remodel the old Deal$ dollar store, 7709 Roosevelt, possibly because it is within 1,000 feet of a private home daycare on Dunlop Avenue.
The state will announce in the new year the winner of the single medical marijuana dispensary license in a region that includes Forest Park and covers Proviso, Leyden and Norwood townships.
Roos project rakes in the grants
The Park District of Forest Park snagged a handful of significant grants in 2014 that will help build the indoor gym recreation center that the park district has been promising since a referendum passed in 2010. The gym will be built in the 7300 block of Harrison Street at the site of the former E.D. Roos factory building.
In August, the park district received $2.5 million as part of a Parks and Recreational Facility Construction (PARC) grant. Then-Gov. Pat Quinn came to town with his best campaign smile to announce the grant, which will be funded under the Illinois Jobs Now! construction initiative.
Shortly thereafter, 4th District state Sen. Kimberly Lightford arrived in Forest Park with a further $1 million grant from the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity. The grant came with no strings attached. It can be used for anything inside the building or outside on the grounds.
The first step will be to clean up any industrial pollution that may remain from the factory days. The park district performed an initial assessment and found small amounts of multiple hazardous substances, mostly located near an old loading dock in the center of the property.
The park district received a $165,000 “brownfield remediation assessment” grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to get a handle on the contamination and recommend a cleanup strategy and timetable. In December, engineers from St. John-Mittelhauser & Assoc. of Downer’s Grove took soil borings to measure contamination.
Still in the running:The park district is still waiting to hear if it will be awarded a U.S. EPA $200,000 brownfield cleanup grant that could help pay for the remediation.
They are also waiting to hear if an OSLAD (Open Space Land Acquisition and Development) grant up to $400,000 for landscaping and grounds outside the new facility will come through. They’ll find out in the spring.
Park District Executive Director Larry Piekarz said ground will be broken in the spring on the new facility. Estimated total costs have been pegged at $6.2 million. The parks started the project with $3 million in the bank.
Comprehensive plan complete
The Village of Forest Park completed its two-year comprehensive plan update, which was approved by the village council on Dec. 15.
For two years, Naperville-based Consultants Images Inc. held focus groups and met with the Village Plan Commission as well as council members. But an online survey drew disappointing results when only 242 people participated, and the www.pictureforestpark.net website experienced glitches and hiccups when information wasn’t updated for months after meetings and workshops.
Commissioners grumbled that the company lost its way when the lead planner left for another company. Commissioner Chris Harris said he was disappointed that a community survey on the future of the village-owned Altenheim property was folded into the plan process and that so few participated.
The survey showed residents preferred green space, but the initial drafts of the plan recommended developing the 7-acre parcel with empty-nester townhouses, senior-friendly ranch houses or a low-income, assisted-living community. Images altered the plan to recommend that a green space study be completed.
Commissioner Tom Mannix criticized the consultants for waiting months between steering committee meetings and for not reaching out to more residents.
Zoning updates recommended in the plan caused Realtor (and Review columnist) Sharon Daly to write that this would possibly make it harder to sell multi-unit buildings up-zoned into single family residential zones.
Images will be paid $100,000 through a grant from the U.S. Health and Human Services Dept. (HUD). The plan update was a mandatory requirement for the village to receive a portion of a 2011 regional $7 million grant from the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity and administered through the West Cook County Housing Collaborative and the village of Oak Park.
Police settlements paid
The village of Forest Park paid out two six-figure settlements in police misconduct lawsuits in federal court. In March, the village council voted to pay a $175,000 settlement to Richard Schmidt, a former Chicago police officer who alleged three Forest Park officers used excessive force in the lockup when he was arrested after the St. Patrick’s Day Parade in 2008. According to the complaint, within 52 seconds, Forest Park officers shot Schmidt 4-5 times with a stun gun and applied three Taser cycles to his legs.
In April, the village council approved a $650,000 settlement to a former female police department intern, then age 19, who alleged she was attacked and sexually assaulted in 2011 by an officer while on patrol as part of an underage “alcohol sting.”
Lawyers for Jane Doe asserted she was at work because she had made an agreement to perform underage stings in exchange for forgiveness for $3,000 in racked-up parking violation fines. Forest Park Police Detective Young Lee was given a 30-day suspension and demoted to patrol officer.
Referendum approved, infrastructure repairs planned
Voters approved, 57-43 percent, an additional .5 percent sales tax for infrastructure repairs in the March 18 primary election. The funds should generate about $1 million per year, said Village Administrator Tim Gillian. This cash could be used for alley repair or pooled with a municipal contribution toward a regional grant to repair and replace the village’s aging and under-performing combined sewer system.
In June, Gillian and Christopher Burke Engineering unveiled a five-year infrastructure plan, calling for a sewer evaluation study that would replace 4-inch water mains and sewer pipes with 8-inch pipes in a “tiered plan” throughout the village. The plan would also work in beautification plans with River Forest on Madison Street west of Desplaines Avenue, and Roosevelt Road upgrades paid for with TIF funds and a $2.3 million grant from the Illinois Dept. of Transportation (IDOT).
The village also received $500,000 in Illinois Green Infrastructure grants from the Illinois Jobs Now! program in October as part of the Illinois EPA Clean Water Initiative. The money will be used to create two permeable “green” alleys and disconnect downspouts on 80 homes that run into the storm sewers.
August flooding woes, January grants available
Infrastructure talk couldn’t come soon enough for Forest Parkers after Aug. 22, when a slow-moving storm dumped 4 inches of rain and brought seepage and sewer backups into basements.
“It just keeps happening. I go down there with bleach water and Pine Sol,” said Shirley Roberts, who lives in her parents’ house in the 800 block of Hannah.
Neighbors said they felt like sitting ducks because of the regional change in weather patterns, which has brought flooding to near-western suburbs for the past five years.
The village has assistance money available if Forest Parkers choose to install a flood prevention system in their home. The flood remediation grant program awards up to 50 percent of the cost of installation of an approved system up to $1,500 (or $2,000 maximum for low-income households.)
Two estimates are required from qualified, licensed contractors. After the project is complete, homeowners submit a receipt to receive the funds. The village has paid out $70,000 since 2010 to homeowners.
Even though it’s January, this is the time to think about applying for the grant. The window to apply is Jan. 1-Feb. 15.
Historical Society museum, village office space
The Historical Society of Forest Park, after moving three times since it was reconstituted, finally secured exhibit space to display part of its collection on Saturdays in 1st United Church, 1000 S. Elgin Ave. The society also moved its files to a village-owned apartment space above the police department.
In April, the society-published Des Plaines River Anthology: Historic voices from the graveyards of Forest Park won top honors from the Illinois State Historical Society.
Board President Bob Cox, a noted local preservationist, stepped down after a disagreement over whether the society should be all-volunteer or continue to employ an executive director.
To honor its 40th anniversary this year, the society will give special awards for “Centenary Club” families, businesses and institutions that have been in Forest Park for 100 years. The historical society will also work with the Eastland Disaster Historical Society to plan activities to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Chicago passenger boat, the S.S. Eastland, on July 23, 1915, where 848 victims drowned. Seventy Eastland victims are buried in Forest Park cemeteries.
Saggy Pants ordinance tabled
Forest Park’s village council drew cameras from Chicago television stations and a reporter from the Chicago Tribune, Nov. 10, when an item on the agenda proposed that police write tickets to wearers of saggy pants with exposed underpants for fines up to $750.
Neither Police Chief Jim Ryan nor Deputy Chief Tom Aftanas had heard anything about the ordinance prior to the meeting.
The council ended up tabling the ordinance after public commenters argued that, though the fashion was obnoxious, the rule might violate free speech and be used to harass young men of color on the street.
“The Forest Park police should not become the fashion police,” said District 91 school board member Sean Blaylock before the meeting.
Mayor Anthony Calderone said he was going to create a village diversity committee and vowed to bring back the tweak to the indecent conduct section of the village code.
This article has been updated to correct the amounts of two grants for which the Park District of Forest Park is still waiting to hear. The OSLAD grant for landscaping at the Roos site can be for up to $400,000. The U.S. EPA grant for brouwnfield cleanup can be up to $200,000.