Archive for September, 2011

Where there is smoke..

Friday, September 23rd, 2011

It might have been a cool fall evening but the temperature inside the village hall at the Wednesday committee meeting was feverish. Trustee Ed Rusch Jr., who oversees the ordinance, license and public printing committee, used the first 45 minutes of the committee meeting to moderate a discussion with residents regarding the proposed changes in the village smoking ordinance. The changes would open the path to allow smoking establishments (defined as retail tobacco stores) to set up business in town after meeting stringent criteria. The criteria to be considered a retail tobacco store prohibits the business from holding any food, liquor or restaurant license. The establishment must derive more than 80% of its gross revenue from the sale of loose tobacco, plants, or herbs and cigars, cigarettes, pipes, and other smoking devices for burning tobacco and related smoking accessories, the sale of all other products must be considered incidental. One such business that is being proposed is said to be called Musica Café, the potential owners, would like to bring a hookah lounge to Justice at the building at the intersection of 79th street and 85th Avenue.
Due to the efforts of Trustee Rusch many residents in the surrounding neighborhood were notified and able to come out and discuss their concerns and questions regarding hookah bars. Some of the concerns expressed were a lack of parking in the area, the increase of traffic flow to the neighborhood, health risks and concerns, similar businesses in surrounding communities failing, the proposed late hour of the business being open causing a noise disruption to surrounding homes and how to determine the increased financial benefit to the village. Other residents simply came to find out what a hookah bar is. The potential business owner sat in the audience listening, later he spoke and took the floor, encouraging people to be tolerant and accepting of the establishment citing cultural differences for the lack of understanding as to what exactly the proposed business is and will promote. He also lashed out against a group of people who have surreptitiously come out against the proposed establishment by childishly defacing a village logo, surrounding it with smoke and a hookah, and circulating the image on the internet. Then he launched into a tirade directed at John Koslowski, a previously failed People’s Voice Party trustee candidate. He went onto accuse him of making this a political situation, then went onto say that Mr. Koslowski was more than willing to reach out to him and use his help and influence last election in an attempt to gain ground with the voting bloc in the Arab American community.
A hookah lounge, also known as a shisha bar, are establishments where customers share flavored tobacco from a communal hookah which is set up on individual tables. Clean individual mouthpieces are purchased for hygiene purposes. An individual smoking session can last for 40 or more minutes. Popular across Europe and gaining ground in North America in recent years hookah’s have been part of the culture in the middle east since their inception in India in the 1500’s.
One thing that was perfectly clear at last night’s meeting; there are firey opinions on all sides of this situation.

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Compass Travel Center/Toll Ramp News

Friday, September 23rd, 2011

Greetings Travelers! If a proposal made by Roy Dobrasinovic of Compass Holding LLC wins the day that is a sound you might hear around here. The July 20, 2011 committee meeting was the latest setting for residents, planners and local officials to be presented with new details of this much talked about project. The meeting was filled with many curious, concerned and worried residents. Among the crowd, former elected officers and past and future hopefuls of the Peoples Voice Party made their presence known as they tried to sway the crowd with concerns that were sometimes realistic and other times not so much. They placed a cameraman to film the meeting, but for what purpose? When the proposal was concluded and all of the questions answered, the villagers emptied out of the room and set off into the hot night. Other important issues were discussed next that evening but without as much fanfare. Local politicians and activists need to take interest in all meetings from beginning to end. The truck/toll ramp discussion was the reason most of the people came out and was quite interesting.
Presenters showed renderings of what the site could look like. They are proposing a four-story building. The ground floor would be for customers to purchase convenience items related to their traveling. Two restaurants would anchor the plan, one a sit down concept and the other fast food. Gasoline and diesel fuel would be sold to customers of the stop.
The second floor would serve as insurance and dental offices. Other types of professional services geared toward truck drivers, commuters, and families traveling the Tollway by auto or RV could also take up space. A barbershop was one example of the many types of businesses that could locate on this floor too according to the developer.
The third and fourth floors would offer a forty-room motel for people to stay as they travel to their destinations up and down the Tollway. The whole structure would be built of steel, brick and glass with green-building practices utilized. The building would be constructed in a manner that would be appealing from every direction.
Trucks would be segregated to a separate parking area away from cars, for safety purposes. New Tollway entrance and exit ramps would be separated from 88th avenue local traffic. Plans call for a service bay for semi trucks and a canopy covered gas station area. Instead of idling, cabs will have the ability to hook up to a combination heating and air-cooling service module that also includes electric outlets and telecommunication ports. A system representative from Idleair spoke about the service and claimed a savings of a tenth to that of idling. It was brought up that the village board could pass a law in conjunction with the project to outlaw idling. If such a law were passed it would affect every area of town. Will the Justice police be able to maintain control of idling trucks through out the village?
On the revenue side of the program, the Compass group tried to calculate tax money the project should bring to the village annually. Projected sales tax revenue from fuel purchases is estimated at $540,000.00 on sales of $54,000,000.00. Sales tax estimates on restaurant purchases are anticipated to be $24,000.00. Motel tax will add $39,500.00. However, Illinois law only allows for motel tax money to be spent promoting tourism. The new building would also pay a higher property tax than all structures currently occupying the site.
If this were all that would be considered of the project, the subject could sway most people. However, the developer is asking for incentives. The development sits in a Tax Increment Financing district. As such, the developer has requested tapping bonds the TIF has available; to give between 15-20 million dollars he wants in assistance. Such costly obligations would almost certainly force the increased tax in property value, for the building and other structures, to be held up for the estimated 20-year life of the TIF. Compass LLC is also asking for half of the projected sales tax revenue to be rebated back to them for 20 years as well. It was not disclosed how much money private investors could add to offset the developer costs or if that was a better option. Added to the costs is the acquisition of private property the village would be required to negotiate, and then sell back to the developer for $1.00 per home, leading many familiar with the proposal in its current state to believe the incentives the developer wants are too much to make the project work. Village Voice trustees are concerned over giving away too many incentives, trustee Sue Small (VVP) gave the opinion, ”The developer didn’t offer to put any of his own money up.”
The construction of Toll ramps is central to the proposed business. The Travel Center cannot operate without the addition of new exit and entrance access ramps off of I-294. Reporting on this mayor Wasowicz explained to the crowd that the Southwest Conference of mayors has agreed to pay all engineering costs associated to the ramps, as there would be a benefit to surrounding municipalities if they are built. Funding for the actual construction of them was not discussed.
Trustee Ed Rusch (VVP) has shown himself to be cautious concerning impact and quality of life issues here. Rusch is especially focused on storm water retention and traffic. Trustee Small has many years of project management expertise and is experienced dealing with business proposals and the limitations of builder promises. The two vowed to take the plan and pick it apart to get the village what it needs. The fact is more commerce is going to bring more traffic, they explained after the meeting. Justice is limited in the amount of land suitable for development. Currently the TIF is funding a $100,000 comprehensive study of the property. How will that fit in with this project?
On the backdrop, according to sources, Peoples Voice Party members hit the phones before the meeting to strum things up. What were former and failed trustee candidates trying to use this open meeting for? How about this idea? Leave the politicking at the door and work toward a common goal. It’s okay to tell people to join you and attend an important discussion like this one, but it’s also important to stay a while and hear all of the other things that you need to know about your community. To all the would-be politicians out there, folks, committee meetings are twice a month, not once in a lifetime.

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Salvo On

Tuesday, September 13th, 2011

By Terri Commonwealth
Commentary

The crowd has thinned a few holdouts remain. Lady Justice is dressed for love? The drama that was the show for too many years appears to have drawn to a close. I say appear because in this town any slight can set off a firestorm of “community involvement”. The latest offense is hard to judge, as the priority of the day seems to amend itself. Is it the truck stop? Is it the lawsuit? Is it the hookah lounge? No, no and no. Well maybe some of the first one.
It appears to be all about the light bulb now. The commentators have set their priorities high. Their rage is focused on a vacuum-sealed glass vessel. You see, Justices’ public works crew unfortunately changed bulbs on a sign at a local business. The crusaders of the moral right are fulminating over a filament. According to the Justice mayor, “…the crew was at the sight doing work and was asked by the business owner to help them out.” I suppose the business could have hired a service to perform the work like anyone else. But it’s not like they were asking for much. How long did it take? I don’t know, the lift was there and well, they pitched in. He further stated the business paid back the hourly cost of having public works perform the job. Is that fair? Is that unfair? I’ll leave that for others to decide.
The part of this that confounds people is the fact that public works was also “hired” to build a decorative fence for the crusaders own Campaign Manager, who just happened to be the interim Justice Public Works Director. A fact that has been brought up so many times people have forgotten about it. Well not everyone, but certainly the crusaders have. Judgments anyone? I’m not going there, I’ll go somewhere else.
It turns out that the crusaders aren’t content with just bringing the “problem” and photos to the attention of the Village board. No they went all the way to Loony Tunes itself to get help to petition the Government for a redress of grievances using that most noble of all medium. That’s right, the hand flyer, that very effective and sometimes conspicuous piece of paper that can find a place somewhere between informative and the circular file. So, what was on the flyer? We are all so well informed when we get to see a likeness of the iconic Lady Justice dressed like a whore and it really explains things when you add in a picture of a public works crew changing the lights on a sign. Like I said, real out there stuff. There is also a diatribe on the rightful use of public resources, which I do agree with. But I find it hard to be taken in by the same political party pushing this stuff, which also allowed for a publicly built decorative cedar fence to be installed for the guy that helped their people get elected to office.

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