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The Mayor's FAQ: Answers to Questions You Ask Most, Park Forest

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John Ostenburg
Mayor Ostenburg with student artists. (ENEWSPF)

Park Forest, IL-(ENEWSPF)- The following are questions fielded by Mayor Ostenburg and the Board of Trustees.

  • What can we do about either vacant or for-sale-as-is houses where the exterior and landscaping makes the whole neighborhood look bad?

The Village issues tickets for lack of maintenance but many times the courts will allow the owner extended period of time for making improvements. On some parcels, we’ve been back in court on several occasions before the necessary repairs are made. If the structure appears to pose serious health and/or safety problems, we can declare it uninhabitable and move for demolition, but that also usually takes a long period of time for the courts to give the okay. Regarding landscaping, the Village’s policy is to engage a landscaping contractor to trim grass, bushes, etc., and then to put a lien against the property to recoup our expenses.

  • Concerns
    • Garbage cans in front of houses when it is not the correct day

Send me the address where this is occurring and we will issue tickets.

    • Kids walking in streets

This is a difficult one to control because by the time police arrive they most often find that the youngsters no longer are present. However, the best remedy remains to call police and report the incident.

    • Kids out after the ordinance

Again, call the police and report the incident whenever you witness this occurring. The City of Chicago recently established an ordinance that requires all youngsters 12 years of age or younger to be off the streets after 8:30 p.m. unless accompanied by an adult. I am considering suggesting to the Village Board that we enact something similar.

    • Speeding on Western Avenue

When I get complaints about speeding at any locations, I ask the Chief of Police to increase patrols in that area and to place the digital speed-detector on that street. Just seeing how fast they are going sometimes helps to get drivers under control. I will ask that Western Avenue patrols increase.

    • Kids in park after hours

Our park rules are clear that parks close to everyone at 9 p.m., unless it’s a lighted facility and an approved activity is taking place. Again, call the police when you see violations.

    • Parking in handicapped areas

I know it sounds like the same old refrain, but call the police when observing violations.

    • Not cutting grass

Report this to the Building Department and an inspector will go out an see if the height of the grass is in violation of our ordinance. If it is, a ticket will be issued.

    • What about Norwood Plaza?

A national developer purchased the complex right before the economic climate changed. At the time of purchase, the intent of the developer was to re-develop the complex. However, with the current economic crisis, the developer is having trouble maintaining some of its other parcels around the country and thus as abandoned plans for Norwood Square. A portion of the property taxes currently are past due on the parcel. We are exploring options open to us in dealing with this issue. Meanwhile, two outlot buildings – the former Taco Bell and the former Popeye’s Chicken – have been purchased and are being remodeled. One will be an insurance office and the other a convenience/liquor store.

    • Section 8 renters

Actually, the federal “Section 8” program no longer exists. It’s been replaced by the Housing Voucher program. Park Forest renters who have vouchers are subject to the rules and regulations of the Park Forest Housing Authority, which include annual inspections of the property. The vast majority of rental property that causes problems in Park Forest is not property where the residents have vouchers. The Village’s Crime-Free Housing Ordinance has been a great help in maintaining better standards within our rental properties. Under the ordinance, any crime-related activity is basis for the tenant being evicted immediately.

  • During the past six months I have noticed a lot of young kids hanging out/walking the streets in the area of Minocqua Street and south of there. Does Park Forest have a curfew in place to address this problem?

I have asked the Chief of Police to have patrols pay special attention to this area. Yes, we do have a curfew. Persons under the age of 17 cannot be on the streets between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m. Sundays through Thursdays. Weekend times are between midnight and 6 a.m.

  • Rich Road, Rocket Circle, and Green Street “meet and greet.” Old-timers and newcomers are far apart in style and interests; at least, so it seems.

This is a good idea, not only for the area mentioned but throughout the Village. I will suggest to our Commission on Human Relations that some type of plan be organized to foster these kinds of neighborhood gatherings. Thanks for the suggestion.

Not a lot for kids to do.

The police department has a few youth-oriented programs presently in place. Of course, they don’t reach everyone and we always need to be looking for more avenues to increase our youth programs. I will ask our Youth Commission to explore some possible ideas.

  • I have been asked about Neighborhood Watch! Can you place this on our next agenda?

I will ask the police department to get us information to share at the December 7 meeting of the Mayor’s Citizens Advisory Council (MCAC).

  • I know several people who are having difficulty keeping up with their mortgage payments (south of Sauk Trail) because of tax increases. Is there anything we as a Village can do?

Only about 30 percent of the property taxes comes to the Village and is under our control. It’s not likely that we could create a tax-reduction program for some folks and not for everyone without a charge of discrimination. Plus, the loss of revenue would mean that some Village services would have to be reduced. Finally, the majority of the taxes (about 70 percent) go to schools, the township, county, etc. All of those tax bodies also would have to agree to some type of reduction. The federal government does have some assistance programs available for persons with mortgage difficulties and I have referred some residents to federal sources for possible qualification for those benefits. I will continue to explore these options and make them known as widely as possible.

  • Make Park Forest more bike-friendly.

Thanks for the suggestion. More bicycle usage will fit right in with the Sustainability Plan that the Village currently is formulating. I will ask staff to explore ways we might be able to enhance our “bike-friendly” opportunities.

(1) No rentals other than the co-ops already in place. It comes with unforeseen problems.

The Village works as closely as possible with landlords to make sure that rental properties are maintained properly. However, we cannot infringe upon constitutional rights of property owners to make use of their property in ways they choose. In fact, the Village currently is being sued in federal court because of some interaction with the former owner of the Thorncreek Rentals. I am confident we will prevail in that lawsuit, but it’s costing a lots of money in attorney fees to defend ourselves.

(2) More push for the banks to maintain their properties or face the lost of possession (taxes).

See my answer to the very first question above. Unfortunately, many of the banks that held mortgages themselves have gone into bankruptcy, so it’s often difficult for us to find out who it is that holds title to properties. We will continue to be as aggressive as legally possible.

Thanks for being so informative.

(1) More community policing; it’s good to see police ride through the neighborhood.

We’ve used community policing in the past in connection with grants that we’ve received and will continue to do so in the future. Often it’s difficult to assign officers just to that type of neighborhood work because of limited manpower. Community policing works, though, and we’ll continue to utilize that approach to the greatest extent possible.

(2) Strict guidelines for landlords; renters should be encouraged to maintain their property.

The Crime-Free Housing Ordinance does this and has been a great asset to us in holding landlords accountable for their properties. Also, the Vacant Building Ordinance has been a big asset in dealing with properties than have been abandoned, are tax-delinquent, or simply are empty.

(3) Legislation for raccoon invasion.

That’s a difficult one. Being so close to the forest preserve, we sometimes have an abundance of wildlife wandering our neighborhoods: deer, skunks, raccoons, possum, and even coyote. I will ask staff to explore what some other communities may be doing about this kind of problem.

(4) Enforce teenage curfew.

See my answers above.

(5) Don’t allow board-up of foreclosed homes.

Homes are not supposed to be boarded up under Village ordinances. Unfortunately, banks or mortgage companies sometimes send out workers to board-up a vacant home and we only learn about it when neighbors complain or when someone from our staff notices the situation. Whenever we see boarding, we immediately have it removed. However, sometimes police will have a location temporarily boarded if it poses an attractive nuisance to teens or vandals until the property otherwise can be secured.

(6) Park Forest family-day theatre night.

Great idea. I will share it with James Matanky who owns and operates the theatre.

(7) Local grocery store.

We keep trying for a grocery store, but it’s very difficult to attract one because of the lack of adequate traffic. You may have noticed that Jewel has closed its Olympia Fields store on Lincoln Highway and Western Avenue. Those kinds of corporate decisions are based primarily on traffic and the number of customers. When two larger stores opened in that immediate neighborhood, Jewel decided their presence no longer was cost-effective. However, I encourage you to patronize the South Suburban Food Co-op that’s now located in Downtown Park Forest. Many good food items are available there.

(8) Regular street cleaning.

I will speak to staff about this. I know we have a regular schedule for cleaning but I’m not sure what can be done to increase the times for cleaning. Thanks for the suggestion.

(9) Signs that promote Park Forest as a family-oriented, green, and safe community.

Another good idea. Thanks for sharing it.

(10) Encourage people to stay in Village; looking toward positive future.

This we do regularly. Right now we have an excellent group of residents – the Park Forest Ambassadors – who plan programs to encourage residents to remain in our community. Many of the ambassadors themselves are fairly new residents but they appreciate what Park Forest has to offer.

Establishing a Neighborhood Watch program. To date, I believe there is only one, and that is in the Thorncreek area of Will County.

See my answer to a similar question above. I do know that we have Neighborhood Watch in more than one area, though.

What constitutes availability of a building or group of homes qualifying for landmark status?

I’m not sure about this and will have to do some research. Thanks for the question and I’ll try to have an answer by the time of our December 7 MCAC meeting.

(1) When will Orchard Drive (between Lakewood and Westwood) be resurfaced?

The Orchard Drive resurfacing project is scheduled to get underway in Spring of 2012. I’m not quite sure how long it will be before we reach the area you are asking about. I will speak with Department of Public Works staff about that.

(2) Regarding vacant or abandoned property where overhanging trees threaten damage to nearby or adjacent property, who do you contact?

Contact the Park Forest Building Department at Village Hall, 708-748-1112.

Would like to hold a neighborhood group for Will-Westwood area from orchard to Wildwood.

Thanks for the offer. We will be in touch. We’re just setting up meetings in residences and the first one will be in the East Lincolnwood area in early October.

Healthcare forum – would like to help with this. I have been in health care for 36 years; now own a small business re healthcare.

I’ve marked you down as one of the folks to help us organize and plan our March3 forum on healthcare.

How are crime statistics being communicated to PF citizens? What should we be concerned about?

We usually address crime statistics in the neighborhood meetings that are held around the Village on a rotating basis. A few are scheduled to take place within the next couple of months. In addition, I will speak with the Chief of Police about making regular reports at our Village Board meetings, which are televised and also carried on our website.

Concerns

  • Lack of shopping facilities in Park Forest.

This has been an on-going problem for some years. Right now, we have more businesses in Downtown Park Forest than we’ve had in many years, albeit many are service businesses rather than retailers. We’ve working with a developer who has any option to purchase the property between First Midwest Bank and the Downtown and who intends to use it for retail development

  • Lack of restaurants and grocery stores in Park Forest.

See my answer above about a grocery store. As regards a restaurant, the developer I mentioned in the first part of your question is attempting to attract a restaurant for the parcel.

Interests

  • Philanthropic activities.

Our coat drive for Respond Now will be held on November 19. I’ll keep MCAC members involved as other such projects are planned.

  • Outreach to the community (education, health, etc.)

Thank you for your interest.

Are any government funds available for infrastructure?

We constantly are looking for funding for our infrastructure needs. We have been very fortunate in obtaining assistance for the Orchard Drive project. We recently published a whole list of grants the Village has obtained; check the last issue of Discover magazine for that information.

Since a number of buildings that are to house business are vacant, can’t they be occupied by an entrepreneur on a contingency basis to promote growth?

We try to work with anyone we can to keep buildings occupied and to help emerging entrepreneurs be successful. We must be careful, however, in how we provide such assistance in order not to use tax dollars inappropriately. I will ask staff to look at this issue more close and see what more can be done. Thanks for the suggestion.

Cheaper rent to encourage growth.

Right now our rents are extremely competitive. We must charge at least enough to cover our costs.

  • Park Forest needs

(1) good schools,

I agree and we are working with our five local school districts to see what can be done. Actually things are somewhat on the upswing. Both District 162 and District 163 have been cited during the last year or so for significant advances. Last year’s graduating class at Rich East High School (which is virtually all Park Forest students) had as many scholarships as did the graduating classes at both Rich Central H.S. and Rich South H.S. combined.

(2) good jobs,

We keep trying to attract more employers to the Village. Right now, the greatest potential for increasing local employment will be the Richard Dent project in Industry Park if that can come to fruition. So far, it’s looking good.

(3) safe community,

 Always an important issue. Our police department has this as its highest priority.

(4) more business,

Some of the answers above address this topic.

(5) lower taxes.

As I’ve mentioned, the Village collects only 30 percent of what you pay in property taxes and we have to provide ALL Village services for that – police, fire, paramedics, parks and recreation, public works, health services, etc. The best way to lower property taxes is for the State of Illinois to change the way our schools are funded (about 60 percent of your tax bill is for schools). We encourage our residents to pressure our legislators to make such a change. Meanwhile, the Village will continue to seek to attract new business as a means of gaining revenue from other sources than just homeowner taxes.

Concerns:

(1) Loud music from autos driving through residential areas at all times of the day/night after 12 midnight (noise ordinance).

We have an ordinance against this. Please call the police when you observe this taking place.

(2) People walking in the street late at night with loud talking, cursing loudly.

Same answer as above.

(3) What are some of the ordinances pertaining to curfew for minors?

I believe I’ve listed all our curfew information in answers to previous questions.

Issue: Central Park pavilion picnics often play loud music (very loud) and also very late (10 p.m. or later)

This is another issue that should be brought to the attention of the police department when you observe it occurring.

Idea: All Recreation & Parks programs, and Park Forest sports organizations, need to have current literature in a packet so that new residents are aware of availability, and Park Forest doesn’t lose residents to other villages’ programs; maybe have a quarterly newsletter sent out.

The Recreation & Parks Department does send out a quarterly magazine with information about all the items you mention. If you do not receive it, please let us know and we will follow up with the post office to find out why it’s not being delivered to your residence.

Concerns: As this council gets going, an e-mail newsletter for the public and a brief video on the Park Forest station would be great to inform our community of progress.

Good ideas and they are under consideration. Thanks for the suggestions.

The writer is a Trustee in Park Forest. The answers are provided by Mayor Ostenburg.

Park Forest Clubs and Organizations

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Historical Society
Park Forest Historical Society

Health Department

Nurses Plus

Freedom Hall

Freedom Hall Nathan Manilow Theater

Tall Grass

Tall Grass Arts Association

Kiwanis

Kiwanis of Park Forest

Nurses Club

Park Forest Nurses Club

Baseball

Park Forest Baseball