Free, Local News, Opinion

The Weeks | Jan. 29


South Suburbs for Greenspace will have a public meeting at 2 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 5, at Wiley’s Grill, 800 Kedzie Ave. in Flossmoor to present information about the proposed redevelopment of Calumet Country Club from open space to commercial and industrial uses.


Flossmoor Community Relations Commission discusses forum follow-up
The Flossmoor Community Relations Commission met Jan. 23 to take up the task of advising Mayor Michelle Nelson and the Board of Trustees on options for following up on the Oct. 29 community forum, which was held at Parker Junior High to hear from residents following the police shooting of Madeline Miller in July.

Jackie Riffice, who chaired the meeting, said Nelson’s charge to the commission was “to provide suggestions on facilitation and format and suggest other educational topics based on the report from the forum.”

She added that the CRC is an advisory board, so it does not make village policy but will offer ideas and suggestions to the mayor and trustees.

Three members of the Justice for Madeline Miller attended the meeting and reported on an incident at the forum that they said was an example of racist microaggression, a problem the community needs to deal with.

They and members of the commission put a number of ideas on the table. Several commissioners said they had spoken with residents to seek ideas and concerns.

Most of the ideas discussed appeared to focus on increasing village government transparency; improving communication between the village and residents; and helping residents understand better how policing works and why.

Calumet Country Club annexation issue impending in Hazel Crest
The Calumet Country Club redevelopment controversy is back two years after the question roiled Homewood politics.

At both Hazel Crest board meetings in January, opponents of the redevelopment plan spoke out against it and chided Mayor Vernard Alsberry and the board for apparently reversing course on the project.

At the Jan. 10 meeting, the board hired a consultant to explore the feasibility of establishing a tax increment financing district for the property, a common tool for providing financial incentives and infrastructure upgrades that enable economic development projects.

At the Jan. 24 meeting, more Hazel Crest residents addressed the board, some to express opposition and several appealing to the board to hold a community forum so more residents could learn about plans for the property.

Percy Scott of Flossmoor holds up a flier about a proposed redevelopment concept for Calumet Country Club, which the village of Hazel Crest will consider annexing at the next board meeting. Scott spoke in favor of the project. (Eric Crump/H-F Chronicle)

The discussion got heated at times during the Jan. 24 meeting, with opponents suggesting the board had sold out to the developer and audience members interrupting speakers. Alsberry scolded opponents for being disrespectful during public comments.

The board plans to consider whether to annex the land at its Feb. 14 meeting.

Excerpts from the public comment portion of the Hazel Crest board meeting on Jan. 24. (Eric Crump/H-F Chronicle)

Black history course comes to H-F High
Homewood-Flossmoor High School is one of fewer than 200 high schools across the country selected by the College Board for a new Advanced Placement African American Studies course.

The course has attracted attention of culture war combatants, with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis complaining that it violates state law and has a political agenda. Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker pushed back, writing to the College Board to insist it not bend to pressure from DeSantis.

Pritzker tweeted: “Our students expect any AP course to include the facts — the honest and accurate history of our nation. Anything less is bound to lead to a repeat of the mistakes of the past …”

Churchill School begins using space in new addition
The new addition at Churchill School in Homewood is now in use, with two classrooms being used for small groups and two rooms used for one-to-one tutoring. The two larger rooms eventually will be used as third grade classrooms.

Churchill School principal Sara Schnoor points out the storage space in one of the new third grade classrooms. Storage is crucial for both student and teacher needs. (Marilyn Thomas/H-F Chronicle)
Churchill School principal Sara Schnoor points out the storage space in one of the new third grade classrooms. Storage is crucial for both student and teacher needs. (Marilyn Thomas/H-F Chronicle)

Homewood finishes complete zoning code revision
It took 18 months, multiple public meetings and extensive discussions about implications and consequences of changes big and small, but Homewood now has an updated zoning code and map. Find the new code and map at the village website.

Click to enlarge.


Two types of democracy were on display at the Hazel Crest Board of Trustees meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 24: by the book and by the roots.

Mayor Vernard Alsberry and the Board of Trustees are following the rules. They offer two parts of board meetings for public comment, one for comments or questions related to matters on the agenda, and one for comments about matters not on the agenda. Residents are making good use of the opportunities.

I’ve only been to a few of their meetings, but Alsberry does a good job allowing people to speak, even when they are angry and not particularly polite. At the Jan. 24 meeting, the board appeared ready to end the second comment period and adjourn, but people kept stepping to the podium, and they were allowed to speak. Alsberry makes statements after everyone has spoken to try to clarify issues of concern. He provides answers to many, but not all, questions people pose. 

There isn’t a place on the agenda for answering questions.

Then there’s the grassroots, which is residents coming forward in an effort to understand the issues and influence the decisions of their government.

There has been tension at the past two meetings, in part because a number of people are strongly opposed to the redevelopment of Calumet Country Club as an industrial facility and they believe the village is on track to approve it. But I believe another source of tension is the fact that people are asking questions they aren’t getting answers to.

Hazel Crest will consider on Feb. 14 whether to annex Calumet Country Club. The annexation will enable the property owner to propose building an industrial/commercial complex on land that is now a golf course. Alsberry has asserted that such a development will be good for Hazel Crest and good for the Southland.

People want to know more. They want to know how. They want to know the pros and cons.

One man asked whether the development would have a positive or negative impact on residents’ property taxes. That question was not answered.

Several women said many residents are not even aware of the proposed development. They asked the village to hold a community forum to educate more residents about the issue. Elected officials made no commitment to comply.

Others expressed worry about truck traffic, flooding and other environmental impacts. Those issues were not addressed.

Alsberry urged residents to attend information sessions being hosted by Catalyst Consulting, the firm that has presented the latest development plan, and that’s a good idea, but as one resident pointed out, the firm works for the owner and has an interest in presenting a positive case for the project. Speakers said they want to hear from their elected officials, too.

Three members of South Suburbs for Greenspace, an organization that was formed in 2021 specifically to oppose industrial redevelopment of the country club, questioned Alsberry’s apparent support for the project now after issuing a statement in 2021 firmly opposing industrial redevelopment on that property.

Two SSG members, Aster and Liz Varmecky, noted that Alsberry’s campaign fund received $10,000 in donations from Catalyst Consulting at about the same time last summer when the firm was coming forward with a new concept for the development.

I wanted to ask him about that after the meeting, but he waved me off and said, “No comment.”

I sent Alsberry two email messages on Wednesday, Jan. 25, asking for comment about the campaign contributions and about whether village officials were considering a community forum to educate residents about the issue.

No response as of Sunday morning.

The questions are not implications of any wrong-doing. Individuals and businesses give to political campaigns for various reasons. Every campaign gets donations from people who might hope to benefit from the good will of the candidate, if elected. It’s not unusual. It’s how our system works. But the  change in stance makes the donations a reasonable thing for residents to wonder about.

There also might be reasons not to hold a community forum. People just want to know what they are.

We ask those questions in the hopes that we can help the community better understand what their elected officials are doing and why.

If Mayor Alsberry is reading this, we would be glad to sit down and talk through the questions people have posed. Email me at [email protected].

Who advises?
Both Homewood and Flossmoor have a number of committees and commissions consisting of residents who generously share their time and talents to help elected officials make more informed decisions.

Flossmoor has eight advisory groups: Plan Commission, Zoning Board of Appeals, Community Relations Commission, Green Commission, Public Art Commission, Electrical Commission, Police & Fire Commissioners Board, Police Pension Board.

Homewood has 13 advisory groups: Appearance Commission, Beautification Committee, Economic Development Committee, Ethics Commission, Events Committee, Fire Pension Board, Fire & Police Commission, Rail Committee, Planning & Zoning Commission, Senior Advisory Committee, Stormwater Resources Committee, Tree Committee, Veterans Committee.

Most of my experience is with meetings of Homewood’s Appearance and Planning & Zoning commissions, but I think this applies across the board: The people serving take their roles seriously and work hard to serve the community.

But who are they? 

It’s not a secret. Appointments to advisory boards are listed on Board of Trustees’ agendas and made official at public board meetings. But the members’ names are not listed on either village’s website.

One role each member of each group plays is to be a liaison between residents and village government. I think it would be helpful for the community to know who they are and how to appropriately contact them. In other words, I’m not suggesting the villages post their phone numbers, but it would be useful to give them village email addresses and/or create a web contact form for each board.

If our elected officials want residents to feel more engaged with local government, I think it would help to increase the opportunities to engage.

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