Photo by Dermot Connolly
Chicago Ridge Mayor Chuck Tokar and Worth Mayor Mary Werner chat after they both gave "State of the Village" speeches at a luncheon sponsored by the Chicago Ridge-Worth Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday at Jenny's Steakhouse, 11041 S. Menard Ave., Chicago Ridge.
The need for small communities to wisely develop the limited space available to them was a focal point of the “State of the Village” speeches that Worth Mayor Mary Werner and Chicago Ridge Mayor Chuck Tokar at a Chicago Ridge-Worth Chamber of Commerce luncheon on Tuesday.
Werner referred to “urban infill,” which is defined as “filling in the gaps” by finding beneficial development of vacant property in otherwise developed communities. As an example, Werner said 11 new townhomes are being built on two lots in her village, These include six on Crandall Avenue, just south of 111th Street and east of the Village Hall, and five on a lot at 110th and Harlem. “We need to get families into the community, and increase foot traffic to our businesses,” she said.
Werner said increasing foot traffic to local businesses was one reason she supported bringing the Windy City medical marijuana dispensary to 11425 S. Harlem Ave. “There was a huge need there, and this was a very unique opportunity. People who had no reason to come to Worth before will seek it out, because there are only a limited number of these places. “Hopefully, once they are here, they will stop in for a meal at one of our restaurants, or go shopping here,” she said.
“We’re very excited about the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District selling the Lucas-Berg Nature Preserve,” she said, referring to the 62-acre property at 7500 W. 111th Street. “It has been appraised so they are serious about selling it,” she said.
For many years, local residents had raised concerns that the land would be used a dumping ground for dredging materials taken from the Cal-Sag Channel, and Cong. Dan Lipinski (D-3rd) backed their efforts to prevent that happening. Since then, MWRD officials have said that the agency will not be using the property.
“This could be the largest commercial development in Worth since the 1960s,” said Werner, who suggested after the meeting that the site would be ideal for a nice restaurant. “It looks out on a pond, so it would provide great views for the diners,” she said.
“It could also hopefully spur more development along 111th Street,” said the mayor.
She said that in an effort to bring more diverse economic development to Worth, the village applied and completed the lengthy process of being designated an enterprise zone. Worth also formally joined the Cal-Sag Enterprise Zone, which includes 16 area communities. Werner said the enterprise zone, created to stimulate new development and expansion of existing businesses within it, is marketed statewide and even nationally and internationally.
Tokar said Chicago Ridge is dealing with many of the same issues as Worth, with limited space available for development. He said the vacant Yellow Freight property, a former trucking terminal at 103rd and Harlem Avenue, is the biggest site available for redevelopment in Chicago Ridge. At 75 acres, taking up much of the 105-acre TIF zone it is located within, it is even bigger than the Lucas-Berg property.
With an aim toward marketing it for entertainment, business and other types of development, the Chicago Ridge Village Board rezoned the formerly 75-acre property as regional mixed use about six months ago. However, the change was made around the same time as the property was sold to another trucking conglomerate, which Tokar said is posing problems for the village.
He said later that the new owner recently filed a lawsuit against Chicago Ridge, seeking to disconnect the property from the village and perhaps have it annex to neighboring Worth or Palos Hills.
“We’re probably going to have to work something out with them. I don’t see them being able to disconnect from the village. That usually is done with undeveloped land, but this is fully developed. And we provide them with sewer and water.”
Both mayors noted various new businesses that have come to their communities over the past year. Werner mentioned Salt Cave on 111th Street and a new Circle K opening tomorrow (Friday) at 10631 Southwest Highway. Tokar said 34 new business licenses were awarded in Chicago Ridge in the past year, including Miller’s Ale House, which has become very successful. But they both said competing against online shopping is making it difficult for brick-and-mortar retail businesses to compete. He said while the Sears in Chicago Ridge Mall is not closing, one in Oak Brook has turned its first floor over to Land’s End, and another is being used to race drones.
“Go to the small stores and restaurants in your areas. Frequent these places or they will be all gone in 20 years,” said Tokar.