PLAINFIELD — A petition seeking the re-opening of restaurants and bars in Kankakee and Will counties is being circulated online and the author is proclaiming the shutdown has gone on far too long.
“Enough is enough,” said Christina Kollintzas-Pavlis, of Plainfield, who began circulating the online petition Monday.
Her goal is to collect 100,000 signatures by Sept. 30 in an effort to force Gov. J.B. Pritzker to allow restaurants and bars to re-open to indoor service in this two-county region. Two weeks ago, Pritzker — citing the rising COVID-19 positivity rate within Region 7, which includes Kankakee and Will counties — restricted bar and restaurants to outdoor service under the Restore Illinois plan.
Owners of these establishments are now pushing back.
“We’ve thought of many things,” said Tina Vasilakis, of the popular Brickstone Brewery in Bourbonnais, regarding operations of the family-owned business. “I’ve heard figures where 20 percent of these business in Illinois will close their doors because of this.”
The Illinois Restaurant Association states there at 24,000 restaurants in Illinois, which employ 321,000 people.
Vasilakis, who signed the petition Sunday, said even being allowed to operate at 50-percent capacity for two months following the more than three-month shutdown due to virus concerns was not enough.
“That wasn’t what we needed. We are doing what we can,” she said.
Kollintzas-Pavlis, who operates George’s in Lockport as well as three bars and restaurants in Will County, said running a business in this fashion is “simply not sustainable at all.”
She noted she came up with the petition idea only days ago.
The petition — which can be accessed at change.org/illinoisrestaurants — is for anyone to sign from establishment owners, to those who frequent them, to those who simply believe the governor’s action is wrong.
She said she has attempted to contact the governor or other involved in making these decisions. That effort has been in vain thus far, she said.
“They just ignore us. I feel voiceless. I simply cannot do this any longer.
“... People want to eat indoors. They feel comfortable eating indoors,” she said.
She noted this past weekend’s weather was a perfect example of the hardships of outdoor dining. First it rained, then it was windy, then the bees descended on diners.
“I’m not sure what the governor is doing. We are doing the right things. ... But we can’t do this much longer. I’m trying to operate law-abiding businesses,” she said.
Some restaurant owners have simply taken to ignoring the governor’s order. It is up to the local health department to track down those businesses which have chosen to defy the Aug. 27 mandate of only allowing outdoor dining or take-out food orders.
“We trusted the government, but we are being used as pawns. I want to know what is the science behind this? The rules and restrictions keep changing. We want to be taken seriously. We all have a decision to make one way or another,” she said.
The goal of the petition is to get the governor to re-open Region 7.
Paul Jeziorski, co-owner of Paul’s Place restaurant in Kankakee, said he was unaware of this petition, but was certainly willing to sign it. He noted he had been involved with the Illinois Licensed Beverage Association which is seeking to remedy this situation.
He said the association is having a difficult time working with the governor and his administration because they are not taking their calls.
“We’ve had maybe 30 to 40 percent of our normal sales. We’re basically just hanging in there, but I don’t know for how long. We are at the point of do we defy the order and go for survival?”
KANKAKEE — The up or down vote on a homeless shelter in downtown Kankakee was pushed back two weeks.
At Tuesday’s Kankakee City Council meeting, a move to have the conditional use permit approved on its first and second reading — which would have allowed the shelter in the 200 block of South Dearborn Avenue in the former St. Paul’s Lutheran School building — was defeated by a 12-2 vote.
The council will vote on the permit’s second and final reading on Sept. 21.
That move means the shelter will not be ready for its planned Oct. 1 opening at the former school, as hoped by Fortitude Community Outreach executive director Dawn Broers.
Broers said late Tuesday night that there is far too much work to be completed at the site for it to be ready to serve the homeless if the site is granted its permit at the next council meeting.
“We are at Square 1 until we get a positive vote,” Broers said shortly after the council voted on the matter. “The next move we would make [opening a permanent shelter] will take time, energy and money.”
Those three things, she noted, will mean they cannot move forward on anything until the permit is approved or rejected.
At the meeting, a letter from Broers stated she would consider a one-year permit in an effort to ease concerns as to how the location would be operated and to see if there are any neighborhood issues. Fortitude operates shelters from Oct. 1 through May 1. Occupants are only allowed to be at the shelter from 6:30 p.m. to 7 a.m.
The 27,550-square-foot site would provide shelter for about 18 occupants. The location would not accept people under the influence of illegal drugs or alcohol.
At Tuesday’s meeting, nearly 40 letters or notes were emailed to the city administration to be read aloud by Mayor Chasity Wells-Armstrong prior to the start of the regular meeting. That total was an unusually high figure.
Perhaps 75 percent of the correspondences voiced support for the shelter, which would be operated every night of the week. Currently, Fortitude operates five nights a week in five different locations within the metro region.
If the shelter is successful in gaining the permit, it would no longer operate the revolving sites program.
However, it is yet unknown how the council will vote on this matter.
On Monday, 5th Ward Alderman Tyler Tall Sr. and 3rd Ward Alderman Larry Osenga made the motion to have both the first and second readings held so the matter could be decided. None of the other 12 council members backed the move for the vote.
While a vast majority of the letters read to the council by the mayor — she was reading the letters because the council did not meet in the city council chambers due to COVID-19 so people were not able to attend the meeting in person — were in support, there were some notable exceptions.
Downtown developers or those connected to them — Scott Franco, Mike Pinski and Jeff Bennett — spoke out against the location. While they stated there is a need for a shelter like this, they stated this was not the proper site. Pinski noted the shelter could negatively impact future development.
Broers has stated many times the homeless who use Fortitude shelters have rarely caused problems.
“Our priority is the homeless,” she said after the vote. “We will do whatever we have to do to take care of the homeless.”
She then added the vote is not complicated, but she said she realizes that it is complicated.
“We are asking people to hold their breath and take a dive,” she said of the pending vote.
“I guess we are kind of in limbo and that’s a terrible place to be,” she said.
In August, the Kankakee Planning Board unanimously approved the conditional use permit. Because the board is only advisory on this permit, the council must also approve it.
The former school location, located directly east of the Farmers Market parking lot area, have been largely unused for 30 years. The property would remain under the ownership of St. Paul’s even if the permit is granted.
Bradley-Bourbonnais Community High School will resume hybrid in-person learning with a couple of modifications — students will attend school in person every third day instead of every other day, and they will be in school full days instead of half days.
The BBCHS School Board voted 5-2 to return to hybrid learning with modifications during a special meeting Tuesday. Board members Jennifer Edmonds and Jim Patterson voted against it.
Dave Williams, president of the BBCHS teachers union, and several other teachers spoke in opposition to hybrid learning and in favor of continuing with fully remote learning.
BBCHS switched to fully remote learning starting Aug. 27; the high school had one day of freshman orientation and four alternating in-person attendance days before the change.
Superintendent Scott Wakeley made the switch in response to spikes in COVID-19 positivity rates and the resulting heightened restrictions for Region 7, which includes Kankakee and Will counties.
The school’s plan was to return to the hybrid learning model Thursday, Sept. 10, after the state’s two-week evaluation window.
“I thought our two counties would not be worse, and when mitigation happened, things would be better,” Wakeley said. “Silly me.”
The school board voted to resume hybrid learning Monday, Sept. 14.
When students return, attendance groups will be divided into thirds of the student population instead of halves.
Wakeley said administration wanted to divide attendance into smaller groups to minimize potential close contact and reduce the number of students being identified for quarantine through contact tracing.
As of Tuesday, there are three staff members currently quarantined due to close contact, 29 students currently quarantined, 12 known positive student cases since the first day of school, and two known positive staff cases since Aug. 13, according to the school district’s website.
Two weeks after hybrid learning resumes, in-person attendance days will be back to traditional length instead of half days. The delay is intended to give administrators time to plan for logistics like staffing needs and lunch procedures.
Board President Justin Caldwell said the school should maintain in-person learning because there seems to be no end in sight for COVID-19, even when a vaccine is developed.
“We are scared if we go remote we are never going back because there is nothing in the data that tells us we are going back in December, January, February or March,” Caldwell said. “Nothing at all.”
Board member Jennifer Edmonds, who voted against the motion to return to hybrid learning, said she supports continuing remote-only, at least for the time being, so the focus on education does not get lost because of the need for safety.
“It’s a lose-lose, I think all the way around, for the fact that you’re not with your students and we’re not in school and we’re not like it was,” Edmonds said.
Dave Williams, president of the BBCHS teachers union, said more than 80 percent of teachers indicated in a recent survey that fully remote learning was working better for students’ education than hybrid learning.
“It really is about what is best for kids,” he said. “We as teachers, that’s always on the forefront.”
Williams said that although fully remote learning is a not perfect situation, it has many advantages over the hybrid model.
For example, teachers have reported that it is difficult to read students’ facial expressions while wearing masks. In virtual classrooms, masks are not necessary.
Teachers have also reported that students are collaborating and communicating with one another and participating in class more in virtual classrooms than in classrooms with masks and social distancing.
“I think the staff thinks that full remote is the best possible option given the current circumstances, after experiencing both,” he said. “For the first time in a while, I’ve seen everyone pulling together in the same direction.”
Williams said teachers have substantially improved remote learning this school year compared to when it was suddenly mandated at the end of last school year.
“Hybrid did not offer us the opportunity to be good teachers, to do our job to the best of our abilities,” Williams said. “Full remote, we found, did that.”
Sara Youssef, a social sciences teacher, said she and her colleagues have found it easier to teach when all students are on the same format because they don’t have to divide their attention.
“In a hybrid setting, teachers were kind of running around with their hair on fire and didn’t feel like they were giving their best self to their students,” she said. “The past couple weeks being in the remote setting, I see teachers smile, and they are more engaged with their students.”
BOURBONNAIS — Village trustees heard the first reading of an ordinance for a proposed multi-family living development at Monday’s meeting.
Village administrator Mike Van Mill said Curwick XI LLC of Manteno plans to build a 16-building, 320-unit complex called Lifestyles of Cobblestone on 23.9 acres at the southwest corner of Bourbonnais Parkway and U.S. Route 45/52.
If approved by the board during a second reading at its Sept. 21 regular meeting, it would be the first apartment complex trustees approve to be built in the village since a moratorium was put in place in 2000.
Trustees back in the late 1990s saw the need to put safeguards in place to control plan developments and rental properties. A 1998 survey found multi-family dwellings comprised 34.2 percent of all housing in the village. The average for a community the size of Bourbonnais was between 15% and 25%.
According to minutes of the board’s May 20, 2019, regular meeting, trustees approved an ordinance that put into place new guidelines in regards to multi-family/apartment developments.
Those include a minimum of 4.5 acres for the development, which must have only one owner, whether that be an individual, a partnership or a corporation. A special use permit for a planned unit development is needed prior to construction and the site shall have an on-site full-time management office/manager.
“This is something developers and Realtors have been looking for around here,” Mayor Paul Schore said. “This is upscale rentals geared toward millennials and younger couples. They have a number of these up north.”
Planning Commission/Zoning Board of Appeals, Realtor Jeff Bennett of McColly-Bennett Realty previously said this kind of development was needed.
“With the expansion of Bourbonnais Parkway commercial development and the growth of local companies, including the expansion of CSL Behring, which will require housing for new employees from outside of our area. There will be a need for upscale, maintenance-free housing with amenities that this development will offer,” he said.
The planning commission approved the development, rezoning the land from business use to multi-family.
Lifestyles of Cobblestone will include studio, one- and two-bedroom apartments. There will be attached and detached garages as well as open space parking. There will be a clubhouse, pool, dog park and open spaces.
Curwick will have three years to begin the development, which is proposed to be completed in three phases.