Oak Park restaurateur Deno J. Andrews has announced his intention to run for the Oak Park Village Board of Trustees in the upcoming municipal election in April 2017.
Andrews is the owner of Felony Franks, a fast-food restaurant at 6427 W. North Ave. that employs ex-offenders, some of whom have spent time in prison, with the goal of helping them get their lives back on track.
His nonprofit organization, The Rescue Foundation, works with those same ex-offenders to get them job training, counseling and other resources.
Andrews served as a commissioner on the Oak Park Board of Health from 2005 to 2011.
He said in a telephone interview that lowering taxes will be at the top of his agenda if elected to public office. The tax burden for small business owners like himself is so great that it is making it hard for independent shops to open in the village, he said.
"Oak Park is at risk of losing its independent charm," he said.
Andrews worries about taxes growing to the point that only large national chains are able to afford opening up in Oak Park.
He noted the recent closure of two independent businesses – Marion Street Market, 100 Marion St., and Michael's Beef House, 6747 W. North Ave. – saying that he worries that it is a trend that could get worse.
He worries that neighboring communities like Berwyn and Forest Park are more competitive than Oak Park because the taxes are lower.
"Look at the Oak Park side of Roosevelt Road and it's in pretty bad shape," he said, noting the thriving businesses on the Berwyn side compared to "empty storefronts, dilapidated buildings and parking issues" on the Oak Park side.
Andrews said that new residential development is needed to expand the tax base, but it needs to be done keeping in mind the pressure it will put on the school system and other public services such as the police and fire departments.
Andrews is pushing for more growth, but made it clear that the village needs to focus on parts of town other than the downtown business district.
"We need to be able to make sure we're not overpopulating an area to a level we can't support," he said.
He also emphasized the need for new construction to be architecturally significant.
"So many of our developments over the last 15 years have been generic, cheap looking buildings that have taken public funds," he said, pointing to the Whiteco building, also known as Oak Park Place Apartments, at 479 N. Harlem, as an example.
Andrews also said the village is perceived as not being transparent – noting the recent request for proposals issued by the Oak Park Economic Development Corporation for the large-scale development at the corner of Oak Park Avenue and Madison Street.
The RFP was tailored to a single developer the village has been negotiating with behind closed doors for more than a year. The meetings between Jupiter Realty and OPEDC are not subject to Freedom of Information Act requests, because they work as a contractor for the village and are not officially part of village government.
"It gives the perception that backroom dealings are going on; there's one developer and others are only given a few weeks to submit a multimillion dollar proposal," he said.
Andrews said he did not believe the village has failed to be transparent, because you can follow the projects if you "know where to look." But village leaders could work harder to make more information easier to find without filing open records requests.
"I think we can just do better to prepare our citizens to be more involved," he said.
Andrews said he plans to seek the endorsement of the Village Manager Association, which slates candidates for local office. Asked if he would run without the group's endorsement, Andrews said it depends on who the VMA slates.
More information is available on Andrews' campaign website at www.denoandrews.com.
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