There is murkiness and there is clarity in the story of Los Cazadores, the Mexican restaurant stirring controversy in Downtown Oak Park. That makes for a good story, protest marches on village hall, and the potential for heroes and villains.
None of this surprises us as it resurfaces from the misguided and ill-thought-out era early this decade when the village government bought downtown properties willy-nilly with no particular plan for what to do with its prizes.
The Garcia family, owners of the restaurant, claim they were pressured into selling by village staff but that there was always a verbal agreement that the family could buy the Lake Street storefront back if development plans went awry.
Awry doesn’t cover it. Haywire. Kerflooey. What village trustees and top staff did in mucking around downtown in the early days of this century resembled the Keystone Cops pursuing development. To say they were in over their heads doesn’t come close to describing it.
That said, the village overpaid the Garcias as they did for every parcel they purchased. The village government made the market in this town and then utterly failed to close the deal to redevelop what they’d purchased. That’s a prescription for taxpayer influenza.
We know the Garcias bought their property for $210,000 and sold it to the village two years later for $350,000. Now, with plans for some master development up in smoke and the village scratching for money, new management at village hall is gradually selling off properties. Remarkably, given the economy, the village has an offer of $540,000 from a legit developer.
Rightly, the majority of the current board has agreed to sell the property at a price that works for taxpayers. The Garcias, and one current trustee, believe the village has a moral obligation to sell them back their property despite the lowball offer they have made.
Absent legal proof of an agreement to sell them back the property, the village board has an obligation to taxpayers to mend the profligate ways of its predecessors.
It was in 2002 when the Garcias had a fat check from village hall that they should have made plans to relocate their restaurant. Now, sadly, it is too late. But the current board is not the villain in this sad case.
Separating church and parks
Either the old days were much simpler or the Christians among us were much more deft at keeping other religious groups nice and quiet while we celebrated our Christmas.
Ah, well, we’ll take the progress of diversity and the pleasures of an open mind over the nostalgic scenes of religious symbols in the public way.
This year the Park District of Oak Park made the wise decision to limit any holiday displays to “festive lighting.” Translated, that means white twinkling lights are in, red and green lights and giant Menorahs are out.
Last year the parks awkwardly inherited the oversized Menorah that had previously co-habited with the giant Christmas tree on what had been the Marion Street mall. This year, the park board decided to avoid the entire issue and separate church and parks.
We look forward to the nativity scenes now going up on church lawns, or having the Menorah migrate to a local temple. Especially, we look forward to this weekend’s live nativity at First Baptist on Oak Park Avenue at Ontario. This is spectacular-and camels are really big up close.