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Originally written in December, 2008.

by Christopher Brinckerhoff

searssnapshots

The Village of Palatine has its sights set on the retail space at the corner of Hicks Road and Baldwin Road for a new police station. They could decide to build a new village hall there too. Sears is suing the Village for breaking a contract which gives them tax incentives to fix up the property. Photos by Christopher Brinckerhoff.

If the Village of Palatine has its druthers, a large strip mall will be the site of a new police station and “other municipality purposes,” according to court documents filed by the Village.

But before the bulldozers chug and spit their way over the condemned property, the Village is going to have to resolve litigation brought to them by the largest tenant of the mall, Sears, Roebuck.

The retail giant is suing the Village for condemning their leased property. The Village evoked eminent domain in a complaint filed in 2007, about two and a half years after the Village and Sears signed an Economic Development Agreement together.

Sears also sued for breach of contract of the Economic Development Agreement. In the contract, Sears agreed to remodel the former K-Mart store space, and, if they did this, the Village would give the company sales tax rebates for 10 years.

The purpose of the Economic Development Agreement, according to Mayor Rita Mullins, was to avoid closing the store. The upside was to have the building converted into a Sears Essentials instead of closing the retail space.

At the time, K-Mart was shutting down some stores. They had just purchased Sears, Roebuck. Mullins said the hope was that the new store would increase sales tax revenue from what it was as a K-Mart store.

“We were very optimistic,” Mullins said. “We thought it might even double. But in the meantime, they did nothing to fix the parking lot, do a facade improvement, do anything there.”

Some residents are not in favor of the proposed changes to use the property for municipalities.

“One thing I’m not interested in having in my backyard is a police station,” said Bill Marley, a resident who lives behind the condemned property. “I just think in terms of number one, the activity. And number two, the people that they’ll be dragging in there, it doesn’t appeal to me at all.”

Resident Judie Baird lives adjacent to the property, and said she’s not opposed to the development plans being tied up in a possibly lengthy legal process.

“Tie it up,” Baird said. “I don’t want a police station there because of noise. They’re going to bring prisoners and stuff in there. Uh-uh.”

The police department currently shares a building with the Village’s offices, and is next to the Park District. The present space was the location of Palatine High School until the school moved in the late 1970s.

A new landowner purchased the strip mall with Sears in 2005. The original owners they bought it from, Palatine Associates, LLC, had owned it since the 1960s.

One expert on eminent domain cases said the condemnation would likely go through unimpeded.

Casey Piper, an attorney in Alabama who has worked on cases involving eminent domain, but who is not intimately familiar with this case, said “because the municipality played some role in encouraging the owner into making this investment, they’re going to look bad when they pull the rug out from under their feet. I don’t know that it’s an outright defense to the taking, though.”

The reason why is because the decision to condemn property is a governmental power, according to Piper.

“And the council cannot bind themselves, or certainly not any future administration to not exercise that legislative power,” Piper said. “It’s sort of like saying we won’t raise taxes. That just means that they didn’t raise taxes with that breath, but they still might raise taxes because it’s a legislative decision.”

Eminent domain basically says that the Village can take whatever property they want as long as they can prove it’s necessary.

The courts tend to broadly define what factors make an action necessary in these cases, according to Piper. That makes it extremely difficult to prove the action is not necessary. But that’s just what Sears’ attorneys are trying to do.

One of Sears’ attorneys representing their 537 North Hicks Road store, Natalie Spears, declined an interview, but emailed this statement.

“Sears has invested millions in that location and has loyal associates and customers who count on that store,” the statement reads. “We are working to prevent the village from condemning the site because we believe it’s unwarranted under the law and unnecessary for the public improvement.”

The Supreme Court case Kelo v. City of New London was significant for the legal use of eminent domain. Before Kelo eight states stopped eminent domain for economic development unless it was to eliminate blight. But the meaning of blight has been stretched to mean almost anything the governing bodies have decided it does.

While the condemnation action is difficult to stop, Piper said sometimes people are defrauded. If Sears proves the Village defrauded them by breaching their Economic Development Agreement, they may be awarded additional damages.

“There could be some recovery to the landowner,” Piper said.

Sears leases their part of the plaza. They do not own it.

“But their remedy wouldn’t be the outright defeat of the condemnation action,” Piper said. “The condemnation action will go forward, and that will cause some damages that might be actionable above and beyond what the normal damages that would be rewarded in an condemnation case.”

Baird said she would rather have them keep the renovated retail store, especially in these tough economic times.

“Mullins keeps saying the parking lot and everything looks terrible,” Baird said. “It doesn’t look any worse than any of the other places. She keeps saying the store looks run down, and it’s dirty. I think they’ve done a lot to improve it over there.”

Copyright 2008

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Originally written in December, 2008.

by Christopher Brinckerhoff

Chicago – As far as white suburbs go, Palatine is the routine run of the mill. But increasing indulgence in ethnic foods could be bending the white bread cookie cutter into a more interesting shape.

Median to above average income census numbers coupled with its comfortable one hour by Metra rail to the city in a garden characterize the typical burb. Out of Palatine’s approximately 65,000 residents about 15 percent are of Latino country origin, according to the 2000 census. The population is about 8 percent Asian and 2 percent black.

Within the Asian group the largest subgroup was Indian Asian, which makes up about half of the 8 percent. While Mexican food and Chinese food have been well established dining choices, Indian food has been increasing in popularity with many Americans, according to workers, owners and customers.

Palatine has six Asian Indian grocery stores and restaurants, and another one on the way, according to Zum Zum Sweets and Carry Out employee Hakeem Aslam. Zum Zum has been at its Rand Road address for about 35 years. The newest Indian food source, India Bistro on Dundee Road, opened Nov. 26.

Hakeem Aslam at Zum Zum Sweets on Rand Road in Palatine served a samosa. It was good. Photo by Christopher Brinckerhoff.

Hakeem Aslam at Zum Zum Sweets on Rand Road in Palatine served a samosa. It was good. Photos and graphic by Christopher Brinckerhoff.

Due to the constantly increasing Indian and Pakistani populations in the U.S. and because people are more open-minded these days, Indian food stands to give other popular ethnic foods a run for their money during the next five years, according to Aslam.

“I have a feeling that because Indian food is moving up, it’s going to be compared to Chinese or Mexican food because that’s the most popular and the most wanted [ethnic] food in the States right now,” Aslam said. “Indian food is going to be number three coming up on the list.”

Krishan Kumer from New India Carryout & Sweets, 773 N. Quentin Road, opened a restaurant in Milwaukee in 2003, and moved that restaurant to Palatine in 2007. Kumer was born in northern India and moved to the United States about 10 years ago. In India he owned a restaurant and sweets shop like the ones he has owned here.

Kumer said one difference between his restaurant in India and his restaurant in the United States is the clientele. In India he served a more homogenous community of customers looking for the same kinds of foods. Here his patrons are more diverse. Therefore he customizes his food more, varying the amount of spices for example, to appeal to a wider range of preferences.

Krishan Kumer of New India restaurant on Quentin Road in Palatine used to own another restaurant in Milwaukee before deciding to move to the northwestern suburb. Photos by Christopher Brinckerhoff.

Krishan Kumer of New India restaurant on Quentin Road in Palatine used to own another restaurant in Milwaukee before deciding to move to the northwestern suburb. Photos and graphic by Christopher Brinckerhoff.

Aslam said though his second largest customer demographic is Americans, many people still have misconceptions about Pakistani and Indian food.

“As soon as you say Indian food, they go, eshhee, it’s too spicy,” Aslam said. “Technically, there are only two spices that make the food hot to your tongue, but most of them cause flavor. And if you want to order it without spices, or if you want to cook it at home, you can just exclude those and make your food, and it tastes good without the spices.”

A regular customer of Asian Island, 1202 East Dundee Road, is taxi driver Noshad Nizi. He said in addition to the importance of stores and restaurants like Asian Island for the growing Muslim community in Palatine, the foods are also becoming more and more popular with Mexicans and Americans.

“It’s actually good for everybody around here because it’s a lot cheaper for the same food,” Nizi said. “If you go to the India House, it’s a big restaurant in Buffalo Grove, that’s not the same price. It’s the same thing, same recipes, same everything, but it is a different price.”

Mayor Rita Mullins said she remembers eating round pizza for the first time on a family road trip in the 1960s. At the time, pizza was a foreign food to most Americans. Now there is a pizza shop on almost every corner.

Mullins said she enjoyed some food from New India recently, and although she doesn’t care for hot spicy food, they are able to make it to appeal to your individual taste. According to Mullins, businesses like these encourage relationships among people.

“It is diversity of the people in the world, and we are a microcosm of the world,” Mullins said. “And the more that we can familiarize ourselves, the differences become so much smaller between people.”

Simi Grocers on Quentin Road in Palatine is located between the New India restaurant and Old Oak Pizza. If you want to do some Indian cooking, this is one good resource for you. Photos by Christopher Brinckerhoff.

Simi Grocers on Quentin Road in Palatine is located between the New India restaurant and Old Oak Pizza. If you want to do some Indian cooking, this is one good resource for you. Photos and graphic by Christopher Brinckerhoff.

Copyright 2008

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by Christopher Brinckerhoff

Chicago – Community theaters attract small audiences, but their productions are no small feat. Besides the myriad of roles needed to produce and operate shows, careful content choices fill out the quality. One director selects lesser-known pieces, including “Lost in Yonkers” by Neil Simon, to run at Cutting Hall in Palatine.

Theatre Nebula founder and Yonkers director J. Spencer Greene is also the Palatine Park District’s theater coordinator. Nebula’s Yonkers ran at Cutting Hall in Palatine from October 3 to October 19.

Cutting Hall, where Greene runs operations, is one of the final remnants of Palatine High School’s building that was vacated in the late seventies. The space is a fitting home for “Lost in Yonkers,” in part, because it’s about remembering family history.

“This being a memory play,” Greene said, “we see the story through the memory of the two children. A lot of the things are somewhat exaggerated because it’s the way they remember them.”

shots of community theater in action. hear it - smell it. photos by christopher brinckerhoff.
shots of community theater in action. hear it – smell it. photos by christopher brinckerhoff.

Greene said he chose this play because the audience can relate with the characters without the characters acknowledging they are being humorous. The characters seem to be more unintentionally funny.

Some of Neil Simon’s plays had characters that went right for the laugh, according to Greene. An example of this was “The Odd Couple.” But there were others with more serious characters. Green said that is why he chose “Lost in Yonkers.”

“I love Neil Simon; don’t get me wrong,” Greene said. “But it seems to me in a lot of his plays, the earlier plays, the characters know they are being funny. You just sort of get a sense that a lot of it is played for the laugh. Whereas his more serious plays [like] “The Gingerbread Lady” [and] “Lost in Yonkers,” the humor comes out of the realistic situation of the characters. It’s real. You laugh because you’ve experienced something like that, or because these characters are people that you identify with.”

Yonkers performer and Arlington Heights resident, Tom Akouris works at a commercial collection agency by day. Akouris played the widowed father of two boys in Yonkers, Eddie Kurnitz. The Park Ridge native said his character faces challenges similar to today.

“Well, here is a guy who is very much in tandem with what’s going on now,” Akouris said. “He’s a single parent, to use a current term. He is finding himself financially strapped, and he has got to rely on the last people in the world he would want to. And that is his dysfunctional, immediate family. He has to leave his two children in the care of his mother and his mentally challenged sister.”

Yonkers was appropriate for Palatine right now because families confronted with tough decisions to separate due to financial concerns can see themselves in the characters, according to Akouris.

“These two boys found themselves in a completely different place with a completely different authority figure to deal with,” Akouris said. “The father is very lenient. It appears as though he wants to be a friend of the boys. The grandmother is not interested. She said ‘I had six kids; I don’t want two more.’ She’s very cold. And so they’re finding themselves lost.”

The characters in plays such as Yonkers captivate audiences because there is a connection, according to Green.

“The humor in it sets you up for the drama,” Greene said. “You’re laughing and then it’s just like all of a sudden – boom. It changes. And it hits you, and you’re sucked in.”

In that moment there is an emotional release, Greene said.

“And because you’re sucked into the character and the humor gets you to like these people, or, if you don’t like a certain person, you’re still drawn to them because they’re an incredibly interesting person,” Greene said. “And you’re trying to figure out why they are the way they are. And then, all of a sudden you realize you’re totally sucked into what’s happening. And the drama hits you emotionally because you care about them.”

Greene said it is important to produce plays like Yonkers in Palatine  “because [students] have not been exposed to them much, if at all in the past. They rarely do that sort of stuff in high schools.”

Palatine resident and Yonkers attendee Sheila Griffin also said Yonkers was timely for Palatine.

“With the war that’s going on, with the depression that’s possibly hitting everyone, it really hits home ’cause everyone’s got a tight pocket right now,” Griffin said. “Everyone’s wondering where they’re going to get their next buck.”

Community theater has a hard time attracting audiences, and is struggling in the evolving entertainment and media markets, according to Akouris.

“I think that community theater is in a lot of trouble, Akouris said. “And I think it’s because people do not warm up to live theater because of all the other available media or medium out there. I think there’s a lot of competition.”

Copyright 2008

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