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Article updated: 12/28/2012 12:13 PM

The Northwest suburbs' top stories of 2012


Here's a look at 10 of the top stories of the year in the Northwest suburbs:

Maine West hazing scandal mushrooms

A hazing scandal at Maine West High School that first came to public light in October only continued to mushroom as the year went on, and the school enters the new year facing lawsuits and multiple investigations.

The Maine Township High School District 207 school board in December voted to dismiss head boys varsity soccer coach Michael Divincenzo. Still undecided is the fate of freshman soccer coach Emilio Rodriguez.

The two were banned from school premises and relieved of their coaching duties while officials investigated reports that two 14-year-old freshman members of the varsity boys soccer team were sexually assaulted inside the school on Sept. 26 as part of a hazing ritual. Five juveniles were charged with misdemeanor battery, and a sixth juvenile was charged in connection with another attack that police say occurred during a summer soccer camp.

Four individuals have filed lawsuits, including a 2007 freshman member of the varsity soccer team and a 2008 freshman baseball player who also say they were assaulted.

The Illinois Department of Children and Family Services has asked the Cook County state's attorney's office to determine if school officials had met their legal duty to report abuse to DCFS in the past cases. And Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez has ordered a "complete top-to-bottom review" of the hazing allegations and how they were handled.

Second time's a charm for Dimucci family

For much of the summer, a large plot of land near Hawthorn Woods and North Barrington was at the heart of one of the year's biggest controversies, but with a different outcome than when a similar war of words occurred 16 years ago.

That time, the two towns ultimately rejected plans a regional shopping mall on 109 acres owned by the Dimucci family. This time, the Dimuccis bypassed the villages and took their rezoning request directly to Lake County.

Facing strenuous opposition from residents, conservationists and others, Eric Waggoner, the county's planning, building and development director, guided the plan through seemingly endless hours of public hearings.

When it looked like concerns might scuttle the plan, he suggested the public talks be halted so county and village leaders could negotiate a mutually beneficial agreement in private.

A deal was reached. And in October, eight months after the first public hearing was held, the Lake County Board approved the rezoning and a conditional use permit for the land. It also approved an intergovernmental agreement with the villages that governs what type of retail center can be built on the land.

But the agreements are contingent on the county board approving a development proposal for the site -- and neither an interested developer nor a plan has surfaced yet.

Four mayors plan to leave office

There will be a changing of the guard in the coming year as four Northwest suburban mayors, including those of some of the area's biggest municipalities, are not running for re-election.

Arlene Mulder, the longest serving village president of Arlington Heights, announced her decision to retire in September.

Mulder, 67, was first elected to mayor in 1993. She has spent 34 years in public service as a park district commissioner, village trustee and village president. Before entering public service, Mulder was a teacher and a coach.

Mulder said she doesn't have any big plans for retirement other than spending time with her family and enjoying the community.

"I'm not going anywhere. I love Arlington Heights too much," Mulder said. "I'll still be around in the community for a long time."

Also retiring is two-term Mount Prospect village President Irvana Wilks. She was elected to the top office on her third try in 2005.

She spent more than two decades in public service, first as a member of a village commission on downtown development, followed by 14 years as a village trustee.

"The timing seemed perfect for new leadership on the village board," Wilks, a Mount Prospect resident since 1969, said in August.

Wilks, whose tenure in politics was preceded by a career in journalism in Kansas, said one of the things she will concentrate on is finishing a novel.

In other changes, Des Plaines Mayor Marty Moylan will leave office in January without completing his first term in order to take on his new duties as a state representative for the 55th House district. And Long Grove village President Maria Rodriguez is stepping down after two terms, saying she is exploring other job options that will allow her to continue to pursue her interest in economic development in a different capacity.

Mt. Prospect woman's search for truth bears fruit

This year likely brought a degree of satisfaction to a Mount Prospect woman who after eight years, finally saw the wheels of justice begin to turn in her efforts to uncover the truth about the death of her son from injuries suffered outside of a Chicago nightclub following an altercation during the early morning hours of April 25, 2004.

David Koschman, a 21-year-old Harper College student fell and hit his head following a run-in with Richard Vanecko, the nephew of former Mayor Richard M. Daley. Koschman suffered a brain injury and died about two weeks later.

After determining he acted in self-defense, Chicago police and the Cook County state's attorney's office declined to bring charges against Vanecko, then 29. That finding prompted Koschman's mother Nanci Koschman to begin her campaign to clear her son's name.

That effort finally bore fruit when earlier this year a Cook County judge appointed a special prosecutor to look into the handling of the case. In December, the special prosecutor indicted Vanecko on involuntary manslaughter charges.

Vanecko's attorneys say they are confident their client ultimately will be found not guilty.

Bad year for Arlington Heights Park District

It wasn't a good year for the Arlington Heights Park District.

The board held referendums not once, but twice to pass a tax increase to fund rehabilitation of aging community centers and other park improvements. Both proposals failed.

About 51.5 percent of voters rejected the $39 million bond issue in November; only 800 votes separated the yes and no sides. In March, voters rejected a similar $48 million proposal, also by a close margin.

Local tax watchdog groups opposed the plans as too expensive in current economic times. In the second campaign, Americans for Prosperity -- a national, issue-based, conservative nonprofit -- entered the fray, making about 7,000 robocalls telling people to vote "no."

Now, the district is studying alternatives. One possibility is to use all the money in the district's bonding authority, which is about $8 million, for renovations, but that would leave the district unable to do any other big projects for another 18 to 20 years, officials said.

Rosemont gets an entertainment district

In 2011, Des Plaines got its casino. In 2012, Rosemont answered with a new entertainment district.

MB Financial Park at Rosemont, a 200,000-square-foot district situated just west of River Road and north of Balmoral Avenue fronting the northbound Tri-State Tollway where a casino was once planned, features entertainment, dining and festival space for year-round events.

It debuted in April with the opening of the Irish Five Roses Pub followed by the 22-lane King's Lanes & Lounge. Other venues include Adobe Gila's Mexican restaurant, Toby Keith's "I Love This Bar & Grill," The Park Tavern, Zanies Comedy Night Club, Hofbrauhaus beer hall and My Big Fat Greek Restaurant.

They joined giant attractions such as the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center, Allstate Arena and Akoo Theatre, and newer venues such as the Muvico upscale movie multiplex and the Chicago Bandits women's softball stadium.

A $230 million, 530,000-square-foot upscale outlet mall is scheduled to open in August 2013. Other projects in the works include relocation of the Big Ten Conference's headquarters into a three-story office building next to Aloft hotel and a Fogo de Chao Brazilian steakhouse.

All of this building leaves Rosemont with a debt amounting to $120,338 per person, the highest among the Northwest suburbs by a factor of more than 10. Village officials say they are confident the new businesses will bring in enough revenue to cover the debt.

"Even in the face of the recession Rosemont has done very well," said spokesman Gary Mack. "Rosemont is very comfortable in the belief that the debt can, and will, be paid off."

Downtown projects have their critics

Proposals for downtown redevelopment in Barrington and Buffalo Grove attracted strong interest from officials in both towns, but also had their share of critics.

Despite opposition, the Barrington village board in December voted overwhelmingly in favor of a retail-office development at the southwest corner of Hough and Main streets. Sparked by the opposition, a slate of three candidates for village board has filed to run in April.

The proposal calls for an L-shaped building with an 18,000-square-foot ground floor on the southwest corner of Hough and Main streets, with a single-story 6,000-square-foot building just west on Main Street. Criticism focused mainly on the idea that the office market is overbuilt.

"It doesn't really matter whether we're right or whether we're wrong," said Bruce A. Reid, president and chief operating officer of the developer, Arthur Hill & Co. LLC. "We're either right and it goes or we're wrong and it doesn't go."

Meanwhile, the much larger proposal for downtown Buffalo Grove is still a year or more from a final vote. Unveiled in August, it would include 320,000 square feet of stores, 55,000 square feet of restaurants, 66,000 square feet of office space, a 45,000-square-foot movie theater and 60,000 square feet of cultural amenities such as a community center or museum.

The project also would include two eight-story towers and one 10-story tower that would contain a total of 266 condominium units. Another 325 rental units would be on the upper floors of the office and retail buildings.

A citizens group, Save Buffalo Grove, formed to fight the plan and initially said it might seek to recall village board members, who the group felt had been too welcoming to the proposal when it first surfaced. Now, the group is asking the board, if it leans toward approving the project after proceedings before village commissions, hold a referendum and agree to abide by its results.

Baseball returns to Schaumburg

Team owners, village officials and fans agree that the Schaumburg Boomers' inaugural season was a bigger and better first step for the franchise than could have been anticipated during the offseason.

But many of the same sources say more work lies ahead for the Boomers to be as ingrained in the Schaumburg community as the team wants to be.

"One thing we need to see more of is sponsors in the community," Schaumburg Village Manager Ken Fritz said. "I think the business community was a little put off by the experience we had with the Flyers."

The Schaumburg Flyers team, which opened the state-of-the-art minor league stadium that the village of Schaumburg and Schaumburg Park District built in 1999, was ultimately evicted from it in 2011 owing $551,828.92 in overdue rent to the two local governments.

Among the fallout was Alexian Brothers Health System not renewing its option on the naming rights to the stadium. And no other company has yet come forward to replace it.

Fritz said it's understandable that Schaumburg's business community would be more interested in proof than promises from the Flyers' successor. But he believes proof is exactly what the Boomers have delivered. The team won twice as many home games as it lost and just missed making the playoffs.

"The quality of play has been exceptional compared to what we had the last four or five years with the Flyers," he said.

Intergovernmental cooperation births big festival

After years of festival cutbacks due to the economy, a major new festival materialized this year, thanks to intergovernmental cooperation.

Hoffman Estates, Elgin, Hanover Park and Hanover Township joined together to sponsor Northwest Fourth Fest at the Sears Centre Arena.

The five-day festival event suffered some first-year kinks, including 100-degree temperatures that hurt attendance, traffic tie-ups and a $43,500 fireworks show that ended too quickly. The festival had a net loss of about $128,000, $12,000 more than expected.

"Anytime you do an event the first time in a new location you learn from things that didn't go as well as you wanted them to go and you improve on them," Hoffman Estates Mayor William McLeod said.

Nonetheless, he's excited about the festival's future. There were between 30,000 and 35,000 attendees on July 4 alone, 10,000 more than expected, he said.

"We're looking forward to this becoming an even bigger event," he said. "It's great working with our neighbors."

New chief enters during rocky year for Des Plaines cops

Des Plaines' new police chief, William Kushner, has taken the helm of a department in turmoil.

Kushner, formerly police chief in Lakemoor and a 35-year law enforcement veteran, was sworn in last September.

He faced internal issues, including changes in the command structure with the departure of several high-ranking officers, taking charge of an ongoing internal investigation into the possible misreporting and misuse of a federal grant for a traffic enforcement program, and multiple lawsuits filed against the city and some of its officers.

Earlier in the year, Des Plaines fired an officer and disciplined another cop accused of using excessive force. The city also is being sued by a former deputy police chief alleging wrongful termination and accusing top city officials of covering up police brutality.

Kushner was chosen following the December 2011 retirement of Chief James Prandini, who retired after 31 years with the department.

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