Top stories in the Northwest Suburbs -- 2019
Here's a look back at some of the biggest news stories in 2019 in the Northwest suburbs:
In the most dramatic event of 2019, a 22-year-old man crashed his black SUV through an entrance in Woodfield Mall and drove through the aisles, hitting kiosks and columns before coming to a stop in center court. Customers and employees fled for their lives, but no one was seriously hurt.
The driver, Javier Garcia of Palatine, was detained by mall customers, including two off-duty police officers, then taken into custody by police without further incident. His attorney said he suffered from mental illness.
Garcia pleaded not guilty to charges of terrorism and criminal damage to property related to the Sept. 20 disturbance. Damage was estimated at more than $100,000.
Meanwhile, Schaumburg officials have moved to require entrance barriers at Woodfield and certain other public buildings.
After more than a decade of trying, the Illinois Legislature finally passed a huge gambling expansion package last spring that included allowing slots at Arlington Park, a change long sought by the horse tracks' owners, who had maintained they needed the revenue to keep the sport viable in Illinois.
But then Arlington Park owner Churchill Downs, which in the last year had acquired a majority interest in the state's most profitable gambling venue, Rivers Casino in Des Plaines, announced that it would not seek slots for the track.
It said tax and revenue sharing provisions in the gambling bill were too onerous to make slots profitable. And it said it wouldn't promise to keep Arlington open past the 2021 racing season.
The announcement left the future of the state's premier racing venue and a key Northwest suburban attraction in doubt. It came shortly after Richard Duchossois, the man whose tireless drive built a racing palace after a devastating fire in the mid-1980s, left the Churchill Downs board, moved to chairman emeritus status and was inducted into the National Racing Museum Hall of Fame.
Towns in the Northwest suburbs wrestled with whether to allow businesses selling recreational marijuana within their borders when a state law allowing personal use takes effect Jan. 1, with the issue leading to passionate debate in some locales and to quiet consideration in others.
Verdicts varied. Buffalo Grove trustees approved sales at 1 a.m. after 4½ hours of public debate dominated by opponents of sales. Palatine also approved sales after listening to an audience of about 140 people, with opponents outnumbering those supporting sales.
Arlington Heights, on the other hand, decided not to allow sales, despite a 2018 advisory ballot question where 57% of residents indicated they were in favor of legalizing recreational marijuana in Illinois.
Overall, the verdict has been split. Des Plaines, Hoffman Estates, Prospect Heights, Rolling Meadows, Schaumburg, Streamwood and Wheeling are among towns that have voted in favor of allowing sales. Barrington Hills, Deer Park, Lake Barrington, Long Grove, Mount Prospect, North Barrington, and Park Ridge are among towns that have voted against doing so. Elk Grove Village and Rosemont have not yet taken a position on the issue.
After four years of debate, protests and lawsuits, the issue of how Palatine-Schaumburg High School District 211 will deal with transgender students locker room access appears to be winding down.
While lawsuits have mostly fizzled out or stalled, the district's board members voted in November 5-2 to lift a requirement that those students use privacy stalls.
While privacy stalls have been made available for all students in locker rooms at the district's five high schools, only transgender students have been required to use them. But when second semester classes begin after the holidays, no such rule will be in effect.
Nova Maday, a transgender 2018 graduate of Palatine High School with a discrimination lawsuit pending against the district, said she hoped the decision would influence other districts but doesn't accomplish every improvement she's sought for transgender students.
"It's a great first step," said Maday, who was born male but identifies as female.
But Vicki Wilson, a fellow Palatine resident who co-founded the residents group Students and Parents for Privacy, called the new policy "a joke and a slap in the face."
Waves of marchers hoisting rainbow-colored flags, carrying balloons and sporting shirts with LGBTQ-friendly messages washed over Buffalo Grove's Checker Drive last June as the village hosted its first Pride Parade.
They were greeted by a cheering crowd of supporters. At the center of activity was the family that made it possible -- Buffalo Grove residents Carolyn and Bob Pinta and their daughter, Molly.
Wearing a rainbow tie-dyed shirt with streaks of rainbow in her hair, Molly called the turnout "really amazing."
"When it started, we never thought that it would get as big as it has," she said.
Dailly succeeds Larson
When longtime Schaumburg Trustee Tom Dailly was sworn in as mayor at the end of April replacing Al Larson, it was more than a changing of the guard.
Larson, who retired after turning 80 and after holding the post for 32 years and serving as trustee for an additional 12 years, had left his mark not just on the town, but on the Northwest suburbs.
For more than two-thirds of the town's 62-year history, Larson played a key role in guiding its development into the second-largest hub of economic activity in Illinois.
In addition to "building a downtown for the Northwest suburbs," as he has said, he led a town that lays claim to a baseball stadium, convention center and a village-owned airport.
Longtime friend and Hoffman Estates Mayor Bill McLeod declared May 1 "Mayor Al Larson Day" in his own neighboring village and presented a resolution recounting Larson's long political history. "I always call him 'Big Al,'" McLeod said. "He's huge in his accomplishments.
Rare 'no' for District 220
In April, Barrington Unit School District 220 sought voters' permission for $185 million in building projects, only to see it narrowly rejected.
"For any community to raise taxes, it's a very difficult question to put out there," Superintendent Brian Harris said. "Our situation is minimized by existing debt ... we felt it was a feasible question to go to the community with -- obviously they didn't accept it."
Undeterred, board members voted 6-0 to put a $147 million referendum question for facility improvements on the March 17 ballot.
Board members did make cuts to the earlier plan, including leaving out money for a $14.2 million, 800-seat fine arts center to replace the aging auditorium at Barrington High School.
Elk Grove Village has one of the most entrenched, stable village governments in the Northwest suburbs, with mayor and trustee candidates sometimes being reelected with no opposition.
A challenge to that history popped up last July, when organizers of a weekend petition drive quickly and quietly collected 2½ times the number of signatures they needed to get a question on the March 2020 primary election ballot asking voters to approve term limits for village leaders.
The effort has spawned legal fights over attempts to keep the measure off the ballot, led to anonymous robocalls and fliers, and brought big money in on both sides of the issue.
Campaign disclosure records filed with the Illinois State Board of Elections show large donations by two transportation businesses to Concerned Citizens of Elk Grove Village, the committee established by resident Tim Burns to support term limits on 22-year incumbent Mayor Craig Johnson and his long-tenured board of trustees. The mayor, meanwhile, has transferred $20,000 from his campaign committee to an effort to fight term limits.
Whether the measure makes it to the ballot and how voters will rule won't be determined before next year.
Progress in Rolling Meadows
For years, progress on redevelopment of the former Dominick's grocery store site and construction of new fire stations was nil as proposals for each came and went, sometimes due to lack of support on the city council, sometimes from financing problems.
That all changed in 2019.
In August, city officials put shovels in the ground to ceremonially break ground on a new townhouse project the former Dominick's site, 15 years after the grocery store departed. The 106-unit Meadow Square townhouse development will occupy 9.5 acres of the 11-acre Kirchoff Road site.
Clark Street Development retains two 0.8-acre commercial lots fronting Kirchoff. Projects that fell through in the intervening years included another grocery store, townhouses, apartments, retail and senior housing.
Then in December, a new Rolling Meadows fire station officially opened after a decade of discussion, replacing a 61-year-old firehouse. Station 15, at 3201 Algonquin Road, cost $5.8 million.
The other city firehouse, Station 16, is expected to move in March to a new $5.3 million building at 2340 Hicks Road.
In May, the Arlington Heights village board approved 8-0 the largest development in some two decades in the downtown.
The $150 million Arlington 425 project will transform the face of downtown Arlington Heights with a three-building residential and commercial campus on the northern three-quarters of the vacant parcel bounded by Campbell Street, Highland Avenue, Sigwalt Street and Chestnut Avenue.
Developer Bruce Adreani of CCH LLC purchased the nearly 3-acre site in 2000, but development was at a standstill amid economic downturns, he said.
Taylor Morrison's plan for 16 townhouses to fill out the remainder of the block was unanimously approved in July. That vote came after village trustees twice rejected a different developer's plans for the southern quarter of the block. CA Ventures had proposed a 5-story apartment building for the site.