Vernon Hills mayor seeks sixth term
Gary Steinhafel shakes hands with Vernon Hills Village President Roger Byrne during a chamber event emphasizing small business. Steinhafels was able to expand in Vernon Hills because of a sales-tax rebate agreement. | Dan Luedert~Sun-Times Media
Updated: February 4, 2013 12:21PM
VERNON HILLS —Even after 20 years leading Vernon Hills, Village President Roger Byrne said there’s more he wants to accomplish.
That’s why he’s seeking a sixth term this spring. He is running uncontested.
Byrne said his lack of opposition, as well as the slim number if village trustee candidates, both reflect steady leadership. Four candidates are running for three trustee seats.
“Having a low number of candidates usually happens in towns that are very well run, and Vernon Hills is among the best in Lake County,” Byrne said. “I think we have a pretty gender-balanced board with diverse professional backgrounds, and we have a very competent staff that communicates well with us.”
A resident since 1977, Byrne is an insurance agent. He said he’s seeking reelection so he can finish long-term projects.
“This town is in excellent shape but I have projects I’d like to see to the end,” Byrne said. “The Hawthorn Mall expansion is one of them and it’s been a long time coming. Completing that project would solidify this town’s future income for decades, and I feel it’s close to coming to fruition.”
Keeping a strong retail anchor, Byrne said, will attract more commerce to the village.
The Westfield Hawthorn Mall project involves a sales tax rebate program, in which the village would financially contribute up to $7.5 million toward the mall’s $40 million to $50 million overall renovation.
The rebate would be performance-based and paid after the renovation. In essence, the more sales tax generated at Hawthorn Mall during an agreed period of time, the more money Vernon Hills would share with mall ownership.
Byrne said the village and Westfield have been talking about upgrades for close to eight years. Prior to the 2008 recession, the Westfield project was the first and only project for which the village board was considering sales tax rebate program. But later, six such agreements were made between 2009 and 2011 to rebuild the Townline Road business corridor.
Affordable senior housing is another top priority for Byrne. He convinced trustees to include the issue in the village’s long-range master plan, which resulted in last year’s opening of the Victory Centre.
Pathway Senior Living, Victory’s owner, acquired the 3.5 acres of property near Phillip Road and Deerpath Drive from Vernon Hills in 2010. The 231-unit Victory Centre features two attached buildings, one consisting of 111 senior apartment units and the other with 120 supportive-living units for seniors that require a greater level of care.
“It’s really great to have a father or mother nearby,” Byrne said. “We have a lot of long-time residents who like to keep family close.”
Ultimately, Byrne said his role in the creation of Vernon Hills High School is among the most rewarding work he’s done in office. The 1997 initiative convinced voters to approve a $48.5 million tax increase.
Byrne also ran unopposed in his initial 1993 election, after he challenged the nominating petition of then-trustee Al Israel and got him knocked of the ballot. Israel returned in 1997 to challenge Byrne, but the top official retained his seat with more than 64 percent of the vote.
Former Trustee Cynthia Hebda gave Byrne a closer race in 2001, but the incumbent president prevailed with approval from nearly 56 percent of voters.
In his next two elections, like this year, Byrne also went unopposed in 2005 and 2009.