Over the years, the Tinley Park resident has voiced her concerns and, in some cases, organized efforts on such topics as the closing of Mary Drew Elementary School and Walmart's 2008 proposed retail development at 191st Street and Harlem Avenue.
In a case of history repeating itself, Vargas is getting involved again over a Walmart development at 191st Street and Harlem Avenue. She and other residents have been talking with Tinley Park officials about this project since April, airing her concerns about the national retailer building a $50 million Walmart-Sam's Club shopping center on 72 acres of that land.
READ: Did Superman Promo Reveal Walmart's Tinley Park Plans?
What concerns can Vargas and community members from the village, as well as neighboring Frankfort Square and Mokena, have with development that will turn a currently fallow piece of property into a money-maker for Tinley Park and a job creator for the area? The project is estimated to bring in almost $5 million in tax revenue for the village over 10 years, and the retail project is considered a good tax customer for school districts because it creates property tax revenue without adding students.
What's not to like?
Here are three reasons Vargas and other residents in that area will give you:
1. Tax Incentives
Tinley Park officials are asking three of the taxing bodies affected by the development—Lincoln-Way High School District 210, Summit Hill School District 161 and the Frankfort Square Park District—to offer Walmart property tax abatements in order to make the project happen.
Vargas said she and other residents resent the idea that a big, national retailer needs tax breaks or it won't be able to build its new supercenter. In fact, D161 Board President Sean Doyle said multimillion dollar corporations asking for a school district to help out financially goes against his philosophy.
"They should give us an incentive to be here," she said. "Especially since our schools could use any tax dollars they can get."
READ: Tinley Park Asks Taxing Districts to Give Walmart Breaks
The fact that the abatement request comes from a municipality that makes up only a third of the taxing bodies being asked to approve the incentives is something that rubs Vargas the wrong way.
"I find it offensive," she said, adding that Frankfort Square and Mokena residents need to have a voice in these decisions.
2. No Love for Walmart
Vargas said she has no problems with the land at 191st and Harlem being developed for a retail shopping center, but she believes Walmart isn't as contentious a corporate citizen as similar corporations, such as Target.
That "big-box retailer" gives back to local schools in ways Walmart doesn't. Target's location at Brookside Marketplace, across the street from Walmart's proposed site, gives tens of thousands of dollars to schools thanks to corporate initiatives based on customers' purchases, Vargas said. Competition from Walmart could reduce the money spent at Target, thus cutting back funds going to schools, she added.
Ideally, residents in that area would like to see something a little more activity- and family-oriented added to the community. Suggestions have ranged from more locally owned, sit-down restaurants to a park or a bird sanctuary.
"We're looking for something different," Vargas said. "We want something that enhances the community."
3. Traffic and Safety Concerns
Traffic congestion along Harlem Avenue, south of I-80, is a constant concern for residents living in that area thanks to Brookside Marketplace and the First Midwest Bank Amphitheatre. The addition of Walmart and Sam's Club will only add to that, according to Vargas. For instance, the Country Club Hills Walmart store averages about 10,000 vehicles a day, she said.
"Traffic is a huge concern," Vargas said. "What's going to be affected for the people living in Brookside Glen and Tinley Trails?"
The first concern for those residents is safety. The influx of more cars could not only endanger children living in those neighborhoods but also make it a bit more hazardous driving the streets with so many vehicles, Vargas said.
The worries about safety also extend to potential crime increasing in the area and how that could tax local law enforcement. From Jan. 1, 2012, to Aug. 30, 2013, the Country Club Hills Walmart location was the source of about 1,500 police calls, and the Orland Hills store was the source of around 900 such calls, according to statistics Vargas gathered from Freedom of Information Act requests.
Those figures only represent calls for police assistance, not actual crimes being committed. But it indicates the additional work a Walmart store could add to the Tinley Park Police Department, Vargas said.
"Those are 900 times police are being called to Walmart when they could be out patrolling," she said.
CORRECTION (2:30 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 17)—An earlier version of this story had the incorrect location of Walmart's Orland Hills location.