VOLO – Kurt Johnson drives home on fumes just to fill up his gas tank at the Thornton’s at Routes 12 and 120.
It’s not because it’s the cheapest – it’s not always. It’s because he wants the village of Volo to get those sales-tax dollars.
Johnson, who has lived in Volo for six years, is the village’s newest trustee. He previously served on the Planning Commission.
He thinks his background – he has a degree in economics – will lend itself well to working on marketing the village and bringing development.
He also hopes to represent the residents, particularly those on the southern end of town. Three of the trustees live on the north side, one in the historic section, and two, including Johnson, live south of Route 120.
He was appointed in March to fill the two years left in Trustee Kurt Justice’s term. Justice resigned because of work obligations.
Johnson sat down with reporter Emily Coleman to talk about why he got involved with the village government and what he wants to accomplish.
Coleman: How did your interest in village government come about?
Johnson: Even before our house was finished, before we were living here, I started attending village board meetings over when they were behind Bobby’s [Barrel Inn] there.
The biggest concern was when the village was going to move to home rule. That got me interested. I read up about it. It gives the board a lot more power, a lot more taxation power. I just wanted to be up on the facts of what they were doing.
Coleman: The village ended up going to home rule. Have you had any concerns about things the board has done since its implementation?
Johnson: I don’t think so. They answered all of our questions early on, initially, of their intent and have always been forthcoming with their plans on what they want to do. I’ve always been very happy with the board.
Coleman: Is there anything in particular you want to accomplish or change as a trustee?
Johnson: I’ve been on the Planning Commission since, I think it was, 2010. We’ve done a lot of work reviewing and updating the comprehensive plan, and one of my biggest concerns was accommodating pedestrian traffic.
I grew up in Lombard, where there was a sidewalk to any point in that town, so you could walk or ride your bike. Obviously Route 12 is a challenge. I don’t know if you would ever be able to get a crosswalk or tunnel or viaduct for 12 to connect the historic village to the newer part of Volo. I think ultimately that is a huge challenge.
Along those lines, in the comprehensive plan, we incorporated a vision of pedestrian walkways and thoroughfares on any additional business or residential areas that come into the village.
Coleman: Anything else?
Johnson: Probably my biggest goal is to get development here to Volo because they recently did an economic study and hired a firm. It was just a big fat zero on retail. My wife and I, we have to drive 25 minutes to get anything, to go anywhere, except for gas. We have a Thornton’s.
Coleman: So your emphasis would be more on retail development as opposed to other commercial development like headquarters?
Johnson: Absolutely. All those staples and day-to-day things that we spend our income on should be feeding back in, creating jobs and tax dollars in the village. We don’t have a Target, a Walmart, a Sam’s Club, anything. It’s supporting other communities. We need retail and other businesses here badly.
Coleman: What do you like about Volo?
Johnson: It’s a small-town feel. It was exciting to come here, to see it grow. I think there was maybe 300 to 400 people when we first moved in, and now we’re up to 2,900. It was just exciting to see a home town grow and develop.
Coleman: Development was pretty quick over the past decade, but with the housing market crashing, that’s not happening anymore. How do you see Volo’s future shaping up?
Johnson: We came here in a really big downturn in the housing market. When we moved in, the Volo Village Market Place had a sign that said spring 2007. We assumed all of that would be here, and here we are. It’s nothing that the village could have done. It was just the economy.
But I think it’s coming back. I think the comprehensive plan that they have and how they’ve mapped out, how they foresee how it’s developing is a good plan.
Coleman: When you’re not at work or at Village Hall, what do you enjoy doing?
Johnson: I like to golf. The boys keep me busy most of the summer with baseball and football. I used to coach.
Coleman: Where are people most likely to run into you around town?
Johnson: Walking the dog. Everyone knows Lucy.