A small parade of stroller-pushers sometimes makes its way past Sue Collins' spacious backyard to see her four horses.
Collins isn't the only one with a backyard stable and equine friends in Palos Hills, where several dozen half-acre residential properties within a mile of the Cook County Forest Preserve have special zoning for horse barns. With a city horse trail that runs into the preserve, the horses provide a unique and rustic recreational venue and entertainment for residents and visitors.
There are also two riding stables on Kean Avenue for those who don't own a horse in this suburb 16 miles southwest of the Loop.
"I've had neighbors who call if they think a horse is lying down too long," said Collins, vice president of the Palos Hills Horsemen's Association, a 60-member club that advocates for area horse owners. "The neighbors seem to really like them and keep an eye on them," said Collins.
That friendly atmosphere, along with the affordable homes and good schools, attracted Christine and John Zielinski, 18-year residents who are originally from Chicago.
The couple, who have three children in the local public schools, also like that families pull together in times of crisis. When a family was struggling financially several years ago, the Zielinskis and other neighbors raised money for their groceries.
The Zielinskis also applaud the schools for providing plenty of extracurricular activities for students and extra academic help when needed. Public school students attend District 117 for pre-kindergarten through junior high, with several schools also in Hickory Hills, and Amos Alonzo Stagg High School in District 230.
"I love them," said Christine about the schools. "They have great potential for the kids," she said.
Adults from the region flock to Moraine Valley Community College, the second largest of the state's 48 community colleges. The college, which has about 20,000 students per semester on its 294-acre campus, also ranks in the top 8 percent nationally of the fastest growing schools with enrollment over 10,000 students.
Palos Hills, whose population is about 18,000, is conveniently accessible by major highways, and Harlem Avenue and LaGrange Road. Though there is no Metra station here, the Palos Heights train station on Southwest Highway is minutes away. The city also runs a bus service for seniors and people with disabilities.
A pedestrian-friendly place with plenty of sidewalks, Palos Hills' 4.2 square miles makes it the largest and most urban of the three Paloses, which also include Palos Heights and Palos Park.
Adjacent municipalities are Chicago Ridge to the East; Worth to the east and a little south; Bridgeview and Hickory Hills to the north; and Palos Heights to the South.
"We have an unusual and great rural setting in that we're surrounded on two sides by forest preserve yet we have all the urban amenities of living in the city," said Gerald Bennett, who has been mayor for 30 years. "I hate to say it, but it's the best secret in the southwest suburbs."
Bennett raised three daughters in the suburb with his wife, Chris, and is president of Bennett Dental Labs Inc. in Palos Hills, president of the Southwest Conference of Mayors and chairman of the board of Southwest Central Dispatch, which provides police, fire and ambulance dispatching for 17 south suburban communities, including Palos Hills.
The main business strips are along Roberts Road, which runs through the center of town, and along Southwest Highway and 111th Street.
Sid's Greenhouses and Garden Center, a long-time retailer here, attracts customers from around the region. Walgreens, Ace Hardware and fast-food restaurants are nearby, and Lassak Delicatessen features Polish specialties. Residents often shop for major food purchases at full-service grocery stores in surrounding communities.
Popular restaurants include Bertucci's for Italian fare, Zante Lounge and Eatery, Ciao Ristorante and Peppo's sub shop.
"It's a good business area to draw from because you have Moraine Valley Community College, the industrial area and a lot of customers from the (5th Municipal District) courthouse in Bridgeview," said Jim Peplowski, co-owner of Peppo's, a family business that's been in the community for 35 years. "Considering the economy, we're doing pretty well because we've got a good reputation and a lot of old customers keep coming back."
The city's industrial area, located from about 111th Street to the Cal-Sag Channel and west of Southwest Highway, includes Executive Mailing Service and C&S Petroleum Inc.
Palos Hills commissioned a Fort Worth-based consulting firm to study demographics and buyer trends to help boost economic development in three sections of the city. The study will be discussed at a meeting for business owners in late September.
"Economic development is kind of a number one priority," said Bennett.
The housing stock's diversity and affordability are a big draw. Palos Hills has a fair amount of multifamily developments interspersed with single-family homes, particularly split-levels, ranches and two-stories.
Home prices have ranged from $360,000 for a two-story house built in 1976 to $73,500 for a two-story foreclosure home, according to Susan Byrne, a real estate agent and broker with Coldwell Banker in Orland Park. Condos and town homes have ranged from $175,000 for a two-bedroom to a low of $39,000 for a one-bedroom foreclosure.
Sue Grandys, a real estate agent with Re/Max 10 in Oak Lawn and long-time Palos Hills resident, said she has seen many first-time homebuyers in recent months, noting that home values have dropped $30,000 to $50,000 since 2007.
"We have the South Side flair with the down-to-earth working people but easy access to go north and south on I-55, I-294 and I-355," said Grandys.
Neighborhoods are considered safe with most crime limited to property thefts, said Ald. Marty Kleefisch, who heads the city's Public Safety Committee.
"We do a good job of patroling our town, and the residents know our police are there," he said.
The city has 10 parks, including Pleasure Lake Park, which has a lake and a catch-and-release policy, and the scenic Townsquare Park, with a veterans memorial, waterfall, playground and grassy stretches. Palos Hills Golf Club, a nine-hole golf course, was built on a former landfill donated to the city. Its 2,400-square-foot clubhouse is available for business meetings and social events.
The Community Center offers such classes as yoga, senior exercise, jazzercise, art, music and cooking. It also provides trips to swimming pools in Oak Lawn, Palos Heights and Summit.
The city's Friendship Festival attracts hundreds in July with a carnival, music, food and fireworks, and the Haunted Hayride is a highlight in October.
"We have a variety of programs offered at good prices, plus the festival gives families an opportunity to have some fun and meet with their neighbors," said Mary Jo Vincent, community resource and recreation commissioner.
For culture buffs, the repertoire at Moraine Valley Community College's Fine and Performing Arts Center includes a blend of music, dance, theater and art. The 575-seat Dorothy Menker Theater is the center's main attraction.
The Fine and Performing Arts Center "has become a premier [venue] throughout the entire metro area with ongoing cultural programs and educational opportunities," said Bennett.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times