In wake of daycare denial in Oak Park, a Marion St. debate

Board discusses use of space, pedestrian safety

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By Anna Lothson

Staff Reporter

The Oak Park Village Board, the plan commission and village staff all agreed the Oak Leaf Academy was a great fit for Oak Park. The debate at last week's board meeting, however, boiled down to where that daycare center should go.

Last fall, the daycare applicants — Oak Park resident JoAnn Gantar and River Forest resident Melissa Lumkes — received village board approval to operate in the 100 block of South Oak Park Avenue, but the building never became available. So, the duo was back to square one looking for a new location, when they were put in touch with the Oak Park Development Corporation.

After reviewing all available properties, Gantar settled on the space at 206-208 S. Marion St., where Suzanne Cahill, owner of Maison Suzanne retail furniture and antiques store, was looking to sublet.

A special use application was needed due to the nature of the business. But when village staff received the request, they informed Gantar and Lumkes that a daycare center was not suited for the space and, therefore, would likely not receive their approval. However, with the backing of the property owner Mike Fox and Oak Park Development Corporation, the applicants moved forward to make their case.

A year later, on Monday, Nov. 5 at a meeting of the village board, trustees denied the special use application by a 4 to 2 vote.

Village Board President David Pope, who spoke highly about the qualifications and presentation of the applicants, said he couldn't support the daycare center moving into that specific space. He hoped they would look elsewhere in the village to find a more suitable spot, equipped with better access to safe pick-up and drop-off areas.

"The business plan is certainly one that is well thought out and would be a valuable contribution to the community," Pope said in a follow-up interview Friday. "It would be a great thing if we could have them in the community in an appropriate and safe location."

Pope said he, along with village staff, didn't believe the five parking spots at the Marion Street location were enough, particularly because of the volume of cars at specific points of the day.

"Some places in community are no-parking zones designed specifically to cater to daycares for pick up and drop off," Pope said. "That doesn't exist in this area, in large part, because it's a commercial district where the parking is intended to be used by folks patronizing the commercial district."

Although the board voted unanimously in June to not designate South Marion as a retail overlay district, Pope said the board may have the chance to re-address the retail zone issue once the economy improves.

Cahill, who is looking to move out of her location within the month, said she is upset with the lack of understanding for local business owners on South Marion Street.

"This [space] is really suited for a service business," Cahill said.

She thinks the high rent will keep most retailers out and will result in her 4,000-square-foot space being left empty.

"I would like to know what type of retail could survive here," she said. "I really think it's politics — saving face because [the village] put all that money into it."

That 7 to 0 vote not to force a retail zone on the street was the main reason Trustee Adam Salzman was upset his colleagues shut down the daycare proposal.

"There was no reason for us to deny it given that we didn't zone it retail," Salzman said. "Now where does that leave us? Do we have some sort of retail requirements? If we are going to have those kinds of policies, they need to be explicit policies. That really bothers me."

Salzman worried about the board sending inconsistent messages and giving the impression of not being small business-friendly. He said the applicants acted on the policy that was set by the board.

Trustee Bob Tucker, who voted in favor of the daycare center, said he'd prefer retail in the area, and said he respected the plan commission process (7-0 in favor of the use) and thinks there are many benefits of a daycare center like Oak Leaf Academy.

"Early childhood development has long-term ramifications on children in this village," Tucker said. "You're adding people, you're adding parents, you're adding kids on that street. … There seems to be a lot of advantages."

As one trustee who voted against the daycare use, Trustee Ray Johnson said the issue was not about the use, but the location, particularly one he though lacked proper pick-up and drop-off space.

"There should be little impact to neighboring uses," he wrote in an email Monday. "The evidence presented was not compelling in regards to limited neighborhood impacts, (especially during the evening weekday rush hour)."

Email: Twitter: @AnnaLothson

Reader Comments

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Look At Lincoln Park For Examples  

Posted: November 20th, 2012 12:16 PM

Before my wife and I and our 2 young children moved to Oak Park a few years ago we would drop them off daily at Lincoln Park Preschool, which is located at the base of the Beldon-Stratford apartment building. Folks that worked, even without parking.

Blue Stone Disaster  

Posted: November 19th, 2012 2:41 PM

Ironically that failing retail store is a victim, in part, of OP planners' plan to encourage Marion St retail. But seeing as how they bet $5million of taxpayer money on retail, I'm not ready to walk away from the table yet and so say "Let It Ride!".

OP Translpant  

Posted: November 19th, 2012 1:45 PM

There's a beautiful retail store located in the building now, but I understand that it's failing. Not the best omen for potential retailers. Having opinions about what should go there is pointless. Better daycare than windows papered over.

Michael Belker  

Posted: November 19th, 2012 1:02 PM

You forget that the mighty Brad has spoken of the bottom line. Discourse must cease. For those that forget, Brad is unhappy with trash in parks (but won't pick it up) and people from Austin trick or treating in OP.


Posted: November 19th, 2012 10:33 AM

Fredda, I should be more clear that I'm not opposed to broad zoning rules. But if people don't want wig shops, we need to take a hard look at the incentives & policies driving diff businesses to setup. We need to attract better, IMO.


Posted: November 19th, 2012 9:16 AM

Kyle, In one breath I hear people say let open markets decide, but in another breath I hear "dont let there be any more wig shops or beauty supplies or pawn shops " I guess govt can be helpful when you want it to be. According to whose desires? Ha

Enuf is Enuf from Oak Park  

Posted: November 16th, 2012 5:32 PM

This is why OP's Comprehensive Plan process is a meaningless exercise. Pope, Johnson, & Colette Lueck (PoJoCo) have routinely and blatantly disregarded the existing Comprehensive Plan and Zoning Ordinance, so as to advance their own agendas.

Patricia O'Shea  

Posted: November 15th, 2012 11:04 PM

It's true OP Mom...Sills, I'm flattered that you wanted to see if I'd notice you poking. I'm still reading...just not much time to join the conversation these days.


Posted: November 15th, 2012 5:46 PM

Those of us with toddlers would love the convenience of drinks before listening to the tantrums though, Moe. lol


Posted: November 15th, 2012 4:46 PM

Turning down this request avoids the outrage that goes along w/ opening a school w/in 500 feet of place that sells alcohol. "Villagers! Stand down with your pitchforks and torches (or corkscrews and Zippos)!"

OP mom  

Posted: November 15th, 2012 2:28 PM

If this is true then I apologize to P. O'Shea for the mistaken identity

John Butch Murtagh from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: November 15th, 2012 2:19 PM

I can confirm that Patricia O'Shea is on the good guy list. The other Patricia formerly was called Silly and her only goal was to disrupt.

Blue Stone Disaster  

Posted: November 15th, 2012 2:09 PM

Patricia1's imagery is indeed unfortunate. It's more like spending $40K for a high end kitchen in granite and stainless, then deciding a year later, no, this is going to be the playroom and painting it over in primary colors.


Posted: November 15th, 2012 1:43 PM

Don't confuse FB verified Patricia with the one farther down, OP Mom. The one w/ O'Shea at the end was trying to be clear that the previous Patricia was not her, I think.

OP mom  

Posted: November 15th, 2012 1:23 PM

Patricia, making comments on a discussion board is silly but comparing a day care center to taking a dump on a sidewalk is not? very immature

Patricia O'Shea  

Posted: November 15th, 2012 11:02 AM

How many times are you going to comment on this Silly?

Craig from Oak Park  

Posted: November 15th, 2012 8:58 AM



Posted: November 15th, 2012 8:40 AM

Missing, I think you're right on...people are arguing whether a daycare "fits" on Marion, but perhaps the larger question is whether the Village should be deciding or the free market. Let the daycare open & customers will tell you if it belongs.

Missing the Point from Oak Park  

Posted: November 15th, 2012 8:30 AM

A few people are missing the point on this: the board voted unanimously not to extend the retail requirement for this part of Marion. Presumably Brad thinks that vote was wrong. And then in this case the board (except for Salzman and Tucker) disregarded a unanimous recommendation of its volunteer citizen commission.


Posted: November 15th, 2012 6:58 AM

South Marion is a great looking area. Much better than it has been. Putting a day care on this street is like taking a dump on the side walk. Business thrives in OP. Unfortunately we only hear the cries around the losers in business.

Brad? not VMA Pres Brad?  

Posted: November 15th, 2012 6:03 AM

@Brad@ Ok Smart guy, you said what won't go in the space: daycare and wig shop (agreed they are all on madison with many new ones opening by village hall) what will go in the space and how will you make it happen?

Brad from Oak Park  

Posted: November 14th, 2012 10:21 PM

Hyperbole. Clearly the Village would not a wig shop in the space either. No offense to any of the people posting here, but a daycare/pre-school doesn't belong in that space. It's not the correct space or fit. Bottom line.

OP Resident  

Posted: November 14th, 2012 9:55 PM

Oak Park, proud village of vacant storefronts. Please, do NOT try to put a well thought through business in one of them or we will make your life very difficult. Forest Park and Berwyn want free thinking individuals. Wig shops only need apply here.


Posted: November 14th, 2012 5:55 PM

It wasn't directed at you, per se, OP Transplant...just general. I'm wondering if it would have mattered if it had been a vacant storefront.

OP Transplant  

Posted: November 14th, 2012 5:19 PM

I understood that the current tenant was finding it necessary to leave, necessitating the sublet. That would leave the space empty. Did I misunderstand?


Posted: November 14th, 2012 5:10 PM

To clarify, the storefront in question is not currently was an attempted sublet. See the excellent Letter to the Editor from that business owner.

OP Transplant  

Posted: November 14th, 2012 4:55 PM

As I understand it, the day care is the only business that wants the space. The village isn't choosing from a range of options. Is the empty storefront more aesthetically pleasing?

OP mom  

Posted: November 14th, 2012 4:23 PM

Jamie, OLA is a preschool, not a day care, and how can you say that it would have been an eyesore to see young children enjoying themselves while learning and being cared for while families of this community are at work!

Jamie Lynn from Oak Park  

Posted: November 14th, 2012 4:00 PM

I'm SO glad they aren't moving in there. This area has a sophisticated, old-fashioned feel to it...the cobblestone, hanging lights and restaurant patio. Coming down Pleasant Street, the first thing you'd see is the day care. Anddd that makes no sense

OP Transplant  

Posted: November 14th, 2012 1:13 PM

Are you suggesting that the space should remain empty to make staying at the Carleton more appealing? Do you have in mind a quiet business with minimal traffic? Does the village know about this mystery business? Did you maybe imagine it?

Craig from Oak Park  

Posted: November 14th, 2012 1:11 PM

Blue, the pickup and drop off was designated to 5 parking spots around the corner. There would be no idling engines (I've never seen that at my preschool). And I haven't stayed at the Carleton, are the walls that thin? I'm sure the L is louder.

Blue Stone Disaster  

Posted: November 14th, 2012 12:58 PM

Craig: "Oak Park Ave...a much busier street". Precisely. A daily procession of idling engines and slamming car doors would make a stay at the Carleton or breakfast at Poor Phil's a much less appealing prospect.

Craig from Oak Park  

Posted: November 14th, 2012 12:46 PM

Brad, there is no problem whatsoever on Oak Park Ave and that is a much busier street.

OP Transplant  

Posted: November 14th, 2012 12:20 PM

The village isn't interested in permitting a lowly day-care center occupy space on their precious new streetscape. Working parents? That space is destined for more prestigious things! I'm sure there's a great plan we just wouldn't understand.

Blue Stone DIsaster  

Posted: November 14th, 2012 11:50 AM

2. Daycare caters to working parents. To believe dropoffs and pickups would be spread over a 3 hr window is a fantasy, just like the idea that all the primarily driveby traffic & parents rushing to and from work would somehow create a retail magnet.

OP Transplant  

Posted: November 14th, 2012 11:49 AM

Brad has a point. I breeze through much of the West side of Chicago with minimal traffic, thanks to all the empty storefronts! Thriving service businesses would sure slow me down.

Blue Stone Disaster  

Posted: November 14th, 2012 11:47 AM

@OPmom: 1. The applicants proceeded despite being told upfront by village staff that the location was unsuitable.

Brad from Oak Park  

Posted: November 14th, 2012 11:44 AM

(cont)....there is absolutely no way that drop-offs and pickups could be made on Marion Street in the morning and afternoon without complete congestion in that corridor. Anyone who is claiming otherwise hasn't used daycare or driven in OP.

Brad from Oak Park  

Posted: November 14th, 2012 11:42 AM

What am I missing here between all of the whining? The applicants were informed a year ago that the project likely wouldn't receive approval, so it was a risk they chose to take. Likewise, no matter what anyone claims, there is absolutely no way...

OP Resident - Elsewhere Business Owner  

Posted: November 14th, 2012 11:40 AM

We tried to deal with OP and were told it would take two years for zoning and $100,000 in property taxes. Let's just be honest - and say OP does not want business here and focus on how to taxes homeowners more.

OP mom  

Posted: November 14th, 2012 11:30 AM

Pope's own experience with congested drop off and pick up times is from picking up his children at a private school here in OP, which has a set time to do so, not a 3 hour window like OLA would of had, so of course cars are lined up outside

OP mom  

Posted: November 14th, 2012 11:20 AM

Why send the applicant to the Planning Board if the Village Board is going to disregard their recommendation? The issue of safety and parking was hashed out with Planning and they decided it would not be of concern if the 5 parking spots were used!

Blue Stone Disaster  

Posted: November 14th, 2012 10:24 AM

& I hear u Kyle. When I moved to OP in '89, S. Marion included a grocery store, cleaners, and used book store - all draws for me on my walk to the CTA. But blue stone and high-end cheese and furniture are of little use to Wash Blvd apt dwellers.

A realist from Oak Park  

Posted: November 14th, 2012 10:07 AM

The board's issue is ego and money. Their own ego in admitting that a $5-million streetscape didn't create a business district. Money from the reality that the streetscape won't pay back in sales taxes. Parking and congestion are smokescreens.


Posted: November 14th, 2012 9:59 AM

I hear you, Blue Stone. But given the current makeup of the district, how many years before we could (let's pretend here) turnover these storefronts to create a shopping area? A decade? It's a fair commercial use vs. wishful thinking.

Blue Stone Disaster  

Posted: November 14th, 2012 9:38 AM

The horse is already out of the barn as far as the retail obsession: OP bet $5 million on Lakota's grand scheme, however ill-advised and out of touch. I, for one, am not ready to write off that $5mil in the name of a brick-paved kiddie drop off zone.


Posted: November 14th, 2012 8:20 AM

Quit w/the obsession with "retail." This area already has a funeral home, law office, salon, real estate, counseling office, photography studio, financial services. That looks pretty service-oriented to me. Why not work WITH the new business?


Posted: November 14th, 2012 8:16 AM

There is always plenty of parking available...esp. meters across from Mills Park past the funeral home. You could easily create a dropoff area...on quieter Pleasant if not Marion. And you could easily calm traffic & properly mark crosswalks.

John Butch Murtagh from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: November 13th, 2012 11:17 PM

All I can say about this travesty is: thank God we have two board members (Adam Salzman and Bob Tucker) that play by the board rules rather than making arbitrary decisions based on politics. Salzman and Tucker have consistently shown that the have a sense of the village and vote as representatives of the people. It is noteworthy that they are the newest board members. Experience is not always a beneficial characteristic of those in politics.

Enuf is Enuf from Oak Park  

Posted: November 13th, 2012 10:20 PM

I am beginning to lose count ... will this be the 3rd or 4th lawsuit against the village due to Pope and Johnson's hubris and incompetence?

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