By Anna Lothson
Parking in Oak Park usually brings out some frustration.
The case of the newest IGO car-sharing charging station sparked some negative electricity to the subject – although this time, the village mended its oversight once the business community fired back.
Merchants say the sky-blue solar-powered charging station being built on North Boulevard between Forest Place and Marion Street is a pre-holiday disaster. The aesthetics of the structure itself have a few merchants scratching their heads, but more importantly the merchants worried about construction taking up 23 parking spaces – especially during the holiday season.
Downtown Oak Park and merchants say there was a lack of communication between village leaders and businesses that would suffer through the change.
Karen Morava, owner of CarefulPeach Boutique, 1024 North Boulevard, said she's most frustrated that no one in her retail world knew the fencing would be going up, nor the construction happening.
After retailers howled, most of the spaces were returned – with the exception of handful of spaces that the structure itself takes up – but Morava was still frustrated with the process.
"The village never bothered to consult with anyone," she said. To her knowledge, this included the property owners, business owners and DTOP leaders.
The damage has since been minimized, and spots near her business have returned. Morava said she was pleased with how the village was able to fix the communication and space mix-up quickly.
"It looks like someone listened to our letters," she said. "And they pushed forward. I am thrilled about that."
Morava is also confused why the village allowed IGO to put this particular structure in an area that is in the middle of popular events, like Oak Park's annual Oaktoberfest. In downtown Oak Park, particularly where new development may happen soon with the Colt building location, scarcity of parking already can be an issue, Morava said.
"Four spaces doesn't seem like a lot, but it means a lot to business owners," she said.
A letter to the village board from Jason Smith, owner of the Book Table, also expressed that the lack of communication with business owners. He said the episode demonstrates a perfect example of the ongoing frustration businesses owners have with the village. His business, which does a large chunk of its sales during the holiday season, needs proper parking in the district for its customers, he said.
Smith said the concept of an IGO station is a good one for the village, but the execution of the agreement, and communication with those it impacted most, was poor.
"Apologies after the fact mean nothing," he wrote in the letter. Being on Lake Street, his business is sheltered somewhat from this problem, but he mentions in the letter the negative impact the structure and missing spaces caused for businesses on North Boulevard.
Jill Velan, Oak Park's interim parking manager, said as of today many of the parking spaces are back and ready for use and despite the construction going on for another week or two (contingent on weather). Parking is open and available near the structure, she said.
The agreement between the village and IGO, the car sharing company, allows for the installation of two electric car-charging stations along with public charging stations. The deal was approved in 2011, but because it was a regional plan, it was unknown when Oak Park would see the stations.
Once Oak Park officials heard back from IGO, which is covering all costs, construction started Oct. 21. The company promises to finish by Dec. 14. Fencing was supposed to be down last week, but weather issues kept it up a week longer than anticipated, Velan said.
While construction finishes work vehicles and supplies will only be there – taking up parking spaces – during weekday hours. Velan said all spots will be open during evening and weekend hours.