Oak Park village board denies daycare center a spot on Marion Street

Board follows staff's recommendation to keep space open for retail

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By Anna Lothson

Staff Reporter

A two-year process that involved a multi-sided debate between business owners, Oak Park village staff and the Plan Commission fizzled Monday night when the once-approved plans for the a new daycare center on South Marion Street were shut down by the village board.

As a result, the hopeful daycare owners, who left Monday's meeting in tears, are giving up on their goal of settling in Oak Park and looking elsewhere.

The recently upgraded South Marion Street has been at the heart of many back-and-forth discussions about the role of a retail overlay district in the area to spark business growth, but in June the village board voted the retail only requirement down. The issue of implementing the retail restriction, which initially had a 3-3 split vote, was eventually unanimously voted down. The consensus from trustees and business owners was that the economic market isn't ready for the restriction even though the village had just spent millions on streetscaping upgrades.

In October 2011, Oak Leaf Academy, a daycare center for children age six weeks to 6 years, received approval to operate on the 100 block of South Oak Park Avenue, but a lease was never signed. Roughly a year later in September of this year Oak Park resident JoAnn Gantar and River Forest resident Melissa Lumkes filed an application to move into 206-208 S. Marion St. instead. The current occupant of that space, Maison Suzanne, a retail furniture and antiques store, is looking to sublet the space. The daycare plans indicated the center was designed to enroll up to 67 children at a time, and would have 10-12 employees to run the center.

The issue of allowing a daycare to move in brought out three people speaking in favor of the applicants Monday night, each citing a number of positive educational opportunities the center would create in Oak Park that aren't offered elsewhere in the area. A number of parents in the community spoke at past meetings in support, along with residents who wrote to the board. The one person who spoke against the application Monday night was a local leasing agent in the area who suggested the street is not designed for such a use.

Village staff's recommendation clashed with the plan commission's 7-0 vote in favor of the special use permit for the daycare. Village Planner Craig Failor said his perspective was purely from a design standpoint, saying the plan doesn't fit the use of the area and Oak Park's future vision for more retail in the area. Business Service Manager Loretta Daly also said staff views the area, despite not having the retail overlay, as still being a retail focused area. The center likely would not produce the same number of people a retail store or restaurant would, and therefore she suggested the daycare should look at another area in Oak Park.

Lumkes and Gantar explained to the board they had met with the Oak Park Development Corporation, which supported the applicants, but none of the available locations met their needs. The proximity to public transportation, Mills Park and local shops and restaurants were major perks for the daycare, the applicants said. They also explained that a daycare has strict requirements about space, number of exits and windows, which the Marion Street location fit. Going elsewhere in the village would require massive renovations and money they did not have.

Following about an hour of comments, questions and testimony from each side, village staff, the plan commission trustees and the applicants, the issue was eventually voted down 4-2, with Trustees Bob Tucker and Adam Salzman casting the dissenting votes in favor of the day care center.

Mike Fox, who owns both the Maison Suzanne building and the nearby Carleton Hotel, has been an advocate for the daycare center. He said during the retail-only discussion about South Marion that the street doesn't get the same foot traffic as other districts, and he suggested the village should let the market play itself out. Marion Street has continually been brought up in retail discussions because of the $5 million beautification project for the street that was done with the hopes of attracting more retailers.

The decision left Lumkes and Gantar upset. They left the meeting directly after the vote. In a phone interview Tuesday morning, Lumkes said they have no choice but to pack up their Oak Park plans and start looking at alternative locations, potentially in the West Loop of Chicago. Lumkes, who said her family has been in Oak Park since 1905, is also questioning whether she wants to stay in the community.

"I've been a long-time supporter," she said. "I don't feel as strongly as I once did. I don't know if this is the place I want to continue my future. [The board] made it clear a vacant storefront is more important than a preschool that would have become an asset to the community. … We're definitely looking elsewhere. We cannot go through this process again."

Email: anna@oakpark.com Twitter: @AnnaLothson

Reader Comments

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Natalie Rauch Kelly from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: March 18th, 2015 4:23 PM

Looks like they haven't given up on Oak Park just yet...there's a meeting in a couple weeks regarding the vacant property they are looking to lease at Lake and Lombard.

A realist from Oak Park  

Posted: November 13th, 2012 9:34 AM

Lauren, that's na´ve. Oak Park is a subsidiary of the Cook County Democratic machine; look at the election results. The local "machine" is the VMA, and they've already slated candidates. Unless you want to run against them, you won't have an option.


Posted: November 12th, 2012 5:07 PM

The election is in a couple months. Thats your opportunity to express your pleasure or displeasure with your candidates running for office.

John Butch Murtagh from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: November 12th, 2012 4:02 PM

Kyle - I'm with your comment 100%.


Posted: November 12th, 2012 3:12 PM

John, I think my concern is having some appeals process . Certainly shouldn't be a first answer, but it would solve so many of our "controversial" decisions around here if we voted. Other towns do it for liquor, zoning, even major spending.

John Butch Murtagh from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: November 12th, 2012 2:29 PM

Nick - you might be right, but thirty years of little progress with downtown and millions of dollars spent, does not support the concept that the national economy is the cause of the downtown malaise.

John Butch Murtagh from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: November 12th, 2012 2:26 PM

Kyle - I don't know if turning the decision making over to referendums is the answer, but no idea should be ignored in trying to end the board's secrecy and arbitrary approach to governance on pet issues. The easiest way to make change is by voting. It's manic that OP has the highest voter turnout for the presidential election but has one of lowest turnouts in local elections. In 2008, it was said that reason voters did not turn out for the April election was that they were tired of politics after the presidential vote. Bull!! Voting is about caring, not about available energy.


Posted: November 12th, 2012 10:16 AM

Perhaps it is time to do what other communities do & take this type of decision out of the hands of village officials...if put to voters, it appears from the comments here that we would have overwhelmingly approved the daycare.

John Butch Murtagh from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: November 12th, 2012 12:28 AM

There are a lot of post whether the day care center is a good or bad business for Marion, but my sense is that the issue is moot. It appears to me that the board had no authority to deny the day care business. When the Madison Housing Project (now Grove Apartments) was approved, the board instructed the Plan Commission to restrict its discussion to zoning issues. That is, there would be no board discussion on neighborhood impact such as safety, impact on retail businesses, etc. We were told that by law the village had no authority in the decision beyond zoning. Why wasn't the same board criterion used for the day care center. I am still stumped by the board's public agreement to not allow the Marion Business Association to restrict non-retail. It suggests that the board has figured out how to use both OP law and lack of OP law to its advantage.

Nick from Oak Park  

Posted: November 11th, 2012 5:34 PM

My word was "relative" Chris - a lot of downtown districts are doing much worse than Oak Park. When the economy gets better, we would have regretted giving that space to a non-retailer.

Chris from OP  

Posted: November 11th, 2012 5:15 PM

You must live in a different OP. (Former Borders, former Sprint store, other side of Penzeys, former Lane Bryant and the two next to it. North Marion is fine but this particular building only has a couple occupants and many holes.

Nick from Oak Park  

Posted: November 11th, 2012 4:22 PM

@Chris - Go look for yourself - Downtown Oak Park has relatively few vacancies, especially on Marion. A day care business does not drive retail sales like a retailer or a restaurant. There's plenty of other places they could go in Oak Park.

Chris from OP  

Posted: November 11th, 2012 9:36 AM

@Nick Right because there are SO many businesses clamoring to move into that block. OP can't even keep Lake St filled. Yet another shortsighted decision by a board know for foolishness.

Nick from Oak Park  

Posted: November 10th, 2012 9:27 PM

The Village Board made the right decision. This space is meant to have a retail business. There are plenty of other buildings they could locate in. It's easy for people to think that any business filling a storefront is better than nothing.

Beverly from Groton  

Posted: November 10th, 2012 7:16 PM

This is so disappointing. I was thinking of moving back home to Oak Park, but perhaps that is not the place to spend the rest of my life.

OP Resident   

Posted: November 10th, 2012 1:03 PM

OP is expectional at creating historical landmarks and momuments to the past. Creating economic value and being practical - not so much.

OP Person  

Posted: November 9th, 2012 4:19 PM

Brendan - I don't expect the village government to control destructive choices by individuals, but they should be able to construct a reasonable plan to bring businesses into the village.

Blue Stone DIsaster  

Posted: November 9th, 2012 4:11 PM

Do all the people suggesting that a daycare center would be a retail magnet realize the OPRF Day Nursery a block away has been around for 100 yrs without a retail Mecca materializing around it?

Courtney from Chicago   

Posted: November 9th, 2012 3:39 PM

OPV board just shot themselves in the foot. Who do you think will shop (& pay your precious sales tax) at the future bookstores, ice cream shops, maternity stores that are sure to pop up around Oak Leaf Academy? The 67+ parents picking up their kids.

Blue Stone Disaster  

Posted: November 9th, 2012 3:10 PM

Funny, without the misguided decision to invest millions of public money on high end streetscaping this would have been a no-brainer. But ultimately the board made the right decision. This is just the blue-stone disaster playing itself out.


Posted: November 9th, 2012 3:06 PM

44 comments on an empty storefront; 0 comments on a troubled apartment building where a girl overdosed on heroin.

A realist from Oak Park  

Posted: November 9th, 2012 2:15 PM

Skewed view on development? This and the Walgreen's item show an unreal development view; it wastes effort and micromanages every space in the Village. Reality bites: Nothing will change with an on-line chat. That takes work and organization.

Stephanie from Chicago  

Posted: November 9th, 2012 2:04 PM

As a daycare owner in Chicago I can tell you the board missed a wonderful opportunity here.


Posted: November 9th, 2012 1:21 PM

Would love someone from the Board to comment in response to our frustrations....what exactly are the plans for this space?

Bruce Samuels from Oak Park  

Posted: November 9th, 2012 12:13 PM

Thanks to Bob and Adam for voting the right way. Sixty-seven children and 10-12 employees mean that possibly 100 folks would be in the area. These folks would be shopping there and helping the other businesses.

OP father of 2 from Oak Park  

Posted: November 9th, 2012 10:38 AM

Luckily, Trustees Brewer and Hedges are up for re-election next year. We can all do our part to make sure they no longer are involved in these types of decisions.

Craig from Oak Park  

Posted: November 9th, 2012 10:05 AM

John, Colette was the one missing. I am told she was in favor of O.L.A., but the four morons would have still had majority.

Marlene Scott from oak park  

Posted: November 8th, 2012 9:06 PM

I agree with Mr. Fox. Let the market decide. I live a block away and think a day care center would be a great addition to the neighborhood.

John Butch Murtagh from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: November 8th, 2012 9:01 PM

Missing Board Member - Does anyone know which board member was absent for this vote?

Square Rocks FTW from Oak Park  

Posted: November 8th, 2012 7:50 PM

After seeing the immense amount of brick going into the Scoville project, I firmly believe that the (obviously) unlimited funding of brick-based enterprise is the way of the future in Oak Park. We could use the left over bricks for kids to play with.

Square Rocks FTW from Oak Park  

Posted: November 8th, 2012 7:48 PM

Apparently what tipped the scales was this Day Care center didn't require the installation of new brick pavement. Along these lines I'd like to offer myself as a consultant for future business ventures along Marion. There's opportunity here. (cont).

OP Mom from Oak Park  

Posted: November 8th, 2012 6:15 PM

To OP Dad: it looks like only two of the trustees thought about that.

Op resident - berwyn business owner  

Posted: November 8th, 2012 4:37 PM

We just completed a 450k investment in berwyn. We could not get a return call from oakpark. When. We did we were told 2 years for zoning and permit al

OP Dad  

Posted: November 8th, 2012 3:43 PM

Did no one on the board consider the potential financial impact of having the parents of 67 kids drawn to that area? I would love to make a quick stop for conveniences, dry cleaning, and other small errands while also picking up my kid and saving on taking her in and out of the car. Better to have an empty store front drawing NOBODY?

Stephen M. Scott from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: November 8th, 2012 11:06 AM

Since the retail restriction was unanimously voted down in June, obviously the board considered and accepted the idea of non-retail businesses opening on Marion St - yet denied Oak Leaf Academy despite support from Village staff and the OPDC. So exactly what type(s) of non-retail business will the Village board allow in this area? We deserve an explanation on this so as not to waste other small businesses' time when considering bringing their business to Oak Park. OP's loss of small businesswomen like Lumkes and Gantar will likely be Berwyn's, Forest Park's, or Chicago's gain.

Dennis Gerecke from Naperville  

Posted: November 7th, 2012 3:02 PM

Another example of idiots running government that extends all the way up the food chain. The current anti business and anti freedom environment that Washington gives us an example of. And now we get four more years of this!!

Oak Parker  

Posted: November 7th, 2012 11:28 AM

To A Realist - Clearly the village would prefer to see a business that generated sales tax. Unfortunately, that doesn't seem to be one of the choices. The choices are, as I understand them, a day-care center that would make life more convenient for many residents, or another empty storefront. Once again, village government has chosen an empty storefront. Luckily, for Oak Parkers, we have Forest Park to the west and Berwyn to the south.

Another Oak Park Mom  

Posted: November 7th, 2012 10:32 AM

This is so dissapointing. I currently schlep my child half way across town when I could send her to a day care 3 blocks from my home and 1/2 a block from the CTA. I was envisioning picking up dinner at one of the many restaurants along Marion, etc. My life would have been made! Sadly this will not happen. I am dissapointed with the decision.

OP Resident  

Posted: November 7th, 2012 10:00 AM

@A Realist - agree completely. So let's pool some money and open a wig shop in that storefront.

A realist from Oak Park  

Posted: November 7th, 2012 9:38 AM

Follow the money. That's how to infer government motives. The Board is looking for a business that generates SALES TAX! Day care centers don't do that, so the board is hoping some sales-tax producing business will respond to the streetscape. It's about government's own survival rather that community needs.

Business Supporter from Oak Park  

Posted: November 7th, 2012 7:31 AM

Someone suggested that the village board may have voted this down because they have another business in mind. That's pretty despicable if true. For me it would be reason to remove the individuals or leaders of organizations from their positions of responsibility. Certainly a prospect for that location wasn't shared with the larger community. If you support our village, represent the village, are in any way paid by the village - that type of prospect should have been disclosed in this process.

sherry from oak park  

Posted: November 6th, 2012 10:30 PM

A similar thing happened with The Giving Tree daycare about 7 years ago; they finally gave up on Oak Park and moved to Forest Park.

OP Resident  

Posted: November 6th, 2012 10:14 PM

Please give Berwyn Development Corporation a call. They are bright, get stuff done! 7087888100

OP Resident  

Posted: November 6th, 2012 9:47 PM

Typical nonsense with the Village Board trying to play god w/o rhyme or reason. Wigs and Section 8 on Madison are good; day care in the holy brick-paved street section bad. Do you have ANY idea how hard it is to find quality day care in Oak Park? Please, people, take the time to vote out incumbents and show you're sick of the political pandering. I'm just thankful we have Trustee Lueke's strong business development background to expand Oak Park's business base. It's working great, huh?

Oak Park mom from Oak Park  

Posted: November 6th, 2012 8:59 PM

I'm so disappointed in the board members who voted against this business. This is a loss for our community.

The Hansmanns from River Forest  

Posted: November 6th, 2012 8:53 PM

We were looking forward to the opening of Oak Leaf after reading about it in a previous article. It seemed to be a great idea in a great location. Typical government micro-managing--this is anti-business and anti-jobs. When will there be progress?

Judith Moroni Martin from Wheaton IL   

Posted: November 6th, 2012 5:58 PM

As a small business owner myself, I know how difficult it is just to get this far with your dream of opening a business. Having been raised in Oak Park I know that Marion Street was never prime retail space - and will never be prime retail space. Your Oak Park Village Board did not do right by these two business women nor the Village of Oak Park Residence.

Brian Slowiak from Oak Park  

Posted: November 6th, 2012 5:16 PM

I thought the Republicans were at war with women. Could these two have have won approval if they promised to place a canopy over the public sidewalk?

Brian Slowiak from Oak Park  

Posted: November 6th, 2012 5:08 PM

These two wonderful business women are the lucky ones. They are being kicked out of Oak Park and will do very well w/o this town. They are free from idiots. Retail question: If I live on 300 S. Marion and order in the morning a take out dinner after work at Poor Phils or I drop off and child at 8am and pick up my child at6pm, isnt that retail on both purchases? Useful idiots,the board,and in this case un-useful idiots.

Oak Leaf Moves On!  

Posted: November 6th, 2012 4:45 PM

Prospective business owners willing to take a risk with their own dollars and start up a business (early childhood daycare) that is complementary to the OP community and alleged retail area. VOP Trustees - WAKE UP! Your planning vision is Utopian and its obvious that its working (right?). You should have let the community decide with their $$$ that the daycare facility was viable. Truly a shame and an example of what's wrong with today's government leaders who think they can do no wrong.

Suzanne Cahill from Oak Park, IL  

Posted: November 6th, 2012 4:33 PM

I fully supported bringing the child care facility to 206/208 S. Marion. I was very impressed by the talented & intelligent young women that had this dream. The village board and staff have never been in my business, Maison Suzanne Gallery to inquire about business on this street. They did nothing to support and help out when they took all my customers away during the 7 months of construction. Restaurants thrive here but retail has been a nightmare from the day I moved in. Your loss Oak Park


Posted: November 6th, 2012 4:18 PM

Wow - what a shame! I hope these two women are able to find a more welcoming location.

John Butch Murtagh from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: November 6th, 2012 3:59 PM

Who represented the customer (Oak Leaf Academy) in this affair? It is certainly not the board or the village staff. Anyone bringing a business, particularly taxable, is a customer of the village. Opening a business requires time, money, research, planning that is critical to a business investment. A key part of the research and planning is to ensure the business is welcome, that the government policies are fair, honest, and professional, and that any policy deviations are discussed openly. When the board contradicts its own policies, its Plan Commission, and the recommendation of its business development partner (OPDC), it tells the prospective new business that they misread the village's fairness, honesty, and professionalism. This particular affair adds to the common view that OP is a risky place to invest. I disagree with the posters that suggested the location would remain empty now that Oak Park Academy has been removed from consideration. My bet is that the board's decision indicates it is making way for an already identified customer that they believe is a better match for Marion's brick city. I commend Trustees Salzman and Tucker for standing up for the customer.

Janet from Oak Park  

Posted: November 6th, 2012 3:51 PM

Who would want to have increased foot traffic on Marion, support early childhood education in Oak Park and agree with a unanimous Plan Commission decision when a building space can just sit vacant for many more months? Thanks to Trustees Salzman and Tucker for approaching this with a little common sense.

Aaron from Oak Park  

Posted: November 6th, 2012 3:51 PM

What is wrong with our Board? Here you have a good business that doesn't clash with the surrounding area wanting to fill a vacant space and they vote it down. There are so many vacant or undeveloped areas in our village - why are you against business? It's walking distance from my office and I would have considered taking my daughter there... I look forward to elections.

Craig from Oak Park  

Posted: November 6th, 2012 3:38 PM

Congrats on blocking employment, foot traffic to a slow area, and (most importantly) early education! The Village Board never ceases to amaze. I need to move.

XOak Parker from Cary, Il  

Posted: November 6th, 2012 3:36 PM

Shame on the board


Posted: November 6th, 2012 3:26 PM

Anyone wanna guess who the two sensible board members are? (Hint: they're Adam and Bob)

Parent and businessman from Oak Park  

Posted: November 6th, 2012 3:08 PM

Par for the course. The OP Board is very short-sighted and is driving away important businesses that will enhance the life of Oak Park residents. This righteous, I know best-mentality has pervaded this town for many years; when will it end?

Lori LC from River Forest  

Posted: November 6th, 2012 3:01 PM

This is the same mindset that currently runs our country with government backing losers like Solyndra and A123 with goverment dollars. Government has no idea what to do in business and that should be left up to the private sector.

Madison Business District  

Posted: November 6th, 2012 2:47 PM

Are the same Board members who "protected the integrity" of the South Marion business district the same people who completely screwed the Madison business district by approving a low income housing project on prime RE? Also, how does the OP side of the "new improved" Roosevelt Road look compared to the Berwyn side? Anyone else living in South OP feel like they are being cheated by the Board? At least Mr. Pope is leaving. That is a good start...


Posted: November 6th, 2012 2:39 PM

Thanks for those 2 votes, Adam & Bob...the rest of you on the Board--esp the ones I would think know better!--you already voted against retail only. You overruled your own Plan Commission. It's a perfectly fine use of business space. Really this was a no-brainer...and you got it wrong.

Michael Leslie  

Posted: November 6th, 2012 2:25 PM

This is terrible. The Village of Oak Park makes yet another bad decision. I guess the VOP Board would rather have eyesore developments like the empty SoHo and vacant storefronts than a business that builds our community. Way to go VOP planning staff and Board.

Local Business Supporter  

Posted: November 6th, 2012 2:18 PM

Where was their support from our village supported organizations? I would think that OPDC &/or Chamber of Commerce folks would be up in arms about this long wait for this business to open as a needed additional resource in this community. Anyone? Answer: absent and not interested! Need I add that this location may well sit empty for some time and that even IF it isn't a retail driven location, that the additional traffic would have helped.

There's No Market In Oak Park Market  

Posted: November 6th, 2012 2:14 PM

At least we've got two people on the board who know how business and markets work. This is the kind of government oversight that has so many in this country questioning what government's role should be in the marketplace. It's one thing to advocate for consumer protection and protections--but a completely different paradigm when planners pick winners and losers. Folks, the economy is not strong enough to pick the kind of business we want. This will do wonders for those considering OP options.

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