North Avenue needs a plan

Opinion: Letters To The Editor

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We strongly support Alderman [Deborah] Graham's proposed ordinance limiting the geographic concentration of pawn shops. Contrary to her statement in Tim Inklebarger's story, some businesses are worse than vacancies. Any business that scares residents and positive businesses away is worse than a vacancy. Indeed, Ald. Graham [29th Ward] has tacitly acknowledged this by proposing her ordinance and helping us oppose the Behind Close Doors nightclub (which seeks a license to operate at 6206 W. North Ave. in Chicago). We appreciate her efforts in both cases.

Thank you for your editorial's kind words regarding the successful efforts of residents on either side of North Avenue, which presumably motivated Ald. Graham to propose her pawn shop ordinance. Unfortunately, the win you credit to us comes too late to help North Avenue. 

Even if Ald. Graham succeeds in getting her ordinance passed (a tall order considering the money and power associated with chains like EZ Pawn), we're stuck with five pawn shops within two blocks. Once a business opens, it is very difficult to get it closed. (That's why we're working so hard to prevent Behind Close Doors from opening a nightclub in the first place.) 

And what about the concentration of cash-for-gold stores, currency exchanges and payday loan shops along North Avenue between Austin and Harlem? These businesses also scare residents and positive businesses away. 

We look forward to working with Ald. Graham and our Oak Park representatives to recruit the kinds of businesses to North Avenue that Galewood and Oak Park residents will gladly support: coffee shops, restaurants, and great retail stores like Barnard's Schwinn and Serrelli's Italian deli.

Recruitment of desirable businesses is good, but what we really need is an overall plan to guide such efforts, as well as zoning, traffic calming, safe crosswalks, physical improvements and so on. Despite the highest traffic counts and the most affluent demographics of any business district in the village, North Avenue is the only commercial corridor in or bordering Oak Park for which no such plan exists. (See http://www.oak-park.us/village-services/planning/business-district-plans) 

Martin Noll's proposal for a new Oak Park Development Corporation states explicitly that "recruitment efforts will be guided by development plans." We fear that without a viable plan, North Avenue will continue to be ignored or that development efforts will be less than effective. We intend to work with community and government leadership on both sides of North Avenue to extend and complete the 2006 streetscape plan as a means of jump-starting the overall planning process.

We will continue working for a real win on North Avenue — a thriving commercial district that serves the needs of Galewood and Oak Park residents living nearby. We invite our North Oak Park and Galewood neighbors to join us. Send an email to opfolk@comcast.net and/or to northwestcommunitycoalition@gmail.com. 

Judith Alexander and Joe Graber,

Co-founders, North Avenue Neighbors Association of Oak Park (a member organization of the Northwest Community Coalition uniting residents of Galewood and Oak Park)

Reader Comments

5 Comments - Add Your Comment

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Different Dude from Oak Park  

Posted: January 10th, 2014 10:05 AM

I am not sure where greed fits in. I do know that the Chrysler dealer was shutdown for fraud, the owner of one popular bar was murdered, the funeral home lacked adequate parking, MB financial moved to River Forest. Every place has a story. Who makes money on empty lots?

The dude  

Posted: January 9th, 2014 10:20 AM

Dan, I never said "communal" greed, but meant the greed of the powers at be that cared more about profit than quality. Also, with Austin changing for the worse, it's not hard to imagine that seedy businesses would take over from where quality ones left. Just look at the makeup of establishments in Austin, most of which are liquor stores and churches. If Aldermans had put a cap on the number of negative stores in a single area, maybe the growing disfunction would be minimized in some way.

Dan in Oak Park  

Posted: January 6th, 2014 7:04 PM

Dude, thru the 70s North Ave was lined with restaurants, bars, grocers, fast food, drug stores and service businesses like doctors, dentists and insurance agencies. I can remember St Paul Bank, North Oak Chrysler, Colombian Chapels, Hogies, Cafe Chablis, Black Steer, Red Fox, Cock Robin, Jack in the Box and Musicraft. Hard for me to believe that a communal greed and lack of caring set in on all of the above businesses, but it does sound like the residents at least miss what they once had.

The dude  

Posted: January 4th, 2014 10:31 AM

Dan, parking may be an issues, but greater forces have changed North Ave. into what it is today. Greed and a lack of care for the area has made North Ave go down hill. Empty store fronts can be given to artists to do pop up exhibitions, which would help bring a sense of vitality to North Ave, but the bank and people like the Ald. are in it for the short term profit. No one gentrifies as quick as a group of artists moving into a down trodden area.

Dan in Oak Park  

Posted: January 4th, 2014 10:06 AM

Having worked on North Ave for over 35 years I have witnessed the addition of parking restrictions, cul de sacs and no right turn signs designed to turn the street into a barrier, all at the request of the residents. Businesses need parking and the old buildings here were designed to rely on street parking, so it should be no surprise when you take the parking away, you marginalize the district. Reap what you have sown.

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