Draft village agreement looks to ease Mohr tension

? Neighbors give mostly favorable reviews to pact; Owner says he's not satisfied, may sell.

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By KATHARINE GRAYSON

It isn't easy running Oak Park's last industrial operation. It isn't pleasant living next to it. And smoothing over years of built up angst between quiet-seeking neighbors and a business that has to break blocks of concrete with a jackhammer to survive isn't a simple task, either.

In an effort to take on that task, however, the village and H.J. Mohr & Sons concrete have been working on a joint operating agreement for months. The agreement is designed to address a series of nuanced conflicts between neighbors and Mohr, ranging from when noisy operations can begin and end, to how dust generated by the cement plant is swept up.

Neighbors who reviewed a draft of the plan at a meeting Thursday said they were mostly pleased with the terms. Concerns remained regarding some details, including noise generated by village sweepers that would clean streets around the plant, at 915 S. Maple St., between midnight and 5 a.m. daily.

"This isn't a perfect agreement, but it's a good start," said resident Barbara Otto, chair of the South Oak Park Community Council (SOPCC). "We feel like the more we talk to Mohr, the more we're moving the village on these issues."

But cement plant owner Steve Mohr said on Monday that he's less optimistic that issues between his business, neighbors and the village can be easily resolved.

Mohr said he's not concerned with various landscaping requirements in the agreement and other fine points.

However, a sticking point for him is a proposed requirement that he could only jack-hammer hardened concrete one day a month, and that day has to be a Monday through Friday and only between 8 a.m. and 3 p.m.

The restrictions could cause as much as 10,000 pounds of concrete to build up a time, he said, adding that stipulations in the agreement may cause him to violate rules set out by OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) and the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT).

"The neighbors don't like the noise, but are they going to pay my fines?" he said. "How many other businesses in town have to sign agreements with the village?"

Mohr said he's tried "appeasing" the neighbors, but isn't interested in spending too much more money on lawyers. If "worst comes to worst" he said he'll sell to a larger cement company?#34;but not to a developer.

"I told my father I'd never do that," he said. "We already have two offers, and one is real good. I'll have to sit down with the family. I don't want to be the one who sells it."

The family-owned Mohr company has been in Oak Park for over 100 years, but neighbors say the impact of the cement plant's operation on residents has grown more taxing in recent years, especially after it purchased and expanded into a parcel at 1105 Garfield St.

"When I moved here in 2000, I knew it was here, and I was fine with it," Otto said. "Then the walls were yellow, and they were parking trucks in an area zoned commercial."

At last week's meeting, neighbors said they're interested in seeing Garfield Street developed into more of a neighborhood-friendly corridor.

Mohr denies that his business has expanded, saying that this year, he didn't license 19 of his vehicles, and has laid off 15 drivers.

The draft agreement would call for Mohr to remove concrete from the 1105 Garfield property, and landscape the perimeter of that lot. The company would also agree to repair the walls around his plant.

To address noise, trucks would no longer be allowed to back into the plant and wouldn't be able to idle near the company's property in the early morning. The vehicles would also have to keep mostly off residential side streets.

Neighbors said they hoped the village board could approve the agreement as early as March.

Village spokesperson David Powers said the village has a "desire to move something forward," but that a vote on the agreement has yet to be scheduled.

Mohr would have to sign the agreement before it could be implemented. 
CONTACT: kgrayson@wjinc.com

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