Despite opposition from one Chicago alderman and residents from both Galewood and Oak Park, a new pawn shop — the fifth one in the area — will soon open up on North Avenue near Narragansett Avenue.
Chicago's Zoning Board of Appeals on Jan. 18 voted 3-1 to approve plans for an EZ Pawn store just west of Narragansett Avenue. Opposition to the store had mounted prior to that meeting. The public, however, learned of the zoning board's decision last Wednesday when offices reopened after the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday.
The store is set to be the fifth pawn shop clustered along North Avenue between Ridgeland and Hayes Avenues.
EZ Pawn, a national retailer, has come under fire from Ald. Nicholas Sposato (36th), whose ward would house the store.
"I'm very, very disappointed," Sposato said after hearing the news about the zoning board's decision.
The alderman said he plans to appeal the board's decision and is looking into legal counsel.
Objectors have 35 days after the board issues a resolution — which can take up to 60 days — to file an appeal to the Cook County Circuit Court, according to the Zoning Board of Appeals' office.
The decision came as a shock to Sposato, especially after a city planning and urban development committee sided with the alderman and about 30 residents of his ward at a special hearing that also took place on Jan. 18.
The committee said it would not recommend a permit for another pawn shop in that section of North Avenue, but that the final decision was up to the zoning board.
Sposato says the community doesn't need another pawn shop, which many Galewood residents agreed. Residents were also upset with Ald. Deborah Graham for supposedly backing EZ Pawn's plans to set up shop. The store is located within Sposato's 36th Ward, but by 2015 will be located within Graham's 29th Ward after the city's wards are redrawn.
According to Sposato and residents, Graham submitted a letter of approval to the city for EZ Pawn, causing some neighbors to accuse her of going behind their backs.
Graham refuted that charge last week and insisted she never wrote a letter of support for another pawn shop in the area.
Graham said she did not go behind the community's back, as she has discussed this issue with Sposato and residents who have contacted her about the proposed store. Graham stressed that she's been trying not to "butt heads" with Sposato.
She said EZ Pawn came to her, and she also initially said no. Graham says she thought it was a done issue, but then Austin Bank of Chicago approached her and said the strip mall where the bank is located, 6400 W. North Ave., needed an anchor store, which has been vacant for years.
According to Graham, the bank told her it would be hard for a small business to fill the large space or to pay for remodeling, and that EZ Pawn, which was in communication with the bank, could be appropriate for the site.
The letter she sent to the city was not in support of another pawn shop in the area, Graham said.
"It was for the bank. The bank asked me to support (EZ Pawn) for an anchor," she said, adding that it was a tough business decision.
But the publicly-traded EZCorp, which owns the EZ Pawn stores, has the means to fight to get the site regardless of what she or other aldermen say, Graham explained.
"They have the wherewithal to make a case," she said. "I said to Sposato, 'Our best defense is to go for a moratorium, that no more (pawn shops) be put in the area.'"
Graham said she is seriously considering putting forth a moratorium on any new pawn shops in the 29th Ward going forward.
EZ Pawn has some additional plans for the location, but Graham said she couldn't comment on the details until the company makes the announcement at a community meeting in the coming weeks.