So much for being all-powerful

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By Dan Haley

Editor and Publisher

The common rip on Oak Park is that it is run as a benign dictatorship by a batch of leftists who seek to determine our every move. Obama socialists who have no respect for the free market, it is said.

Oh, if only this were true — or, if it were true, that our socialist dictator overlords were better at their work. Instead we get the grief of being portrayed as anti-business while the village's efforts to dictate who can locate where are constantly rolled by some combination of bureaucratic weakness or process fatigue.

Two cases in point, starting with the most recent: A Tae Kwon Do studio is about to relocate from Forest Park to 111 N. Oak Park Ave. That's the block with Winberie's and The Irish Shop, il Vicolo and Nora's Shoes. That's one of Oak Park's showcase retail blocks with fabulous old buildings, businesses you call by name, a parking garage the village is still paying for, and, with an extra-special zoning overlay that demands only retail and restaurants.

A number of years back when a storefront bank was close to gobbling up a huge frontage on the block, the village and the local business association sprang to action and imposed the retail overlay for North Oak Park Avenue and Lake Street. It stopped the bank dead in its tracks (and that bank was later closed by the feds).

Of course, we wound up with a nail spa in the same space. But some argue that a nail spa is sort of retail. A martial arts studio, though, is not retail by any logical definition I can conjure. It is a low-end use of prime retail space in a town that is supposed to dictate all.

This week, the Oak Park Plan Commission will hold a hearing on the arcane aspects of whether some commercial special-use variances should be decided at the commission level or if each of them should be kicked back to the village board for its final nod. This debate follows the, to me, shocking approval of a dentist's office in another prime retail space on Lake Street near Euclid Avenue. Yep, that block is also part of the retail overlay district and no one is suggesting that having your teeth capped is a retail use. Instead, the building's owners, and I consider them good friends, argued for the variance on a hardship basis, and they won the day. No one was too worried because all involved assumed the decision went back to the village board and the board seemed clearly anti-dentist. Even some members of the village board were surprised they didn't get the final vote.

So much for being the masters of all one surveys.

The closest our village got to busting a move in the interests of protecting scarce retail was the recent scaring off of a daycare center from a retail space on the fancified South Marion Street. It took some ugly maneuvering and fact-twisting to stop it, but it felt like the right outcome.

Oak Park is about to start looking for a new economic development manager. You assume the person will be involved in finding big developers to help fill the long vacant village-owned development sites in and around Downtown Oak Park. That's good. But how about this person also becomes the embodiment of sticking up and aggressively protecting the retail zoning we already have, of making real the hundreds of thousands the village has spent on master plans to make us a retail and restaurant destination rather than a village that settles for a karate studio dead center on a main drag.

Disclaimers: As noted last week I'm long active in the business association along Oak Park Avenue and Lake and worked hard on the retail-only designation on North Oak Park Avenue. I'm also a minority owner of the Journal's headquarters on South Oak Park Avenue and we've currently got a storefront we are trying to lease. Time to find ourselves a Tae Kwon Do school.

Email: Twitter: @OPEditor

Reader Comments

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Lori from Oak Park  

Posted: March 5th, 2013 9:47 PM

In order to get respect you have to show it. I don't think Dan had any right to put down Flying V either. We are standing up for a wonderful, wonderful place. That part of Oak Park will be booming because of Flying V. Watch.

Speedway from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: March 3rd, 2013 7:43 PM

@Forest tree - I appreciate your viewpoint on this martial arts studio. All the preceding comments give one thought. But why the need to put down Dan Haley. Agree or disagree but there is no need to attempt to prove your opinion with name calling. It is time we learned to respect each other and even differing points of view.

Speedway from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: March 3rd, 2013 7:16 PM

When I was a high schooler living outside OP, we came frequently to enjoy downtown OP shopping. Today, it is nothing like the past. Too few retail stores, too many restaurants. No large anchor stores like Wards, Marshall Fields, Wiebolts or Lyttons. As much as I would like to see the storefronts filled, I have no interest in gazing into the non-retail space of a martial arts studio. No offense to anyone, just my personal perspective. Wish we could go back to when OP was a really great plac

Forest from the trees from Oak Park  

Posted: March 3rd, 2013 4:20 PM

I know it's not smart to pick fights w/ one who buys ink by the barrel, but that's not the reason I won't fight you Dan. The reason I won't fight you is I feel sad and sorry for you. Your stance on this issue paints you further as what I fear you've become, a sad and bitter man that can't come to grips w/ he fact that neither the town, the economy or your precious paper holds the same status or utility when you started 33 years ago. Flying V will help retail and build strong character kids.

Lena from Oak Park  

Posted: February 15th, 2013 6:29 PM

Reading this article makes me terribly sad. Dan has no idea who Master Vinson is and all the wonderful things he does for the community. Master V makes it his goal to do everything he can to make sure he contributes to whatever community he is in and welcomes everybody with open arms. Times are growing and changing. Next time you go harping on someone, why don't you get to know them before assuming, Dan.

Blake Harvey from Forest Park  

Posted: February 15th, 2013 10:51 AM

Dan's "karate studio" comment suggests that he views Flying V as the stereotypical martial arts studio. This is definitely not the case! Flying V is active in community events like food drives and parades. These are families that live, work, and go to school in the community. Master Vinson places a huge focus each session on learning discipline and respect for authority. Teaching good values to the children in the community is alone reason enough for Flying V to be here!


Posted: February 13th, 2013 2:20 PM

I also want to point out that Master Vinson is a huge supporter of the community. He is constantly gathering donations for the OPRF Food Pantry and has had fundraisers for various schools. He's constantly encouraging the kids to think positively and strive to be better people. I should think that Oak Park would want to welcome him, not discourage him.


Posted: February 13th, 2013 2:10 PM

Let's see, say an average of 15 kids/class, 4-5 classes/day, Tues-Sat, not to mention numerous private lessons. Everyone paying for parking. All those parents/tkd students who stop somewhere for a coffee or snack nearby on the way in. Parents dashing out to Magic Tree or Geppetto's to shop during class. The families going out to dinner after class because they've already parked and it's dinnertime. I can see how this is going to be *terrible* for business on OP Ave.

Jimmy Walsh from Oak park  

Posted: February 9th, 2013 1:06 AM

I would echo Krista's comments-- I know our family spent a lot of money in Forest Park businesses that we will now be spending in Oak Park. The instructors at Flying V are unfailingly kind and respectful, and I am sure that it's North Oak Park Avenue neighbors will grow to be happy to have them (and their customers) nearby. I am curious about how the WJ fits in as a "retail" space-- I suspect some of its neighbors would be happy to see it replaced with a salon, dentist, or Tae Kwon Doe studio!

Business friendly   

Posted: February 8th, 2013 2:00 PM

Krista, I wish there were a way to "like" comments. I'd have hit the button. Well, said.

Krista from Oak Park  

Posted: February 8th, 2013 1:45 PM

Flying V is a fantastic addition to the neighborhood, especially for the local restaurants and stores. When Flying V was in Forest Park, the parents purchased their coffee from the nearby Starbucks. Now we will go to Caribou or Starbucks in Oak Park. Following late afternoon TKD, parents took their kids to various Forest Park restaurants for dinner without moving their cars. Now we will go to the numerous restaurants in Oak Park, without moving our cars. Same thing for Saturday lunch.


Posted: February 6th, 2013 11:39 PM

While the aesthetics and parking/logistics of families during class times are not ideal, the school draws a large and loyal following. The same demographic that frequents Erik's, Magic Tree, Winberie's, and Geppetto's Toy Box, attend these classes. In an hour, there's plenty to buy and retail services to frequent. The studio highlights a sense of community - please stop complaining and look to the positive. When was the last time you curmudgeons even spent any money or time in that corridor?

Silly OP  

Posted: February 6th, 2013 8:06 AM

Firstly, "Tae Kwon Do" is not "Karate". Secondly, I agree that it's a very strange and possible negative choice of "the avenue", or is it "the Hemingway district" or something like that. I don't know how a martial arts school fits into a retail and dining historic district? Plus, where are all the parents dropping their kids off for class suppose to park? A much more appropriate location would be the large empty property at Chicago and Ridgeland. They've got parking AND it's more residential.

Business friendly  

Posted: February 6th, 2013 7:56 AM

Nothing wrong with a Tae Kwon Do studio. Or nail salon. Unless the Village is willing to actively attract something "better" through incentives. Anan at least has this part right...we need to be more business friendly. And quit trying to dictate what type of business can go where. It's not a strip club. It's a studio retailing lessons and instruction.

LaVerne Collins from River Forest  

Posted: February 6th, 2013 7:32 AM

I must disagree with the previous comment. A Karate School is NOT better than an empty storefront. This outrageous decision by VOP Zoning, without a hearing or resident involvement, has negatively impacted the economic development of this beautiful and historic area. Just last night, I walked by the Karate School, to find gym bags, coats, shoes piled in the storefront windows. Not to mention the giant big-screen TV playing a constant reel of Vinson's students. Shameful of you Mike Bruce.

OPOz the Great and Powerful from OP  

Posted: February 6th, 2013 5:41 AM

Dan, thanks for your commentary. However, the concern isn't that the Village Board is "all powerful", it's that they continually strive to be social engineers (at worst) or (at best) pretend that they are the leasing agents for a gigantic, elite suburban mall. Your comments and examples only serve to prove that they continue to strive, but, alas,are all too often too incompetent. A tae kwon do studio or dentist's office in this economy are better than empty storefronts.

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