Concrete future

Opinion: Editorials

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It's a private business with private business problems. But our story this week that the 125-year-old H.J. Mohr & Sons concrete plant had unexpectedly closed its doors several weeks ago is rightly creating a public discussion.

Sitting on more than a block at Harlem and Garfield, Mohr Concrete is the ultimate in anachronistic land uses in Oak Park: An open-air concrete manufacturing plant.

We appreciate the warm feelings of residents who filled their kids' sandboxes each spring at Mohr. We are moved by the online comments of Mohr staffers tracing their employment over generations at the plant.

However, we also recall the multiple community meetings we covered over the decades with the plant's immediate residential neighbors hollering about endless dust, all-hours truck traffic, and the perpetually decaying outer perimeter of the plant.

Mayor Anan Abu-Taleb made all the right comments last week in an interview with the Journal. The village is in communication with the Mohr family, wants only what is best for this private business, will be patient in seeing what comes next.

However, we know well that, going back several years, Oak Park's village government has more actively attempted to urge Mohr out of town, both to relieve the impact on the neighborhood and to open a prime piece of land for redevelopment. Those efforts were unsuccessful but not inappropriate.

Can the Mohr family regroup and find a buyer for its concrete plant? Seems likely that efforts to sell the business came before the closure. But we will see.

In the meantime, reasonable discussions about future uses are inevitable. Village government has plainly been looking ahead.  In 2002 it eliminated all "industrial zoning districts," leaving Mohr as a "legal non-conforming use."  The site is currently zoned as General Commercial which allows, for instance, multifamily residential, a micro-brewery, micro-distillery, micro-winery, restaurant, retail, and assorted other non-industrial purposes. By the way, current zoning puts a 45-foot height limit on any new project.

This will be one to watch.

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