By Anna Lothson
Galewood neighbors against the approved EZ Pawn shop slated for North Avenue in Austin aren't ready to back down.
The North Avenue Neighbors Association has filed a complaint with the Circuit Court of Cook County over the shop. The Chicago Zoning Board of Appeals approved the shop earlier this year for a strip mall along North Avenue near Narragansett. The ZBA certified that decision on March 12.
The new store would be located at 6432 W. North Ave., a small space that has been vacant for many months. Galewood residents, along with those in neighboring Oak Park who live near North Avenue, have opposed the pawn shop — the fifth in the area — from the beginning. The issue spurred multiple community meetings.
Ald. Deborah Graham (29th Ward) has faced criticism after writing a letter in support of the shop. Graham maintains she's not pro-pawn shop, but supports having a business in that location that's been empty for some time. Residents, however, haven't been swayed.
The complaint states that "petitioners will be substantially affected by the outcome of this decision and will suffer special and unique damages to themselves and their property."
Larry Andolino, a Galewood resident and lawyer representing the petitioners, filed the complaint on April 16. The neighbors insist that the shop doesn't match the character of the community and would also spur more crime.
The ZBA's decision can be overturned — an Oct. 15, administrative review has bet set to determine that.
Andolino, however, anticipates a court date will occur well in advance of that hearing. Based on his interpretation of zoning codes, Andolino isn't convinced that EZ Pawn fits the criteria for the special-use permit it was granted. According to the city's zoning ordinance, a special use permit is granted to businesses that are "in the interest of the public convenience and will not have a significant adverse impact on the general welfare of the neighborhood or community, [and] is compatible with the character of the surrounding area."
A special-use permit cannot be granted, Andolino and others argue, if all criteria are not met. In the complaint, Andolino references a section of Chicago's municipal code. It states that pawn shops may not be located within 1,000 feet of each other. There are already multiple shops within 1,000 to 1,500 feet in the area — three are in Oak Park and one is in Chicago.
Oak Park has established a moratorium on opening any more pawn shops.
Andolino adds that the ZBA relied on opinions of a real estate appraiser and an urban planner who weren't qualified on the subject. The complaint lists myriad reasons why residents from the two towns don't want another pawn shop in the area.
Among the reasons listed: 300 petitions in opposition and 30 residents from the communities who spoke against the use, including a retired Chicago police sergeant who said his experience shows that "pawn shops increase property crimes and cause security concerns."
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