Downtown Oak Park business group opposes non-retail at Borders

Issue expected to be pushed to June meeting

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By Anna Lothson

Staff Reporter

The former Oak Park Borders, located at 1144 Lake St., will remain vacant as the logistics regarding possible zoning variances are worked out between the zoning board of appeals and the property owner, Water Tower Reality.

A legal notice was published last month reporting the applicant's request for a medical clinic in a space that doesn't currently allow such uses under the downtown area's zoning restrictions. The zoning regs for that part of Lake Street state that general office uses are "incompatible with retail uses on the ground floor unless located at least 50 feet from any street line in areas adjacent to and in close proximity to mass transit station." The clinic must also occupy some of the first floor, otherwise it's against code.

The initial variance request, however, which involves using roughly 4,000 square feet of the 10,000 square feet property, will likely be continued to the zoning board's June 6 meeting following a quick approval of the change at Wednesday night's meeting. Attempts to reach the property owner this week were unsuccessful.

The first-floor presence the clinic would have is one issue that doesn't sit well with the downtown business association.

"Downtown Oak Park is not in favor of a medical use in that retail space," Pat Zubak, executive director of the group said. "The organization feels – and we are not alone – that a medical and office space would deaden the street."

Zubak said she's not seen a plan for the space so she could not comment on specific requests for a variance. But in general, she said the association would not favor any non-retail space moving into the former Borders space.

"It doesn't fit," she said. "It doesn't generate any interest. It doesn't keep pedestrians moving from store to store when they hit a dead zone. … That space is the keystone of it."

Zubak said there has been some interest in retailers moving into the space, but it's up to the property owner to determine who will move into the space. She said because the owner is hoping to lease the former two-floor Borders space as a full package, including the lower space, it creates more of a challenge.

Sara Faust, president of the Oak Park Development Corporation, said Monday that the company has not been involved in the zoning discussions yet, but said the group will likely weigh in if the issue moves forward. Currently, she said her only conversations have been with the property owners of the building, but not related to any specific non-retail uses.

Mike Bruce, Oak Park's zoning officer, explained if the applicant moves forward they will attempt to show why they can meet the variance standards. The issue will be taken up by vote and will need four members to get a favorable recommendation. Any recommendation from the zoning board will ultimately go to the village board for final action.

A public hearing for anyone wishing to voice opinions will also be held at the June 6 zoning board meeting.

Email: Twitter: @AnnaLothson

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Posted: May 5th, 2012 12:23 AM

wait, that Target that was going to go in the colt building can go in here....oh, never mind. How about that, oh, never mind. Where are all the people who bad mouth every new restaurant and every move the bldg owner @ 1100 Lake makes to come up with a bright idea of what to put in here. Perhaps one of those kind souls can buy it, and give below market rents as they all scream and shout whenever someone moves out of 1100 Lake. Invite Barbara's back and see if they can pay their rent this time

Monty Rock III  

Posted: May 4th, 2012 6:21 PM

This would be a fabulous location for a gay bath house.

Old School from Oak Park  

Posted: May 4th, 2012 5:19 PM

This building would be perfect for a major retailer like Macy's...oh, wait a minute...

Brian Slowiak from Oak Park  

Posted: May 4th, 2012 1:04 PM

The Whiteco Building has had two vacant stores since the the building has opened. Those stores are down the block from the "prime" retail space which was Borders. If the old Marshall Fields Building is "prime" why doesnt someone fix the outside clock, which has been broken for years. The building is junk.The roof leaks.There is no modern parking .Put the medical office in.

A couple questions  

Posted: May 3rd, 2012 4:20 PM

If leasing the old space with lower level is such a challenge, why is the building owner not doing something to improve it to make it more attractive? Shouldn't that be the 1st option before zoning variances are asked for? And has the owner reached out to some major retail to then go to the village and ask how the 3 parties can all make a deal for something good there?

Anthony Shaker from Oak Park, IL  

Posted: May 3rd, 2012 3:23 PM

Sure DTOP and its oligarths oppose the variance req. Why use your gray matter and try to make this bleak bldg work for the owner? Borders Bldg will never attract 1st class retail due to the "accident waiting to happen" on the west, the basement which must be leased along with the 1st fl, and the structural columns every 6' apart inside. The owner pays over 100K in taxes. Would they rather it go bankrupt? The market should drive the use, not some ancient baseless OP rule. His case is sound.

JH from Oak Park  

Posted: May 3rd, 2012 1:40 PM

Are you kidding!!! The"street" is already dead. It's nothing but a giant food court. Yes, bring on retail. I've been waiting for ages for that to happen.


Posted: May 2nd, 2012 6:03 AM

Retail needs foot traffic and complementary business to successful. A medical clinic would be a poor option. OP Development, how about going out and finding a good tenant vs. waiting for one to appear. Again, lack of cohesive strategy.

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