By Anna Lothson
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.