Oak Park board votes down retail only restriction for South Marion Street

Trustees, landlords agree the timing isn't right

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By Anna Lothson

Staff Reporter

The plan of investing in streetscape projects to encourage greater retail presence on South Marion Street, officially known as the Pleasant District, may have backfired for the Village of Oak Park.

The roughly $5 million price tag attached to the beautification project won't be wasted, officials said, but it won't match their original vision.

At Monday's village board meeting the issue of implementing a retail overlay district for South Marion Street was brought up again after a 3-3 vote in February. The ordinance left village staff and the Oak Park Plan Commission in disagreement, as the plan commission recommended denying the zoning ordinance.

Following comments by a handful of vocal landlords, backed up by the Oak Park Development Corporation, trustees unanimously voted to strike down a proposal to enforce a retail overlay zone for the district.

Bob Loro, of Loro Auto Works and the first to speak, said the business district is one of the busiest, despite not being packed with retail. The change, he insisted, would reduce the foot traffic and limit the marketability of the properties.

"Please don't change it," he said. "Let us build South Marion and what it can be. Let the market work."

Mike Fox, owner of the Carleton Hotel, said he'd have four properties adversely affected by the change. Multiple properties on the street would be out of compliance and that would scare off their current tenants.

"We don't get the same type of traffic as the Downtown Oak Park District," he said, but that clientele can help promote the shops and restaurants downtown. "We can have uses not permitted in downtown."

Overall, the mixed-use spaces on South Marion create a nice balance, he said.

"I finally got where I like it," Fox said. "I want it to stay as is."

Sarah Faust, president of Oak Park Development Corporation, said while she'd love to see retail in the area, the reality of the economy just doesn't allow for it. She confirmed the amount of traffic does not support a retail overlay district and having it designated as mixed-use would help fill vacant buildings. "[The overlay] is neither friendly for development nor growth," she said.

Other property owners who spoke said there simply haven't been enough retailers interested in the spaces, which appeal more to service-based businesses and those seeking office space in Oak Park. One speaker suggested that having the buildings full is much more valuable than hoping retailers will eventually join the district.

One previous idea for the district was to remove the diverter between North and South Marion streets to help traffic flow into both districts equally. Village Planner Craig Failor noted that one of the goals for Oak Park's master plan is to tie together the business districts.

But as trustees suggested, the current market may not allow for such a vision right now.

Ray Johnson, who previously voted in favor of the overlay, flipped his vote at the meeting, which helped get the needed five. He said after walking the districts again, he realized putting them together was a mistake.

Although he recognized they may be criticized for the streetscape investments, he said the enhancement plans were not simply about retail.

Trustee Bob Tucker agreed, saying it would be unnatural to try and force retail in an area. The district, he noted, can still have retail, but without the overlay, it wouldn't be a requirement. "I would like to see it a retail district eventually," echoed Trustee Colette Lueck, "but the timing is not right for an overlay."

Email: anna@oakpark.com Twitter: @AnnaLothson

Reader Comments

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John Butch Murtagh from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: June 30th, 2012 3:12 PM

Kyle - Hedges, Salzman, and Tucker voted no on the Marion Project and the Tiger gamble.


Posted: June 30th, 2012 7:28 AM

Enuf, you answered a research question for me! lol I admit I was paying less attention to local happenings so I was going to have to look up the vote record. Do you remember who the 4 yes and 3 no were or the date for those of us curious? I may have to hunt for the minutes.

Q from Oak Park  

Posted: June 29th, 2012 10:57 PM

Enuf is Enuf from Oak Park, I would think she already new the board would be instructed that Marion street would not be suited for the intended use and what can anyone do about it? Nothing, but with the permanent structure on a public sidewalk paid by taxpayers to be used for Mary Jo's cheese emporium, is something the attorney generals office and the American Disabilities Office can determine if a few people call and ask if it is or not. If it isn't, take it down. Cont...

Enuf is Enuf from Oak Park  

Posted: June 29th, 2012 10:38 PM

So Mary Jo Schuler, Pleasant District prez, advocates for a $5.4M retail streetscaping project, which was passed 4-3 by the village board, and upon completion, the board admits S. Marion St. is not well-suited as a retail overlay district. So we are left with brick and slate outdoor dining bump-outs that just happen to be adjacent to Schuler's Marion St. Cheese Market, whereupon she constructs a permanent canopy structure across the entire bump-out. No conspiracy theory here.

Q from Oak Park  

Posted: June 25th, 2012 4:52 PM

Mares, they really don't care. Increasing ADA awareness will lead to a society where America's goals of freedom, equality, justice, and fairness can be attained and each individual's uniqueness is fully appreciated and their potential realized. File your complaint. Chicago Main Office 100 West Randolph Street Chicago, IL 60601 (312) 814-3000 TTY: 1-800-964-3013


Posted: June 25th, 2012 4:21 PM

I agree with Oh Yeah about Winberie's patio on Lake St. I highly doubt that is is ADA compliant in that it leaves no room for people at all to pass by. It is a total hazard for the elderly and those with disabilities. Guess the powers that be could care less.

Forest Park Diner  

Posted: June 25th, 2012 3:37 PM

Fortunately, the designers of the Marion Street mall pave-over had the foresight to make the prospect of al fresco dining sufficiently unpleasant by hacking down the shade trees and placing the narrow sidewalks so close to the belching exhaust of passing traffic that encroachment of sidewalk dining there is a non-issue. City planning at its finest.

Eddie from Oak Park  

Posted: June 25th, 2012 12:09 PM

These public dining extensions are a public safety hazard. Will some horrible accident have to happen in order for the city to do its duty?


Posted: June 25th, 2012 7:20 AM

The issue of outdoor dining has nothing to do with taxes when you're trying to use the sidewalk. It's not even an issue for the Village, per se, if businesses want to put a couple of tables outside for people. But they need to be good neighbors about it. A business shouldn't even need a fine or permit from village hall to have courtesy for other users of the public way. A few good manners & neither the residents nor the village have to get involved.

Just The Facts  

Posted: June 24th, 2012 3:30 PM

@ Enuf is Enuf. Mary Jo Schuler lives in Oak Park, not River Forest.


Posted: June 24th, 2012 9:58 AM

So now John Murtagh speaks for the Arts District, as he does for everyone and everything. Ha You like to stir up controversy John. That doesnt seem like an enjoyable trait. Does your family, friends and co workers agree?

John Butch Murtagh from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: June 23rd, 2012 11:44 AM

I agree with the concept of "build it and they will come" re S. Marion. I also believe that taxpayers funds for business improvement efforts require equity. The principle of "build it and they will come" has been focused on one business district - DTOP, while other OP shopping district are ignored. Multi-colored painted crosswalks, banners, etc. is not equity.


Posted: June 23rd, 2012 10:49 AM

Good design is good design. I ask VOP to instill good design on behalf of myself and my community. Quality and beauty cost money. Simple concept. The uptick in cost pays for itself in so many ways including many non monetary ways. Smile

Enuf is Enuf from Oak Park  

Posted: June 23rd, 2012 10:27 AM

In terms of horizontal equity, our local property taxes are intended for our common public infrastructure (PI). If property owners desire and benefit from premium PI components, such as brick streets, granite curb / gutters and bluestone walks, then they should bear the premium costs. In fact, this is how residential brick street costs are paid. DTOP premium PI costs should be paid via a DTOP special tax district.


Posted: June 22nd, 2012 10:59 PM

Still laughing while you people continue to find problems with dinning alfresco. Build it and they will come. Marion was built and they came. Woo Hooo! The tax dollars are flowing like a river. You are all the types that can find a problem with a ham sandwich.

Enuf is Enuf from Oak Park  

Posted: June 22nd, 2012 9:54 PM

@Q ... South Marion St. streetscaping project was actually more than $5M, but I deducted costs for underground water and sewer improvements, which left about $3.5 for premium cosmetic costs.

Enuf is Enuf from Oak Park  

Posted: June 22nd, 2012 9:51 PM

@Q: the village code applies to the commercial use of all public walks. The stationary canopy structure in question is attached to the bldg. and extends over the entire 20' width of public walk to 5 steel columns, covering an area about 600 sf. The brick column bases are so massive they actually cut through the slate walk. River Forester Mary Jo Shuler advocated use of our taxes for slate walks, and now she defaces them and commandeers the public space for her commercial use.

Oh Yeah  

Posted: June 22nd, 2012 9:50 PM

I find Winberie's obstructive patio much more annoying than Poor Phils. It's at a major intersection and bus stop, and it's impossible for two people to pass each other without one walking into the street. When the inevitable happens, who should get sued, Winberie's or the moron at the Village who approved the patio?


Posted: June 22nd, 2012 8:34 PM

Thanks for the comments about the sidewalk clearance. It's another little neighborhood pet peeve for walkers, runners, strollers, dogs on leashes, people with luggage, etc..

Q from Oak Park  

Posted: June 22nd, 2012 7:09 PM

Enuf is Enuf from Oak Park, that village ordinance doesn't apply to Marion street. You have everything correct about the village saying it turned out wrong, but they already knew that. It wasn't 3.5 million, it was 5 million, and unless they will show the true costs, it may even be more. It's good to have friends.


Posted: June 22nd, 2012 6:45 PM

Ha Ha Ha Haaaaa. Still trying to figure out how to make more space for consumers who spend dollars here a bad guy. Of course we shouldn't increase any more space for people coming to Oak Park and spending dollars in our community. Demand must be way down. How could anyone imagine more eating spaces for restuarants when Marion was a failure?

Enuf is Enuf from Oak Park  

Posted: June 22nd, 2012 6:39 PM

Basically, PoJoCo admitted during this village board meeting that S. Marion St. is not conducive to the retail vision they had in mind. Any potential property investment was already realized years prior to the start of this project. This confirms the $3.5M spent on cosmetic features, such as brick streets and bluestone slate walks, is nothing more than a beautification plan, and a big wet kiss to Marion St. Cheese, Poor Phil's and Carleton Hotel.

Enuf is Enuf from Oak Park  

Posted: June 22nd, 2012 6:29 PM

According to village code (Chapter 22, Article 10, Commercial Use of Sidewalk Space), commercial outdoor furniture "must be of a size which permits it to be placed in the public way without extending beyond the excess sidewalk right of way, or reducing the unobstructed clear passage area of any sidewalk to less than five feet (5') in width." Permanent (nonseasonal) commercial structures are not permitted on the public way.

Q from Oak Park  

Posted: June 22nd, 2012 5:53 PM

Eddie from Oak Park, that is the other business who also enjoys having friends to build a brick street. Of course both places are not convenient for people to walk by, but in their meetings when that was brought up, the reply was, who cares if they are trying to walk by, we care about the ones who want to spend money.

Eddie from Oak Park  

Posted: June 22nd, 2012 5:41 PM

More annoying is the outdoor dining patio that has commandeered roughly 80% of the sidewalk outside Poor Phil's. How is that legal? Do they own the sidewalk now?

Q from Oak Park  

Posted: June 22nd, 2012 5:15 PM

just wondering, that is because the cheese market is the big cheese on Marion street, and although it will be something that will need to be removed when they go out of business, the village likes using tax payers money to help out their friends at the cheese market. You don't think that 5 million dollars of part of your money was really for the people of Oak Park.

just wondering  

Posted: June 22nd, 2012 5:02 PM

Does anyone know why there is a permanent structure being built on the public sidewalk adjacent to Marion Street Cheese Market?


Posted: June 22nd, 2012 2:33 PM

Thanks, Peter. I believe all of Washington needs to be more pedestrian friendly for getting across in between the traffic lights. If you'd like to express your comments yourself, you can e-mail them to Michael Koperniak who is the liaison to the committee. His e-mail was in the letter...it's just his last name @oak-park.us

Peter Ibarra from Oak Park  

Posted: June 22nd, 2012 1:05 PM

Kyle: unfortunately, I cannot attend the meeting. Please point out at the meeting that streets parallel to Wisconsin that lie to the east, and that don't have traffic signals at the intersection with Washington, also have right turn only signs. This is for a good reason: otherwise, cars driving across Washington would have to do so at a high velocity to avoid a collision with another car. This makes those crossings very unsafe for pedestrians and bicyclists who are nearby. Thanks.


Posted: June 21st, 2012 2:52 PM

Peter, speaking from south of Washington, I can say we have a lot of support on this block for keeping Right Turn Only and especially improving the crosswalks. Many of our neighbors have already e-mailed their feedback or will be at the meeting. I agree about enforcement & we do have a very walking-oriented neighborhood. What I'm waiting to see is how much of an overhaul we're talking about to the intersection. What's on the table? If we're creative, there is a safe solution for all.

Peter from Oak Park  

Posted: June 21st, 2012 2:25 PM

Just because people ignore the right turn only signs at Washington doesn't mean the signs should be taken out. It means the police should give tickets at the intersection. They don't have to do it around the clock, but it would help if they were to show up once in a while. The Pleasant District wants to ease the flow of traffic to their businesses. That's nice, but people (including kids and seniors) live on the affected blocks, and we don't need more cars racing down our street. I vote no.


Posted: June 20th, 2012 3:56 PM

In my book, yes. But I requested that about 2 years ago and was told that because Washington is a feeder street that wasn't happening. I'll reserve judgment for the meeting...maybe they've changed their tune? Randolph one block north is a 4-way stop, btw.


Posted: June 20th, 2012 3:24 PM

A stop sign may be the answer?

Less Pleasant Home from Oak Park  

Posted: June 20th, 2012 2:51 PM

It was a good thought, far too late. It seems like retail in that area dipped below the critical mass of viability years ago. It's a shame because while storefront dentists and realtors may be lucrative and reliable tenants for property owners, they bring down the area's liveability and desirability for those of us who actually live there. It's just a shame we didn't spend our brick and bluestone money on Oak Park Ave to begin with. Could be tougher to justify those funds no


Posted: June 20th, 2012 1:43 PM

Harold, I've been in contact with several village officials today including the engineer and there are studies and data to be presented on Monday. Hope you can make it. I plan to comment and it's more than I can copy to here, but I think a lot of concern from my end south of Washington is about improving the crosswalks and pedestrian safety. If we can do that AND allow turns, I have no problem with it. But safety first.


Posted: June 20th, 2012 1:33 PM

I support removal of the right turn only. It's fairly annoying, no one really pays attention to it and with all the other important crimes going on you really want to pay a cop to right tickets for a pointless sign?


Posted: June 20th, 2012 9:04 AM

I think Murtagh is out o' step and out o' touch with the community. IMHO :-)

John Butch Murtagh from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: June 19th, 2012 11:33 PM

It is great to see the business community step up and fight to have some development independence in Oak Park. I hope they take the next step of recognizing that the board and administration members have been out of step with the both the business and resident community.


Posted: June 19th, 2012 10:40 PM

Speaking of the Pleasant District, the residents of 300-400 Wisconsin today got a letter today saying that the business association was requesting the removal of the turn restrictions onto Washington & that the issue would be before the Transportation Commission if we'd like to speak. Funny, I'd just written to the Board for more enforcement of the restrictions! Would the "Pleasant District" like to pay for a few pedestrian/safety features to add if they want the Right Turn Only to go away?

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