Zoning board rejects Taco Bell on Madison

Proposal now heads to Oak Park Board of Trustees for consideration

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By Timothy Inklebarger

Staff Reporter

The Oak Park Zoning Board of Appeals unanimously rejected a proposal that would allow a zoning variance for a drive-thru Taco Bell restaurant on Madison Street.

The vote came after more than three hours of testimony from residents opposing the plan and from representatives of Bell American Group LLC, which has proposed the fast-food restaurant to be built on empty lots at the corner of Madison Street and Lyman Avenue.

 The zoning board was tasked with specifically considering whether Bell American should be given the variance for the drive-thru and allowances for the orientation of the parking and setbacks from the street.

Bob Lach, director of real estate for Bell American, argued that the restaurant would improve the property and adjacent residential buildings to the south because the parcels are currently empty.

"I think it improves the overall look of that whole area, so I don't think it's going to deter it at all," he said. "It's bringing more people there. It makes that whole area landscaping-wise look nice."

But a packed room full of Oak Parkers argued otherwise, noting that the noise, pollution and traffic the restaurant would bring would have a negative impact on the area and further establish Madison as a fast-food restaurant corridor.

Oak Park resident Benjamin Hill presented the commission with a petition signed by 570 residents opposing the plan.

"The community is saying we don't want Taco Bell in the neighborhood – drive-thru or not," he said.

Hill said the proliferation of fast-food restaurants with drive-thrus on Madison – Popeye's Chicken, Dunkin Donuts and KFC – was creating a "fast-food wasteland" along the corridor.

"When you start putting the fast-food (restaurants) in a particular area, they have a propensity to multiply," he said.

Ruby Lacey, whose home is adjacent to the empty lots, said she's lived in the building for 31 years and that the vacant lots used to be occupied by residences.

"While I recognize that Madison has always been a business district, not in my wildest dreams would I have guessed those four homes would be torn down and my new neighbor would be Taco Bell," she said, noting that the restaurant would bring car exhaust and headlights streaming into her home.

"In their application, Bell America says Taco Bell will contribute to the general welfare of the neighborhood and improve adjacent property values. Really? I don't think so," she said.

Former Village President David Pope also testified against the proposal, arguing that during his time in office, he regrets approving a drive-thru Dunkin Donuts at 217 Madison St.

"I think that you're in a position to be able to actually make up for the mistake that I made and that we made 10 years ago to be able to say we're not going to turn this into a corridor that's going to be dominated by fast-food drive-thrus," he said.

Commissioners on the zoning board agreed that the proposal for a drive-thru did not meet the standard of the zoning code that requires the company to prove their proposal will not have a "substantially undue adverse effect on neighboring property."

Commissioner David Brumirski noted that Taco Bell can build a restaurant without the zoning variance but without a drive-thru.

"Is it necessary and-or desirable for the village to support people who want a cheap taco but won't get out of their car? I've seen nothing to make that argument," he said.

The vote from the zoning board is a recommendation to the Oak Park Board of Trustees, but the board could still vote to approve the project.

CONTACT: tim@oakpark.com

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