The Village of Oak Park is looking at placing restrictions on two high-traffic business districts to keep storefronts filled with retailers, rather than dentists, nail salons and day care centers.
The zoning restrictions would apply to the 100 blocks of South Marion and South Oak Park Avenue, the blocks immediately south of the CTA Green Line tracks. Oak Park had considered putting such guidelines in place on those blocks back in 2007 but changed its mind because of the more service-oriented makeup of those two blocks.
Now village hall is sprucing up South Marion, spending about $5.4 million to add brick streets, granite sidewalks and a canopy of overhead lights to the one-block stretch. And the village is contemplating something similar on South Oak Park Avenue in the near future.
As a result, staff suggested that Oak Park consider applying retail-only zoning changes south of the tracks. The Oak Park Plan Commission gave its initial approval in July, in a 5-1 vote and hopes to finalize its recommendation to the village board this Thursday, according to Village Planner Craig Failor.
"You need to protect the zoning so that you have opportunities to encourage and support retail as much as you can," said Linda Bolte, chair of the commission.
But some aren't completely sold on the idea. Mary Jo Schuler — head of the "Pleasant District" business association on South Marion, and owner of two businesses there — said she has mixed feelings about the restrictions. She understands that Oak Park wants to cluster retailers together and bolster its collection of sales tax. But at the same time, she said, residents want financial planners and other services that are a short walk away.
"If I was somebody who had to vote on this matter tomorrow, I'm not sure how I'd vote," Schuler said.
Mike Fox, who owns properties in both the Pleasant and Avenue business districts, worries about putting more restrictions on property owners. His first intention is to usually fill an open space with a retailer, but that's not always easy in a poor economy.
"It's one thing to have vacancies because of a tough economy, but you don't want to have vacancies because of tough zoning," Fox said.
Village President David Pope said the proposed zoning changes echo the suggestions in Oak Park's master plan for its downtown shopping districts. Similar guidelines have been placed on the 100 block of North Marion, which has filled up with restaurants and stores.
"The rezoning on North Marion has obviously been highly successful in encouraging the development of a vibrant, pedestrian-oriented retail and restaurant magnet in our downtown," Pope said.
Failor expects the village board to take up the recommendation sometime next month, likely on Sept. 6. If approved, the changes would only apply to new businesses.
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