In its final action before taking on new members, the Oak Park village board last week approved zoning changes in three business districts aimed at restricting developments and business uses to those favorable to the areas.

In the Downtown Oak Park and The Avenue business districts, the types of businesses allowed to open were further restricted to ensure a trend toward more retail and foot-traffic-producing commerce. A “Transit-Related Retail Overlay” zoning district covers the shopping area downtown, running roughly from Harlem east to Oak Park Avenue, south to North Boulevard, and west back to Harlem, with the residential area between the two commercial nodes excluded.

On Madison Street, temporary zoning requirements were established to keep new developments in line with the Madison Street Corridor Plan, approved by the board last year. The requirements have a sunset date of one year; however, Village Planner Craig Failor expects permanent zoning changes for Madison to come before the board in the fall.

The types of businesses allowed to open within the Downtown Transit Overlay District have been restricted for years by zoning, having been most recently updated in 2002. However, loopholes remained, and trustees wanted to ensure that service-oriented businesses, such as real estate offices, couldn’t open in the transit-overlay district.

“Retail is what we want to stress,” Plan Commissioner Linda Bolte told the board. “When you provide the opportunity to have offices-particularly in the medical/dental profession-on the first floor, that really does hurt retail. In fact, one of the testifiers said it kills retail.”

Two real estate offices have opened or plan to open within downtown shopping districts, including Wm. B. Sullivan Realty & Co., which opened at 107 N. Marion St., and Nickel Real Estate Group, which plans to open at 101 N. Oak Park Ave., while other realty companies and other non-compliant existing businesses have “grandfathered” approval.

The commission recommended the changes to the board.

Trustees amended some parts of the proposed changes, including restrictions that would have not allowed “government-owned or -operated services” or parking garages on any street frontage. That could force the village to seek relief from its own zoning when developing a 500-car parking garage on North Boulevard, something called for in the Greater Downtown Master Plan.

Trustee Greg Marsey said a project that big should have to go through the additional approval steps to ensure the public has a chance to weigh in. But he was alone in his criticism of the amendment.

“I understand what Trustee Marsey is saying about public input,” said Trustee Ray Johnson. “But there would be significant public input through the planned development process, through the awarding of contracts, through the budget process [to name a few].”

The language was changed to “non-Village of Oak Park governments” and “non-Village of Oak Park-owned” parking garages.

Marsey voted against the amendment, but the business use changes were approved 5-0. Trustee Robert Milstein was absent.

The Plan Commission also looked at whether the boundaries of the transit-overlay district ought to be expanded. It recommended, and the board approved, expanding north on Oak Park Avenue a half-block, and a block east along Lake Street to Euclid Avenue. Proposals to expand south along Marion Street, Oak Park Avenue and South Boulevard were nixed because of testimony that those areas were more “sensitive,” and property owners already had troubles finding tenants there.

“The general feeling on the Plan Commission was that [South Marion] was an area that wasn’t ready to be brought into the transit overlay district, but it was one that needed watching over time,” Bolte said.

Madison Street Implementation Coalition Chair Dennis Marani urged the board to approve the temporary restrictions for the Madison corridor.

“The coalition stresses the importance of this zoning overlay because, simply put, it keeps the integrity of the Madison Street Corridor Plan intact,” Marani said. “It allows the coalition to work from a blueprint that cannot be undermined and gives consistency to a model that we all have worked long and hard to achieve.”

Trustees questioned whether a permanent zoning redo could be finished in a year. “That’s warp speed for these kinds of changes,” said Village President David Pope. But Failor said he plans to get the changes back for board approval by the fall, so the year period should be more than enough time.

Pope wondered whether the village should consider similar temporary zoning measures for other business districts where master plans have been completed.

CONTACT: dcarter@wjinc.com

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