Wasted space: This empty parking lot, once used by the now out of business Villager grocery, still sits vacant and fenced in on Chicago Avenue in Oak Park.J. GEIL/Photo Editor

Most Oak Park businesses would kill for their own parking lot right next door. Brent Showalter has one on Chicago Avenue, but it’s sat completely unused and fenced off for the past 18 months, and there’s nothing he can do about it.

Showalter, with his wife Jill, has owned and operated Doggie Day Play for the past two years, in the former Villager Foods space at 1135 Chicago Ave. They’ve been leasing the property with an option to buy, but the adjacent parking lot just east is held by a completely different owner.

They held brief discussions about possibly buying it, too, but he claims the owners are “on Pluto” in terms of the price. The Villager had rented the lot during its 40 years of existence, but no one wants it now and it’s sat empty since the little grocer closed in early 2010.

The parking lot owner, Patricia Craig, has fenced off the lot, loath to have anyone drive over it. Showalter, who owns two other nearby businesses, said it gives an awful appearance to the Chicago Avenue business district.

“As a business owner, I’ve never seen something like that stand in a business district for as long as this has,” he said. “It’s been a year and a half that that fence has been up there, and it looks ghetto. I don’t know a better way to say it.”

Village hall has worked with the owner, trying to get her to take down the fence, according to Loretta Daly, business services manager. She agreed that it hurts the appearance of the business district.

“Aesthetically, it’s not very pleasing,” she said.

As such, Oak Park fined the owner $350 last October for keeping a temporary fence up for too long. The village allows such fences to stay up for 180 days, but this one was in place for a year, before a permanent one was recently installed, according to property inspector James Duffy.

At a meeting earlier this month, village trustees expressed dismay at the appearance of the property, and said it might be covered under Oak Park’s vacant building ordinance. That law punishes property owners for failing to maintain buildings that have been unused for two or more years. But the lot isn’t covered under those rules, since it doesn’t have a building on it, according to Steve Witt, head of building and property standards.

“Better that it’s an empty lot than a dilapidated building that somebody could get hurt in, or something could happen that the building would start falling apart,” Witt said.

Craig declined to comment when reached earlier this month, but said the 24-space lot has been owned by her family for 60 years. She’s been listing it with commercial real estate broker David King for several months at the current asking price of $545,000.

King said he’s marketing the lot as an opportunity for new construction, with the nearby businesses unwilling to lease or buy it. He said the economy is challenging for new construction, but added that it’s a “good piece of real estate,” located just a few blocks north of downtown Oak Park.

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