Plans to transform a long-vacant historic auto dealership on Madison Street into an Aldi grocery store may be moving forward.

For months, the Batavia-based retailer has been sizing up the golden brick building at 644 Madison St., which has sat empty since Foley-Rice Cadillac closed several years ago. It was built in the 1920s, designed by noted architect E.E. Roberts, and is often referred to as the “Packard building,” after it served as a dealership for that long-defunct luxury car brand.

Aldi wants to preserve the façade of the historic building in a similar fashion to what Walgreens did a few blocks west. Preservationists have expressed concerns that early plans preserved too little of the property and its ornate details. Leaders in the business community, meanwhile, warmed more quickly to the idea.

The grocer presented revised plans to the Oak Park Historic Preservation Commission last month that preserved more of the façade. The chain seemed willing to keep the property’s appearance as “open” as possible, according to Chris Morris, head of the commission.

She acknowledged that the property is tough to save in its entirety, as much of the inside is taken up by ramps for moving cars around.

“The preference is always that you preserve as much of a building as possible, but we understand that trying to put a grocery store into what was a historic auto showroom is a difficult proposition, given that they’ve got certain space requirements,” Morris said.

For years, Oak Park has angled to designate the Packard building as a local historic landmark, which would mean that any exterior demolition of the structure would first need to be reviewed by the historic preservation commission.

But at the request of the property owners, the village has delayed making the designation, to make it easier for them to sell the property. As such, Aldi would be able to go forward with its plan “by right,” with no binding review from the commission or village board.

Since Oak Park started designating local landmarks in 1994, no property has ever been landmarked against a property owner’s wishes, according to Doug Kaarre, urban planner for the village. The Packard building was placed on the Landmark Illinois’ Chicagoland Watch List in 2007.

Morris and Kaarre said they don’t believe that the village will push for landmark designation against the owner’s wishes.

“I’ve been very happy with the way (Aldi) responded to the suggestions we’ve offered to them,” Morris said.

Right now, Kaarre said Oak Park is just waiting for Aldi to submit its formal plans. An Aldi spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Monday.

CONTACT: marty@oakpark.com

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