The village of Oak Park released a bold vision for a Madison Street that narrows and curves the roadway near the intersection of Euclid Avenue to create space for a major mixed-use development. 

Oak Park residents were given their first glimpse of the plan at Monday’s Village Board of Trustees meeting that shows Madison Street curving slightly to the north between Wesley and Oak Park avenues. The concept was first reported in Wednesday Journal last month.

The village approved spending $360,858 to hire Christopher B. Burke Engineering, Ltd. to develop an engineering and design plan to realign the street. The realignment is in addition to the streetscape and road diet project Burke has been working on for the village since September 2015. The road diet plan, which will narrow Madison from five lanes to three and add a bike lane, also includes rehabbing the streetscape to include more trees, improved sidewalks and other amenities. That plan was approved last year by the board of trustees.

The preliminary plan for the street alignment was proposed by the Oak Park Economic Development Corporation, a village entity tasked with attracting and retaining business that has been working behind the scenes with an unnamed developer. 

John Lynch, executive director of the OPEDC, said at Monday’s meeting that a specific developer, who he would not reveal, is interested in building the mixed-use structure on the village-owned property at the northeast corner of Oak Park Avenue and Madison Street. Realigning the street would allow for a deeper lot on the south side of Madison near Euclid that would be turned into a block-wide retail building with on-site parking.

The developer also would purchase property running along the north side of Madison from Oak Park to Wesley avenues. Those properties would become retail and more parking, according to a map presented by OPEDC.

Lynch said it’s time for the village “do something exciting and dramatic” on the commercial corridor that is now home to a mix of uses that include fast-food restaurants, gas stations and other uses unlikely to attract visitors to the area.

Lynch said in a letter to the village board that the developer has several parcels of land under contract for purchase adjacent to the property from 710 to 722 Madison Street. Purchase of these neighboring properties would allow the developer to expand its footprint for the proposed mixed-use building. 

“The purpose of the roadway ‘bend’ would be to create a development parcel of sufficient size to attract a large-format anchor tenant for the development area between Oak Park Avenue and East Avenue, which OPEDC believes may be necessary to induce high-quality retail and mixed-use development that has historically proven difficult to attract along that stretch of Madison Street,” Lynch said in a letter to the board.

The project would be funded, at least in part, through the Madison Street Tax Increment Finance District that is set to expire in 2018, according to village engineer Bill McKenna.

Some residents voiced opposition to the road diet and realignment plan.

Dino Tsagaris, who runs Elite Upholstery at 633 Madison, said there already is a shortage of parking on Madison and he worries that narrowing the street might make it worse. “What happens if it becomes even worse and more congested like Lake Street?” he asked the board.

Chris Donovan, a resident of the area, who has mounted a campaign against the road diet plan, said he can’t find any neighbors who support the proposal. Donovan passed out fliers at the meeting suggesting that narrowing the road could lead to congestion that would push cars onto neighborhood streets and make it difficult to access businesses.

One resident, Steve Loranz, testified in favor of the road diet and streetscaping proposal, comparing it to the narrower Madison that runs through neighboring downtown Forest Park. “If we look at Forest Park, which has a similar smaller footprint for Madison, they are kicking our butts with retail and pedestrian friendly businesses,” he said.

The proposal to fund the engineering study was approved unanimously, with Trustee Colette Lueck absent.

CONTACT: tim@oakpark.com

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