The Oak Park Zoning Board Appeals heard impassioned testimony from Oak Parkers last week opposing the construction of a Taco Bell restaurant on empty lots at the corner of Madison Street and Lyman Avenue. 

Bell American Group LLC submitted the request to build on the site, which they could build as of right without the drive-thru and other minor allowances from the zoning code.

Residents argued that a fast-food restaurant and its drive-thru, specifically, would bring noise, litter, traffic congestion and a host of other problems. 

Bell American argued that it has worked diligently with Oak Park planners to reduce the impact the restaurant would have on the neighboring residential area and that restaurant would be an improvement over the vacant lots.

The company, however, failed to make the case that the establishment would not have a substantially undue adverse impact on the community.  

The zoning board agreed that the downside of a Taco Bell outweighs the prospect of leaving the property as a vacant parcel and unanimously rejected the proposal. 

While Madison Street seems a reasonable area for a fast-food restaurant, the village – its residents and elected officials – have to decide if more fast-food restaurants with drive-thrus is what it wants for that section of town.

Although leaving the area as an empty parcel of land is far from an ideal outcome for the block, we see another fast-food restaurant with a drive-thru – aside from the sales tax revenue the business would bring – as a detriment to the corridor and the neighborhood. 

The proposal now heads to the Oak Park Board of Trustees, which will make the final determination on whether the drive-thru will be approved. Trustees should think of the long-term vision for Madison and follow the zoning board’s lead in rejecting the proposal. Oak Park can do better.

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