When I attended the meeting of the Zoning Board of Appeals on Jan. 8 on the issue of the proposed drive-thru Taco Bell on Roosevelt Road, I heard two people speak in favor of the plan. One man, using a logic that escaped me, suggested that the fast food establishment might increase business development elsewhere in the village, such as on Oak Park Avenue. The other person, who does not live close enough to Roosevelt Road to be directly impacted by the increased traffic, noise, light, fumes, trash, car exhaust, and potential crime, said he likes tacos.

The chief of police also spoke, asking that the proposed hours be shortened because he is worried about having to devote increased resources to the area due to escalating crime. Then came a long stream of neighbors delineating their objections to the proposal.

As a 23-year resident of the 1150 block of Humphrey, I would stand to be seriously negatively impacted by having a fast food drive-thru restaurant a few hundred feet away. Just months ago, a similar proposal for Madison Street was unanimously rejected by the board. Why is the board entertaining the proposal for this neighborhood in southeast Oak Park if it was deemed unsuitable elsewhere? Is it because the Zoning Board of Appeals is less concerned about preserving a high quality of life and maintaining property values south of the expressway? This does not seem fair.

Besides the diminishment of quality of life for the neighborhood residents, their loss of property value, and their overwhelming opposition to the proposal, there are yet other cogent reasons why this project is not appropriate for our village. 

The village of Oak Park purports to be a leader in sustainable and environmentally and socially responsible initiatives. Certainly it is possible to think of a business that would be even less in line with Oak Park’s stated objectives than a Taco Bell, but nonetheless the drive-thru fast food restaurant is antithetical to the village’s purported values. Taco Bell, a huge corporate enterprise, pays its workers paltry wages, serves unhealthful food derived from greenhouse gas-producing factory farms, wraps the food in single-use and non-biodegradable packaging, and serves the food to people who are sitting in their idling cars. 

Do our leaders really care about supporting healthful living, maintaining vibrant, walkable communities, fostering social justice, and being more responsible stewards of the environment? Or are the words on our literature merely decorative?

The Zoning Board of Appeals is to be applauded for upholding the zoning law, respecting the interests of the near neighbors, and supporting the values of the community at large on Madison Street. The zoning laws and the values of the community at large apply at the periphery of the village, as well as in more central locations, and we in the southeast corner of the village deserve the same respect as our neighbors to the north of us.

Glynis Kinnan is a longtime Oak Park resident.

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