Oak Park will officially have a second Pete’s Fresh Market location – this one on Madison Street. Despite concerns about Pete’s impact on neighboring grocery stores, the Oak Park village board voted 6-1 to allow construction of the new grocery store, which will span 640-728 Madison St. and have 220 parking spaces – 114 of which will be underground and reserved for employees, with customers parking in a 117-spot lot.
“There’s a lot of people to be thanked for bringing this project to [the Madison Street] corridor,” said Mayor Anan Abu-Taleb during the Feb. 16 village board meeting.
The Pete’s project is part of a years-long process to revitalize Madison Street, which included the implementation of tax increment financing (TIF) in 1995. The Madison Street TIF expired the last day of 2019.
Pete’s snagged the Plan Commission’s approval during a Jan. 21 meeting, despite some concern over the creation of a corner parking lot at Madison Street and Oak Park Avenue.
Referencing that concern, Trustee Susan Buchanan asked the developers, “What is the plan for right at the corner?”
The query prompted a heated response from Plan Commission Chair Iris Sims, who recently penned a critical letter-to-the-editor published in Wednesday Journal over the paper’s commission coverage.
“In terms of concerns, there’s a big difference, and it needs to be understood not only by the trustees but by the Wednesday Journal – there’s a big difference between the comments and discussions that take place during the course of our Plan Commission meetings and what we actually vote on,” Sims told Buchanan.
When Buchanan tried to respond, Sims criticized statements made during the Plan Commission’s discussion of the project.
“Some of the comments with respect to that corner were quite frankly inappropriate and silly,” said Sims.
Buchanan then tried to tell Sims that she wasn’t asking what happened during Plan Commission meetings, just what was planned for the corner.
“I’m still talking, Susan,” said Sims.
Sims then stated one commissioner had suggested that “the village waste money, putting bricks and pavers” in the intersection of Madison Street and Oak Park Avenue.
“That’s not what we voted on,” said Sims.
Buchanan then directly asked the project’s architect Ken Nadolski, of API Architects, what Pete’s planned to do with that particular corner.
“We have at that corner a landscaped area and Pete’s will propose their building signage at that location as well,” Nadolski said.
Tammie Grossman, Oak Park development director, told the village board that Pete’s will collaborate on plans for the area.
“To Trustee Buchanan’s point, it is a condition of the planned development ordinance that Pete’s work with the Oak Park Area Arts Council to come up with a design for that front area where the sign’s going to be,” Grossman said, adding that the village has had good luck with the arts council in finding creative ways to tie signs in with buildings.
Conversations between the arts council and Pete’s have not happened yet, according to Nodalski.
Trustee Simone Boutet suggested Pete’s make the back of the new building more attractive to neighbors, whose enjoyment of their homes might be lessened by the view of a stretch of brick wall.
The building’s design received the support of Trustee Jim Taglia, who stated an appreciation for the collaboration between the developers and the Plan Commission in improving the plans for the new Pete’s.
“I think it’s a nice project and I fully support it,” said Taglia.
Trustee Deno Andrews supported the project as well, but stated that neighboring grocery businesses such as Carnival Grocery, that will be affected by the new Pete’s had his “sympathy.”
“This is going to have an impact,” said Andrews, which he called a “downside” of having financial incentives to revitalize blighted areas.
Carnival Grocery owner Arthur Paris told the village board in public comment that approval of the Madison Street Pete’s would be tantamount to a death sentence for his and other independent grocers.
“It will force Carnival out of business and other locally-owned independent merchants to also close their doors unless there is significant help from the village,” Paris said.
Buchanan, who also supported the Pete’s project, encouraged the public to keep patronizing Paris’s store.
“I love Carnival Grocery and I hope everyone continues to support it,” said Buchanan. “I hope it doesn’t go out of business.”
The Pete’s project involves vacating the northern leg Euclid Street and building a cul-de-sac, constructed and landscaped by Pete’s. The fire department submitted a letter stating that the cul-de-sac would not impact fire services. However, Boutet was still concerned about the grocery store’s impact on the fire department.
Boutet, who also worried about how Pete’s would affect Carnival, had “a lot of thoughts” about the project, and did not care for the placement of the parking lot.
“With a very mixed mind and a lot of concerns, I am going to vote in favor of this project,” Boutet said.
Trustee Dan Moroney asked about the section within the findings of fact that states the developer must conduct an economic impact study within 24 months of the project’s completion.
“It seems that addresses a little bit of the Carnival issue and I just want to know more information on how that came about and what that hopes to accomplish,” Moroney said.
Grossman called the condition typical of most of the village’s planned development ordinances to identify how businesses integrate into neighborhoods.
“It’s more about that than whether there’s an impact to surrounding businesses,” Grossman said.
Moroney wanted to see collaboration between the competing grocery stores.
“I would encourage Pete’s and Carnival to try to work together on that aspect of this development,” Moroney said.
Moroney stated there are pros and cons regarding new developments, but as for the new Pete’s, he was on board.
“This is a major investment; I think it’s going to bring people to Madison Street at a level that hasn’t been seen for a very long time,” said Moroney.
The village board voted 6-1 to approve the project for construction, as well as voting 6-1 to authorize Pete’s to vacate the portion of Euclid Avenue between Madison Street and the east-west alley north of Madison Street.
Trustee Arti Walker-Peddakotla was the sole dissenter in both votes.
“I really do take to heart the pain that Carnival Grocery is going to feel,” she said.
Walker-Peddakotla said she understands the need to revitalize Madison Street and that the property slated for Pete’s had been sitting vacant for a number of years.
However, Walker-Peddakotla did not support the project and voted against it “in the interest of protecting Carnival and the small businesses.”
“We can’t tell people to shop local if we as a board are not protecting small businesses. Consumers can’t save everything all the time.”