Rendering of the proposed Holiday Inn Express fails to show the vehicular traffic that concerned neighbors say will further gum up an already congested Lake Street. | Provided

It appears downtown Oak Park will get that Holiday Inn Express and Suites after all. All village board members present at the Jan. 10 meeting signed off on the project, directing staff to work with the neighboring condo association to address Lake Street congestion. Trustee Arti Walker-Peddakotla was absent from the meeting.

“As much as we can, we will work on the challenges of the residents,” Village President Vicki Scaman promised. “It really is inevitably us that you need to hold accountable for that, as a village board.”

The project originally received the approval of the village board under then-Mayor Anan Abu-Taleb in November 2019, but the ensuing pandemic caused the project to be delayed and the village’s approval lapsed.

Brothers and co-building owners Azeem and Salim Hemani returned to the village with a revised plan to build the Holiday Inn at 1140 Lake St. That is the site of an existing office and retail building which will be expanded and repurposed as a hotel. The project was scaled down to 68 hotel rooms and only one added floor, while the original called for 97 hotel rooms and the addition of three more floors to the existing 5-story structure.

The modifications, which the Hemani brothers hope will help mitigate traffic concerns, won over the Zoning Board of Appeals Dec. 1. However, zoning board members were at a loss as to how to reconcile the area’s vehicular congestion.

While village staff believe the adjacent Holley Court Garage has the capacity to house the 45 or so extra vehicles the hotel is expected to generate, multiple downtown Oak Park residents took to public comment to inform the board of the traffic complications they routinely face.

Commenters described the hassle caused by delivery trucks blocking Prairie Way, the alley behind 1140 Lake St., as well as the illegally parked cars outside Lake Street businesses. Customers of Chipotle Mexican Grill, which is located next door to the Hemani’s building, are major offenders of this as they often double park on Lake Street and block the easement to the Holley Court garage, according to members of the neighboring condo association.

Patrons of MedMen and Nando’s Peri-Peri restaurant, both of which are located on the first floor of 1140 Lake St., also contribute to the illegal parking problem and public commenters expressed their fears that traffic blockages would worsen with the hotel, despite it having on-site laundry and no restaurant, limiting deliveries.

“I would like to make a specific request to the board to table any vote on this particular ordinance until the issues that have been raised… are addressed in some comprehensive way, so that we don’t have these horrendous parking and traffic issues,” resident John O’Rourke said.

Tammie Grossman, the village staff member who oversees development, however, informed the board that prolonging approval in the interest of disentangling traffic would likely complicate financing for the Holiday Inn project. And, despite the board’s vocalizations of empathy for the affected residents, O’Rourke did not get his wish.

Believing the traffic issue still a worthy issue, but one independent from the hotel as it predates the project, the village board directed staff to work toward finding a reasonable solution. The village board ultimately approved the Hemani brothers’ request for special use permit to construct the hotel.

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