Since the June murder of 18-year-old Jailyn Logan-Bledsoe, the 24-hour BP gas station at 100 Chicago Ave. has been at the center of debate for the Village of Oak Park and neighbors alike. But problems at the station have existed much longer. With recent incidents of violent crime, many residents immediate to the BP feel the village board is not moving quickly enough to address the situation.
“It is dismaying that we have had to push so hard to get the village to take any action at all to address the most violent gas station in Oak Park,” reads a letter to the village board signed by 66 residents. That letter appeared last week in the Journal’s Viewpoints section.
The polite but firm letter, which calls for more aggressive action from the village, was drafted and submitted shortly after the village board’s sole August meeting, held on the first of the month. It includes a list of 10 suggestions to alleviate traffic and safety concerns, among them is to not “lose sight of the unfathomable loss of an 18-year-old girl to her family and to this community.”
At the Aug. 1 meeting, Interim Police Chief Shatonya Johnson told the village board that the Chicago Avenue BP was one of the three most dangerous gas stations in Oak Park. She also cited a Shell station at 6121 W. North Ave. and a BP at 520 S. Austin Blvd.
The village has had a total of 18 incidents at 24-hour gas stations since July 29, with 13 occurring between the hours of 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. Five of those 13 incidents involved the discharge of a handgun, including the murder of Logan-Bledsoe on June 22, according to Johnson. The BP in question has been closing at 11 p.m. since July 12, but it is unclear if it will resume operating 24 hours a day.
However, despite the two-hour discussion at the board’s August meeting, the board only ended up approving minor traffic calming changes: the installation of a rumble strip, a speed table and pinch points on an intermittent basis. The board is set to receive an update on those developments at its next meeting on Sept. 5.
“We are relying on the board to act on that date, as our sense of urgency is unabated,” the letter reads.
Staff was also directed to look into the feasibility of installing some sort of gate or barrier at the gas station’s east entrance off of Taylor Avenue for deliveries and to strengthen the existing village nuisance ordinance. The village board is expected to discuss those options at its first September meeting as well.
One of the letter’s signatories, Maryann Mason, told Wednesday Journal she and others do not trust that the approved traffic measures will be effective solutions. The rumble strip, pinch points and speed table have not yet been installed.
“There’s already a stop sign; there’s already a crosswalk; there’s already legislation about letting people in crosswalks walk,” she said of the area.
The Chicago Avenue BP gas station is owned by Hargobind Inc., which also owns the Golo gas station at 333 Chicago Ave. in Oak Park. The president of the company, Daljit Singh, did not wish to make a comment at this time.
Singh has been meeting with village staff to help address the problems facing the gas station. He has installed an additional eight security cameras. Village Manager Kevin Jackson called the meetings “productive.”
However, the neighbors have not had such a positive experience, according to both the letter and Mason, who said she wished for a better relationship with the gas station.
“I don’t mean to be anti-business because businesses are critical to the community, but he has not been responsive to community concerns,” Mason said.
Within the letter, residents suggested adding a section to the village’s code that designates any business a nuisance that experiences three or more violent crimes, including the display of a violent weapon, during a six-month period.
Village Attorney Paul Stephanides is already working on strengthening the nuisance ordinance, according to Jackson, to allow the village to better handle such situations.
However, the approach suggested in the letter could result in litigation. Taking action by suspending or revoking business licenses based on number of criminal incidents could present legal challenges, as Stephanides explained at the Aug. 1 meeting.
“That is the approach we’ve been taking so far,” he said. “That’s why we have been meeting with gas stations.”
Another option, as proposed by Stephanides Aug. 1, is to establish a firm closing hour for all gas stations in the village, thereby getting rid of 24-hour operations, or to craft an ordinance based on gas station location. The latter is in line with the residents’ suggestion in the letter to prohibit gas stations in residential areas that are not within a block of a public highway. There are currently two 24-hour gas stations at Austin Boulevard and Harrison, a half-block north of the Eisenhower Expressway. Both are being regularly monitored by police said Johnson.
While the village board hasn’t scrapped the idea, the likelihood of the board discussing changing gas station hours on Sept. 5 is slim. The board has not directed village staff to pursue the idea.
“The initial step that they wanted to take was for us to look at the nuisance ordinance,” Jackson said.