Many residents in southeast Oak Park watched the Oct. 17 village board meeting with hope the board might actually do something about the extreme noise, unsightly car parts and unmanaged traffic tied to the former Associated Tire & Battery Co. on Roosevelt Road at Lombard Avenue. That hope quickly soured into frustration, anger and dejection.
While directing staff to gather more information into the well-documented two-year problem, the village board tabled a vote on granting a special use permit to BM Custom, a car upholstery business that occupies a portion of the former Associated Tire building. This move was made despite a recommendation from staff to deny the permit completely, a stance reflecting the wishes of frustrated neighbors. It was also made in the face of the business owner’s disregard for zoning law.
“The board is ignoring the many detailed points and evidence already provided to them by the affected residents over the last week. We are not confused. We’ve had almost two years to figure this out,” said resident Katie Ingrao-Sniegowski, on behalf of the signatories of an open letter demanding action from the board.
The letter, which beseeched the board to deny the permit request, was partially read during the Oct. 17 meeting as public comment. The letter’s length surpassed the time limit allotted for individual comment, so the full text was not read. The village board has the authority to extend time but did not do so. That also rankled neighbors, who feel their concerns have consistently fallen on deaf ears.
“The board needs to listen to the residents and start addressing all of the nuisance parties and regain our confidence as community leaders,” said Ingrao-Sniegowski.
The perpetrator or perpetrators of the many nuisances plaguing the neighborhood has been the subject of staff inquiry and an inspection of the premises was planned for Oct. 18, which falls after Wednesday Journal’s print deadline. As with Wednesday Journal’s attempts, Village Planner Craig Failor told the board that every time staff visits the property, no one is there.
“Unless someone captures it on video or takes photographs from the neighborhood, the folks that are complaining, it is hard to discern who is actually causing the issue,” said Failor.
Neighbors have seen three different tenants, including Jeremy Storey, the owner of BM Custom. Many who live in the area declined to speak publicly about the situation for fear of retaliation. It is widely believed by neighbors that Storey is contributing to discord.
Storey stated at his Sept. 7 Zoning Board of Appeals hearing that the nuisances were caused by a different, unnamed tenant. No business license records were found for that tenant.
Whether or not Storey is responsible for the nuisances, he has been operating his car upholstery business illegally. He had even admitted at his ZBA hearing that he had been previously issued a citation for not having a permit, which he said, at the time, he didn’t know was against the law. The illegality of conducting business without the proper permit was made quite clear at his ZBA hearing – and yet Storey continued doing so.
“In fact, he was cited three times and failed to appear one time in court, so he was fined a total of $600,” said Failor.
Staff initially supported Storey’s request but his failure to abide by zoning law lost him that support, according to Failor. However, Storey had staff’s backing at the time he went before the ZBA, which also gave Storey their support.
That was before Wednesday Journal published the number of police complaints made in the last two years to the Associated Tire property and before Storey had been found to be repeatedly flouting zoning law.
“I understand there’s new information, as well as issues with lack of licenses,” ZBA Chair Jim Lencioni told the village board.
The identity of the one, possibly two other tenants using the nearly block long building remains a mystery, as does who is responsible for the nuisances. Several village trustees told staff they had a lack of clarity on the nuisance matter, yet that lack of clarity exists separately from BM Custom’s permit application and the legal citations of its owner.
Regardless, the village board lumped the two together, voting unanimously to table making a decision on whether or not to grant Storey a permit and directed staff to gather more information.
The morning after the board meeting, Village President Vicki Scaman told Wednesday Journal that operating without proper permitting, as Storey has, happens regularly.
“Unfortunately, that is not uncommon,” she said. “If the nuisance is resolved and he remedies his business license, then the use is not inappropriate.”
While Scaman conveyed that the board does want to address neighbors’ grievances, she believes the board is avoiding a potential miscarriage of justice by tabling the vote.
“If there is any chance [Storey] has been accidentally, falsely accused, how do you vote,” she said. “You would not want that in our justice system, although we know it happens all the time.”