The Village of Oak Park has gotten serious in recent years about addressing climate change and lowering its carbon footprint through its Climate Ready Oak Park plan. For that effort, the village was awarded the 2023 Regional Excellence Award from the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning, but that was not the only sustainability-related item on the village board’s May 15 agenda. The board passed an ordinance that will limit the use of microplastics in local food establishments.

The ordinance has two components: requiring restaurants and self-service stations to provide single-use plastic cutlery only upon customer request and a total ban on polystyrene food service containers. The new regulations were recommended for adoption by the village’s Environment and Energy Commission. 

The two new restrictions have staggered effective dates. The section of the ordinance related to plastic silverware goes into effect June 1, 2023. The prohibition on polystyrene, commonly known by the brand name Styrofoam, will take effect on the first of next year. Smaller restaurants with an annual gross income of under $500,000 must comply with the ban by 2025. The use of plastic straws is exempt from the ordinance due to their being a necessity for many people with disabilities.

The effective date of the ban caused some minor discord within the village board. One of the village board’s biggest sustainability proponents, Trustee Ravi Parakkat shared a desire to see the ban pushed back to Jan. 1, 2025. Parakkat, whose non-profit Takeout 25 works directly in support of local restaurants, wished to make 2024 a transition year, allowing restaurants time to see out long-term contracts and develop new agreements with suppliers.

“Most of our restaurant owners want to do the right thing in terms of going down this path. They are committed to that,” he said. “Let’s not be punitive in terms of our enforcement.”

Enforcement of the ban is already nonpunitive, as Trustee Brian Straw countered. The disciplinary process for violating the ordinance begins with a complaint, followed by a warning and a timeline for the restaurant to come into compliance, according to Straw. That, plus the approximate six months remaining before the start of 2024, Straw believed was ample time for restaurants to transition.

Parakkat, however, viewed the ban on polystyrene as less of an issue for individual restaurants and their ability to buy an alternate product. Rather, he believes the ban requires collective action by the restaurants to procure alternatives. 

“That is the point I am making,” he said. “It is not to push the problem into the future.”

Polystyrene is difficult to biodegrade, a fact that Trustee Susan Buchanan said restaurants have known about for about “50 years.” Like Straw, she was against giving restaurants a full year to transition to different containers. 

An effective date of 2025 for the ban was supported by Trustee Lucia Robinson, however, as village staff’s community engagement was “specific to that date.”

“As a board we have prioritized community engagement and I don’t think we can compromise the integrity of that engagement by saying, ‘We’re going to give you a certain set of facts, you give us responses based on those facts, and then we’re going to go ahead and move forward with a different set of facts,” she said.

Doing so, Robinson said, would nullify the engagement. She also did not want staff to have to redo the community engagement regarding this issue. 

While acknowledging Parakkat’s relationship with local eateries, Village President Vicki Scaman indirectly scolded him for bringing his concerns to the village board table instead of discussing them ahead of time with village staff, board members and commissioners. The item was originally a part of the consent agenda and not up for discussion, but it was moved to the regular agenda at the request of Parakkat. Scaman called it “frustrating” that the board was now “redoing a commission’s work.”

“We are not the experts and should not be coming to the board table as if we are the experts,” Scaman said. 

Ultimately Parakkat’s concerns held no sway among his fellow board members. He cast the sole vote against passing the ordinance.

Also at the village board

Oak Park’s village board tackled a lengthy agenda May 15, voting on several items. Here are some highlights:

Comedy Club 

One of the more entertaining items was the board’s unanimous approval of a comedy club in the cellar space of 1128 Lake St. The new club, called Comedy Plex, previously received a total stamp of approval from the Zoning Board of Appeals. 

If a little booze makes you gigglier, the club has you covered there too. The village board also approved the club’s liquor license application. The club is tentatively set to soft open in mid-July and will feature a variety of professional comedians, as well as host open mic nights. A little liquid courage might come in handy for people trying their hand at standup.

Towing at Mike’s Place

Oak Park residents who live along the Berwyn border near Mike’s Place, a Berwyn bar, got a win. After years of putting up with bargoers parking on their streets, urinating in public and engaging in drunken brawls, the village board approved an ordinance to establish tow zones in the 1100-1150 blocks of South Cuyler, Highland and Harvey Avenues. 

To prevent pushing the parking problem onto other neighboring streets, the board added the 1100-1150 blocks of South Ridgeland Avenue to the tow ordinance at the suggestion of Trustee Lucia Robinson. 

The residents who live along these swaths of Oak Park have long pushed for the village to enact such a measure to curb the nuisance presented by Berwyn bargoers, which escalated last Memorial Day weekend into a full-blown shootout. 

Aside from the safety issue, residents will no longer be routinely woken up by loud music coming from the bar patrons’ cars. 

“It is a continuous thing where you are up at 12 or 1 [a.m.], listening to someone’s soundtrack all night,” said Trustee Chibuike Enyia. “I didn’t know who it was this night, but last week it was the best of [Young] Jeezy.”    

Pete’s and utility poles

One area of the village that has not seen much headway made is the new Pete’s Fresh Market, 640 Madison St. Construction crews broke ground in December 2021, but the project has been slow going ever since. 

Pete’s project manager, Eugene Grzynkowicz, stopped by the village board meeting to give an update on the progress. According to Grzynkowicz, the project is in the final stage of relocating utilities from the property. The primary utilities on Euclid Avenue have been successfully moved, but an underground pole tied to ComEd still needs to be relocated. 

The pole, the board was told, has not yet been moved as ComEd is currently occupied by another project in Oak Park. Grzynkowicz said he and representatives from the electric company planned to meet Tuesday to discuss when the pole might be removed. 

“ComEd – every day is a new adventure with them,” said Grzynkowicz.

 The project is about a month and a half behind schedule due to ComEd, according to the project manager, but Pete’s is “still in good shape” to open next June.

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