Pete's design not so fresh

Plan commission, public unimpressed with plan

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By Stacey Sheridan

Staff Reporter

Almost one year exactly since its first public meeting, Pete's Fresh Market's plan to construct a second Oak Park location went before the Plan Commission Jan. 7, where it received a tepid reaction from commissioners. 

The 46,200-square-foot grocery store will extend along Madison Street between Oak Park Avenue and Wesley Avenue, sitting where the historic Foley-Rice building stood until its recent demolition. 

Essentially a large rectangle, the Plan Commission and public found the design lacking, even with the incorporation of the now demolished auto dealership's beloved grotesques. 

"For a traditional grocery store, they're more boxed shaped," said project architect Ken Nadolski. 

Nadolski said Pete's needed to utilize the full width of the area to make the project functional, necessitating the rectangular shape.

The village of Oak Park's design consultant Wight & Co. made some tweaks to the Pete's design, including some height changes to make the building more visually interesting and to break up its length. 

Wight provided a sketch to the Plan Commission for additional consideration that included extending the glass entry feature further along Madison Street to make it more proportionately significant. 

Commissioner Nick Bridge expressed worries that, as designed, the Pete's would reduce the value of nearby properties. Other areas for concern were the proposed grocery store's impact on traffic and village parking.

As planned, the new Pete's boasts a total of 242 parking spots, 117 of which are surface-level spaces for customer use. An additional 11 customer parking spots will be located on Madison Street. 

The plan calls for 114 employee spots, located underground and accessible by ramp. Nadolski told the commission that Pete's will add 100 new jobs to the community and bring in a combined $1.1 million yearly in real estate and sales taxes. 

Pete's will have right in, right out access on Madison Street and Oak Park Avenue. Per direction from village staff, Nadolski added a southbound traffic diverter on Wesley Avenue to prevent customers from driving down Wesley to loop around when looking for parking.

  "Truck traffic is brought from Madison to Wesley, and then utilizing a small portion of the alley on the east side of Wesley to back in and then exit the property when it's done," said Nadolski.

The project involves vacating the northern leg Euclid Street and building a cul-de-sac, which will be constructed and landscaped by Pete's. The fire department submitted a letter stating that the cul-de-sac would not impact fire services. 

"I don't know what value Oak Park gets out of any of this, particularly closing off Euclid Avenue and taking our public property and giving it to a corporation," said resident Chris Heitzman in public comment.  

The Pete's proposal is part of a redevelopment agreement with the village of Oak Park and is subject to that agreement. However, the Plan Commission was directed to look at the project based on the application's merits. The application itself requests several zoning variances, including reduction in setbacks and a front building façade with zero windows.

The prospect of having a 400-foot brick wall facing Madison Street did not particularly excite some commissioners. Commissioner Lawrence Brozek suggested adding display windows.

"This is a long rectangle and we really need to see more of an effort to break it up," said Chair Iris Sims. "I think it would go a long way to change the current public and commission view of the building."

In a unanimous vote, the commission moved to continue the public hearing until Jan. 21.

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