Oak Park residents, many of whom live near a stretch of Madison Street slated for a massive mixed-use real estate development next year, spoke out in opposition to the proposal at a town hall forum held Tuesday night by Mayor Anan Abu-Taleb.
Resident Richard Holland said a number of factors have contributed to neighbors' belief that the project, which would completely rebuild the streetscape between Oak Park and Wesley avenues, narrowing the road to two lanes and bending it to increase the developable area on the south side of the 700 block of Madison Street.
Holland noted that Jupiter Realty – chosen earlier this month as the preferred developer for the project following a public bidding process – already has begun seeking commercial tenants on the online commercial real estate marketplace LoopNet.
"I've already seen the listing where I can already lease space in these buildings," Holland said. "If it is a grocery store, it's going to bring rats and all sorts of unfortunate things I would rather not have at the end of my block, but yet I have not heard from anybody at the village or the board to ask us our thoughts on this or get input."
Abu-Taleb said there would be multiple public meetings set next year to receive input from residents on the project proposed by Jupiter and that picking the preferred developer was one of the early steps in the process.
He reminded residents opposed to the project that it would largely be paid for with funds from the Madison Street Tax Increment Finance District, which is set to expire in 2018. Abu-Taleb said it could be the village's last opportunity to redevelop the area and called the current state of Madison "an embarrassment for the community" that could be transformed into an alternative to downtown Oak Park.
Holland said he was not opposed to redeveloping the area, but he did not believe a grocery store was needed at the corner of Madison and Wesley near his home.
"Why is it a grocery store?" asked Bernadette Homberger, noting that the street already is home to a Walgreens, Jewel-Osco and Sugar Beet Food Co-op.
Abu-Taleb said it would be difficult to attract a developer for the properties without a large anchor. He said the road must be reoriented to bend to the north to make the lot on the south side of Madison large enough to accommodate the grocery store.
"This developer is like everyone else; no anchor, no developer," he said.
Sandy Pedersen, whose home is directly south of the proposed grocery store, said she worried about noise associated with grocery store loading docks, squealing car tires from customers pulling into the parking lot and rodents attracted to the store. Pedersen said the village has yet to reach out to the neighbors to discuss the plan and that the project "feels like a done deal no matter what I say."
Transportation advocate Ron Burke, who serves as director of the Active Transportation Alliance, which lobbies for safer bicycling and transportation options, said bending the road -- a so-called "road diet" that reduces the number of lanes from four to two – would have a calming effect on the corridor making it safer for drivers and pedestrians.
Burke said he did not believe the proposal would result in heavier traffic in the neighborhoods, a concern that residents have voiced over the last several months as the project has become public. The Active Transportation Alliance issued a recommendation in 2014, stating its support for narrowing the street.
"The 1.5 miles of Madison Street through Oak Park is not safe," the recommendation read, noting that the roadway experiences two crashes every three days – about 235 per year – on average.
"To put this in perspective, the Madison crash rate was roughly twice that of Lake Shore Drive, which IDOT says is one of the most crash-prone roads in the state," Burke said in 2014.
The village is expected to continue its review of the Madison Street project next year with a series of public meetings intended to further explore and vet the proposal.
Answer Book 2019
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