Advocating for Roosevelt Road

Opinion: Editorials

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It is not a corner that says "welcome." Not a welcome to Chicago, to Cicero or to Oak Park, the three towns that, unhappily, come together at Austin Boulevard and Roosevelt Road.

There's a bodega, a currency exchange, a storefront gambling emporium and, Oak Park's contribution to the gateway grimness, a now-abandoned branch bank parking lot.

But Taco Bell, which has seemingly hung a star on its desire to open an almost-24-hour-a-day fast-food joint in Oak Park, comes before the Zoning Board of Appeals on Jan. 8 with its plans. Every application that includes a drive-thru is, by ordinance, a special use, requiring the zoning board to sign off. Beyond the drive-thru, though, are requested variances that would, like every fast-fooder, allow the building to be set back from the street to allow for parking and a drive-thru. Current code calls for 60 percent of street frontage to be occupied by a building not a parking lot. Since this is a block-long rectangle, that is going to prove to be a difficult code to meet. 

We've got nothing particular against Taco Bell — besides their food, of course. But this would be a moment for neighbors, maybe through the SEOPCO community group, to start advocating for their troubled commercial street. This could be a moment for the village board to say, "Roosevelt Road is part of Oak Park, too." 

There are reports that village staff already successfully discouraged a gas station/car wash/mini-mart from locating on this old US Bank property. There are rumblings that maybe village government is considering strategic land acquisitions east on Roosevelt to control future development. There are multiple sites between Austin and Harvey that would be prime for such a strategy. Yes, we understand that Mayor Anan Abu-Taleb and the village board are rightly proud to have only recently sold off the last of the properties the village had acquired somewhat haphazardly over recent decades. But targeted, short-term buys in support of one of Oak Park's most vibrant and diverse residential communities — the Irving School neighborhood — makes sense. In addition to the old bank site, there is the recently shuttered and nearly block-long Associated Tire business that needs reclaiming. 

Roosevelt Road needs advocates using a model exactly like the North Avenue District on the village's opposite border. That group has built alliances in Chicago's Galewood neighborhood, has coaxed Oak Park's leaders and Chicago Alderman Chris Taliaferro into cooperation, has used both a carrot and a stick approach to celebrate the real achievements underway on North Avenue while also turning screws when necessary.

Roosevelt Road offers the same challenges and the same opportunities. 

The moment for declaring it a priority comes now at the intersection of Roosevelt and Austin. 

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Reader Comments

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Magda Szymczyk  

Posted: December 28th, 2019 10:42 PM

Thank you for this article. I own a new business on Roosevelt road and have been so disappointed with the lack of attention our area gets. Hoping this will change. Happy to pitch in where I can.

Tom MacMillan from OAK PARK  

Posted: December 28th, 2019 10:14 PM

The Wednesday Journal wants the Village to buy a dead space, to prevent it from becoming, gasp, an employer generating sales tax revenue. Yeah, we better rush to stop that from happening.

Jolyn Crawford  

Posted: December 28th, 2019 4:16 PM

why can't it be a sit down restaurant, Chile's, or an authentic Mexican restaurant? What will the hours be and will it have a drive thru?

Sue Kehias from Oak Park  

Posted: December 28th, 2019 3:24 PM

Great to see SEOPCO mentioned in the WJ, especially in conjunction with advocacy for our neighborhood. As the article mentions, this is a diverse area and we expect residents near Austin/Roosevelt to have varying thoughts about the proposed Taco Bell. A primary goal of SEOPCO has always been to provide information regarding Village plans and decisions to South East Oak Park residents. Another goal is to amplify the voice of a sometimes forgotten corner of Oak Park. It is my hope that all SEOP and Roosevelt Road neighbors attend the January 8 meeting or write to the Zoning Board of Appeals with their thoughts or concerns.

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