Check out this year’s Forest Park Community Guide!

Online edition –>

In an effort to provide more parking along Madison Street, village officials are eyeing a number of properties abutting the commercial corridor and could pull the trigger on a purchase sooner rather than later.

Mayor Anthony Calderone confirmed the municipality’s interest in several parcels that are for sale, saying the village may be able to expand existing parking lots through those acquisitions. Calderone’s comments came Monday following a lengthy and sometimes heated council discussion on how best to address a shortage of parking in the area.

Though he declined to comment on specific properties, Calderone said the potential purchase of one or two parcels now on the market “should be a no-brainer.”

The issue of trying to obtain new land for additional parking was brought back to the fore by members of the business community who wrote a letter to the council late last month expressing concern that nothing was being done to alleviate the crunch. Monday’s meeting was the first opportunity for village officials to respond to the letter publicly, and a handful of representatives from the Chamber of Commerce and Development were in attendance.

“I think everyone is on the same page that there is a need,” said Laurie Kokenes, the chamber’s executive director. “That’s a first step.”

It was some 14 months ago that the village council first considered buying out six property owners to expand the available surface parking along Madison Street. If necessary, officials said, eminent domain laws would be used to take the parcels, all of which were residential.

That proposal was made in response to a survey conducted earlier that year, which reported a shortage of roughly 160 parking spaces along Madison Street. However, a fierce reaction from the public prevented that proposal from ever coming to a vote. Several public officials said the timing of that plan-just months before a local election-helped defeat the controversial measure.

In their Jan. 21 letter to the council, chamber members rejected the use of eminent domain to acquire new land, but used strong language in encouraging the municipality to again take up the challenge of solving this problem.

“We implore you to take the necessary action to acquire properties that would help alleviate a portion of the parking shortage,” chamber members said in their letter.

Much of the discussion among commissioners centered on finances and how the village might pay for any new construction. Commissioner Marty Tellalian argued that businesses ought to bear a portion of the cost commensurate with the degree to which their stores or restaurants add to the parking shortage. Those businesses that own a parking lot could pay less in annual fees, said Tellalian, and those that rely on public parking could pay more. Also, retailers would likely pay less than bars and restaurants because they see a lesser amount of customers per hour.

That proposal drew a strong reaction from Commissioner Mark Hosty, who said business owners already pay more in property taxes than do residential property owners. Further, said Hosty, those businesses that Tellalian suggested exacerbate the parking shortage are likely generating greater revenue streams for the village through sales taxes.

“Parking is not just a business problem,” Hosty said.

Commissioner Rory Hoskins repeatedly emphasized what he perceived to be a disproportionate focus on Madison Street and asked that if the village begins buying up land for parking or other development, equal consideration should be given to the south side of town. Roosevelt Road is largely neglected during conversations about economic development, said Hoskins, and both the village and the business community are to blame.

Hoskins also pointed out Hosty’s business interests on Madison Street and reminded the council of Hosty’s strong ties to the Chamber of Commerce and Development. Hosty owns property and manages a bar at the corner of Circle and Madison streets and is a past president of the chamber.

Attempting to rein in the talk a bit, Calderone reminded council members that space on Madison Street proper is extremely limited and short of tearing down buildings, there is no room to simply create parking. At the end of the day, he said, all the discussion in the world isn’t going to solve the problem and commissioners must be willing to move forward with a plan.

“We are not the first community that has a quaint downtown business district that has encountered this problem,” Calderone said.

Commissioners did not vote Monday to take any specific action, though the group generally favored exploring new acquisitions. Several chamber leaders said they were pleased to see the issue of parking garner so much attention and are optimistic that solutions will begin to emerge.