As private industry turns up the heat on government officials to expand the availability of public parking, confirmed talks are under way to sell at least one residential property to the village for the purpose of adding new spaces.
Jerry Vainisi, president and chief executive officer of Forest Park National Bank, said that his properties in the 400 block of Hannah and Circle avenues have been discussed as possible sites to expand an existing municipal lot, one that is behind his business. The bank president and his real estate agent Jerry Jacknow, the broker for Vainisi’s property at 426 and 428 Hannah Ave., downplayed the intensity of those discussions and gave no indication that a deal is imminent.
“The mayor and [Village Administrator] Mike Sturino inquired about the availability of the residential property I own on Circle Avenue,” Vainisi said in an e-mail responding to questions posed by the Review. “Their inquiry was merely into my possible willingness to sell that property to the village should it choose to go that direction. I expressed a willingness to discuss it with them.”
Sturino and Mayor Anthony Calderone said they are focusing on 415 Circle Ave. for the time being and are awaiting results of an appraisal.
“That would be our first choice,” Sturino said of the land currently for sale.
The question of parking along the village’s widely hailed retail corridor has resurfaced following an almost year-long hibernation. In late 2006, a controversial proposal to acquire a half-dozen residential properties-by force, if necessary-was panned by voters and died before a formal vote could be taken. The village’s threat of invoking eminent domain laws quickly became campaign fodder for the April 2007 elections, and nary a word has been said since of a 2006 engineering survey that found Forest Park lacking about 160 parking spaces along Madison Street.
But in a strongly worded letter discussed at the Feb. 25 council meeting, the Chamber of Commerce and Development said “eventually, some additional land must be obtained” to alleviate the shortage. The business group denounced the use of eminent domain.
“We implore you to take the necessary action to acquire properties that would help alleviate a portion of the parking shortage,” chamber officials said in their Jan. 21 letter.
Homeowner Chuck Hoehne is a member of the mayor’s ad hoc committee charged with finding alternatives to tearing down homes to make room for more parking. The group has not met since November, said Hoehne, and it appears that the village’s attention has shifted back to property acquisition as the most viable solution.
That, he said, despite several worthwhile proposals from the committee.
Hoehne spearheaded a voluntary program meant to encourage employees along Madison Street to park their vehicles in residential neighborhoods in order to free more parking spaces for shoppers. The program flopped, said Hoehne, in large part because neither the village nor the businesses put forth a legitimate effort. Little was done to educate employers, street signs weren’t erected as promised and motorists who violated the time limit for on-street parking were rarely ticketed, said Hoehne.
Another proposal to use valet services at peak hours asked store owners to pay 45 cents a day while bars and restaurants pick up the bulk of the cost. That was rejected, said Hoehne, because retailers didn’t want to subsidize a service that didn’t directly benefit them.
“[The committee] was developed for political reasons. This was a way to mitigate the damage that was done [by the eminent domain proposal],” Hoehne said. “But I think as a committee we surprised them by coming up with a legitimate option. I don’t think they anticipated that would happen. To their credit, they were willing to listen to that, but I don’t think the will is really there to make it happen.”
Though the village may purchase new land, Calderone emphasized that the parking programs Hoehne described as failures are still viable. It’s unlikely that any single effort will wipe out the parking crunch, said Calderone, which makes it all the more important for the community to explore a number of options.
“[The pilot program] doesn’t seem to be working to somebody’s expectations … OK. So what do we do next,” Calderone said. “I haven’t heard any other ideas. I haven’t heard any other ideas, just criticism.”
The mayor dismissed allegations that the council is rolling over to pressure from the business community.
“Our discussion actually wasn’t prompted by the chamber letter,” Calderone said. “We had received a grant about a year ago for costs associated with the acquisition and development of parking.”
The village has until May to spend that state money, of which there’s about $250,000. Vainisi’s property at 415 Circle Ave. is not publicly listed, but Calderone speculated the grant would fall short of the purchase price. It’s unclear exactly how the municipality would fund the construction of any new parking lots, but Sturino said the likely sources are the village’s parking fund and bonds.
Revenue from parking meters and permit sales support the parking fund, not taxes. Sturino rejected an informal request for the balance of that fund, stating that such disclosure would harm the municipality’s ability to negotiate with land owners. If any land is acquired, said Sturino, a “fair price” will be paid and “it’s not really relevant what’s available” so long as the village can afford the expense.
According to an auditor’s report, the fund balance was $2.6 million at the end of the 2007 fiscal year in April.
Other residential properties that have been considered for purchase include 424 Beloit Ave., which is on the market and listed for $415,000. On the north side of Madison Street, 333 Circle Ave. and 335 Circle Ave. were at one time eyed as part of a cluster of residential properties needed to expand a nearby municipal lot.
The owners of the Beloit Avenue home said they’ve not been contacted by the village, but would consider an offer. According to Calderone, expanding a nearby parking lot to include that parcel would be too deep an intrusion into the residential neighborhood.
The home at 335 Circle Ave. is the lynchpin of any expansion strategy in that neighborhood, but the property is no longer for sale, said Calderone. The mixed-use property at 333 Circle Ave. has a willing seller, according to the mayor, but is not a current target.
Vainisi’s property on Hannah Avenue is listed at $450,000. Though the seller is willing, said Calderone, the village is not. As with the Beloit Avenue parcel, such an expansion has been rejected by public officials for its reach into the neighborhood.