Village officials are weighing a proposal to construct a 9,000-square-foot strip mall on Harlem Avenue that would replace what many consider to be one of the area’s most unattractive buildings. But concerns with traffic flow at the site, located just south of Roosevelt Road at 1215 S. Harlem Ave., could be a tricky obstacle. The project would ultimately be subject to state approval as Harlem is a state route.
Zoning board members voted 4-3 to send the project ahead following a discussion of the plans at their April 21 meeting. The single-story structure would replace the now vacant property at the site, which was last occupied by a medical supply business. The interior of the new building would be divided into eight retail spaces of 1,125-square feet each.
Because the development fronts onto a busy four-lane state road at the junction of an equally hectic throughway, planning and zoning officials gave special attention to how cars would maneuver in and out of the area. On May 5, planning commission members will conduct a site plan review before sending the project to the village council for a final vote.
“I’m really not a big fan of strip malls, but I’d go along with it because it would be a major improvement to the disaster that’s there now,” zoning board member Richard Scafidi said.
In August 2006 the Chicago Tribune panned the current structure at the address as one of the 10 ugliest buildings in the metropolitan area.
“It’s an ugly building that doesn’t add any value,” zoning board Chairman Austin Zimmer said.
John Argianis, a real estate agent with Universal Realty in Chicago, is the owner of the property. Argianis mortgaged the site in 2007 for $2.2 million, according to county records. He did not return several phone calls seeking comment.
Scafidi voted against Argiani’s request for a variance to Forest Park’s landscaping and parking requirements, but said overall he favors the proposal. At the zoning board meeting Scafidi proposed that traffic coming in and out of the strip mall should be restricted to making right-hand turns. There was no support for Scafidi’s idea, which he said would help ease the congestion that often comes with drivers waiting to turn left in heavily-trafficked areas.
Drawings submitted to the village call for a single point of egress at the southern end of the lot – away from the busy intersection. A review of the plans by the municipality’s building department though, states that because the “relatively shallow” parking lot proposed for the project has only one access point, there isn’t much room for cars to maneuver and there will likely be delays as motorists attempt to exit onto Harlem Avenue.
However, the planning consultant who drafted the report for the village said she could support the developer’s design, which includes a request to offer 36 parking spaces, if “parking intense” businesses were to occupy a maximum of 25 percent of the property. Restaurants and convenience stores are two examples of such uses that tend to rely heavily on the availability of parking, according to the report.
“As a condition of granting any variations, it would be appropriate to impose limits on how the space can be subdivided and/or used,” Jo Ellen Charlton, a planning consultant for the village said in her report.
Local zoning codes require one parking space for every 50-square feet of retail space. Without an exception to this rule, the project would need 182 parking spaces.
The developer was also granted an advisory approval from the zoning board to plant 11 shade trees at the site, half of what the zoning code calls for.
“Overall, I think it sounds like a great project,” Zimmer said. “It all depends on what they put in there in terms of what the parking issues will be.”
In his application to the village, Argianis did not specify what type of businesses might open in the redeveloped property. Zimmer asked that question specifically of Argianis’ attorney, who appeared before the zoning board, and was told it is too early in the process for the developer to begin soliciting tenants.
Village Administrator Mike Sturino confirmed that Argianis has not yet applied for a demolition permit to begin tearing down the existing structure, but said in all likelihood the village would expedite an approval once the request is made. The expectation is the project will bring in additional property and sales tax revenues for Forest Park, said Sturino, and the location is ideal for such uses.
“In a lot of ways it’s your conventional strip mall, but it’s got a pretty nice design to it,” Sturino said. “All brick.”