In Forest Park, or any other community, zoning codes serve as the day-to-day rulebook that tells us what is and what isn’t allowed in terms of development. As with most rules, these aren’t carved in stone and there’s usually a bit of wiggle room for discretion. In a very real way though, these codes spell out how the development game will be played.
The hubbub surrounding a proposal from Rod Nunley to construct an auto repair shop that would front along Harlem Avenue at the intersection with Franklin Street has little to do with zoning codes. Save for a few minor requests for variances, Nunley’s plans fall well within the code. This debate centers largely on another document that could be described as a wish list, though formally it’s called the Comprehensive Plan. The Comprehensive Plan is less specific, but outlines what it is a given community would prefer to see in each neighborhood with respect to development.
In Forest Park, an auto shop does not fit with the village’s best case scenario for the area along Harlem Avenue where Nunley would like to build. Technically (i.e. zoning) it fits, but if the village had its druthers there is a better use for the land. According to the village’s ranking administrative official, Forest Park may be able to achieve its ideal.
A reputable group of developers has been meeting with Village Administrator Mike Sturino for at least a year to discuss a massive mixed-use project that could encompass more than a city block. It would capitalize on Harlem Avenue’s traffic count and serve as a grand introduction to the community for visitors using the nearby el station, according to Sturino. But neither Sturino nor the developers behind Circle Plaza LLC have been willing or able to describe the project in any detail. They’ve deflected this newspaper’s request for specifics by stating that such things haven’t been defined and, in something of a contradiction, argued that providing greater detail will jeopardize the project.
The Review absolutely respects the right of local government to control land use in the interest of the greater good. That’s part of any municipality’s job, frankly. It’s also the government’s responsibility to offer assurances that the greater good is being served. If there is a plan – not a vision similar to what’s already spelled out in the village’s wish list – that should be weighed against Nunley’s pending application, it needs to be presented.
Similarly, if there is nothing beyond an agreed upon concept, that too, must be made clear.
Mayor Anthony Calderone unequivocally stated that it is wholly appropriate for elected officials to mull this still undefined possibility in deciding on the future of Nunley’s business. We agree and disagree. Regardless of a competing proposal, the village must consider its long-term interests. However, this discussion has not been framed in abstracts. The message from the developer and from village hall is there are two tangible options. If option B is going to be part of the discussion, then let’s discuss it.