With hardly a mention of the tizzy that last year surrounded Rod Nunley’s proposal to build a new auto repair shop at the corner of Franklin and Harlem, members of Forest Park’s zoning board breezed through Nunley’s request during a March 16 hearing.
Nunley’s business, Elite Tire, has been in operation for decades on a parcel just north of where he would like to build a new garage. His lease on the current address, 25 S. Harlem, expires this year, and Nunley bought the now vacant lot at 7201 Franklin several years ago with the intention of relocating his business.
But when Nunley brought his plans to the village in 2008, he was met by a development group that claimed to have bigger and better plans for the neighborhood, and that their project would be optimal given the area’s proximity to a Green Line station immediately to the north. A former administrator for the village also encouraged elected officials to consider the area’s long-term potential, which is spelled out in a planning document that calls for a dense mix of commercial and residential properties.
In 2008, Nunley’s plan to build a new repair shop never made it to the council floor. Instead, the business owner was in negotiations with the competing developer, Circle Plaza LLC, to sell his property and relocate the business. Mayor Anthony Calderone and others at village hall met with both parties in an attempt to foster an agreement, but to no avail.
During a March 16 zoning board meeting at which a slightly revised plan was vetted, only one nearby resident spoke against Nunley’s proposal. No one from the competing development group opposed the plans, and a planning consultant familiar with both projects said she has not heard from the LLC in months.
“It’s been a while since I’ve heard anything,” JoEllen Charlton, a consultant for the Department of Public Health and Safety said.
Circle Plaza LLC owns the property where Nunley’s business is currently located. Nunley has said that his lease is set to expire in June and that he does not plan to renew. A representative of Circle Plaza did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment.
Patrick Jacknow, a real estate agent and member of the zoning board, cast the lone vote against Nunley’s plans. He did not offer any comments during the board’s discussion, but said afterward that a repair shop does not take advantage of the neighborhood’s potential.
“There’s a higher and better use,” Jacknow said.
In her report to the zoning board, Charlton acknowledged that Nunley’s proposal is not the type of project recommended for the area in the village’s master planning document, known as the comprehensive plan.
“Earlier staff recommendations to deny the project last year were based on the comprehensive plan guidelines that the entire block is intended to be developed as a gateway feature consisting of transit oriented development,” Charlton said in her memo. “These facts have not changed. What has changed is that time is of the essence for this property owner to secure this location for his business, and that the owner has made every effort to design everything he could into the site to achieve many other comprehensive plan goals.”
John Schiess, the lead architect on Nunley’s proposed garage, maintained as he did in 2008 that his client’s project does not preclude other developers from renovating nearby properties. In fact, Schiess said the garage is designed to fit as well as it can with any large-scale projects that may come along.
Revisions to the 2008 proposal include putting the parking lot for the repair shop on the western edge of the property, which means the building is closer to the sidewalk along Harlem. That design is more consistent with mixed-use development practices and attempts to create a pedestrian-friendly feel. According to Schiess, the sidewalk along Harlem will also be reconstructed and made wider.
Also, vehicles would enter and exit the business from Franklin.
Nunley’s new shop would require 61 parking spaces under the zoning code, but provides only 25. This represents perhaps the most significant variance sought from the village.
The proposal is slated to be heard next by the planning commission before being passed along to the village council for a final vote.