For the past week, and during a public hearing on the subject held Monday, municipal officials have stressed they have no interest in booting a critically acclaimed theater group from Madison. The village is interested in bringing more retail business to its downtown, however, and is taking steps to help guarantee that assembly-style companies – such as theaters and churches – don’t swallow whole chunks of real estate.
A proposed amendment to Forest Park’s downtown business district, which runs along Madison from Harlem to approximately Park Avenue, received a 4-1 endorsement from the zoning board of appeals Monday. Among the changes within the proposal is an effort to cut theaters and “religious uses” from the list of allowable businesses. Madison is currently home to one of each, with Circle Theatre at 7300 Madison and Living Word at 7306 Madison.
“We feel very comfortable that Circle Theatre isn’t a target,” Kevin Bellie, artistic director for the theater company, said following recent talks with public officials.
If the amendment is adopted by the village council, the changes would not force any existing business to close its doors. The zoning board’s vote is strictly advisory. However, new theaters, churches and professional offices and animal grooming shops would face additional hurdles before being allowed to open on Madison. This means, too, that if Circle Theater, Living Word or any of the offices and pet groomers wished to expand their operation, or relocate elsewhere in the zoning district, the more stringent regulations would apply.
Bellie said earlier this month he was not aware of the proposed changes and that it would be a mistake to push his non-profit performance troupe from the street. On Dec. 2, when a Review story on the amendment hit newsstands, Bellie received a phone call from the village’s senior planning consultant, Jo Ellen Charlton. The purpose of that conversation, according to Forest Park’s Village Administrator Tim Gillian, was to reassure the theater of its value to the street.
Immediately prior to Monday’s zoning board meeting, Gillian said the theater would likely be received with open arms if it wanted to relocate on Madison when its lease expires in October 2010.
“If that should happen, the village would look very favorable on that,” Gillian said.
Bellie said he is now “extremely comfortable” with the village’s development strategy outlined in the proposed zoning regulations.
Also this month, a spokeswoman for Living Word, Kim Clay, said the church was caught off guard by the proposal. Gillian said discussions with the church were initiated in the last week. Clay did not return a phone call seeking comment on those talks.
Other proposed changes recommended by the zoning board for the village council’s consideration include restricting offices east of Desplaines Avenue from opening in street-level storefronts. Such businesses would be allowed on upper floors, or if located at least 50 feet from the street. West of the intersection with Desplaines, those restrictions would not apply.
According to Charlton, there are currently 17 professional offices on Madison that do not comply with municipal zoning regulations.
According to current regulations, should a business operating as a “non-conforming use” close, the next tenant may use the space in the same manner if they move in within six months. To discourage the continued presence of less desirable businesses along Madison, the zoning board is recommending that window be whittled to 90 days.
Pet grooming would be prohibited between Harlem and Desplaines, according to the proposal, but allowed further west. Gas stations, of which there are currently none, would be prohibited.