With no debate and only a few remarks from one council member, changes to the business district along Madison were approved unanimously Monday, potentially giving rise to a greater number of retail storefronts.
Since September, village officials and business owners have been pondering how best to keep the lifeblood of Madison Street – small, locally owned shops – pumping for years into the future. A zoning district that stretches west from Harlem to approximately Park Avenue was created several years ago and attempts to foster a pedestrian friendly shopping strip. The challenge this time around, according to stakeholders, was tweaking those regulations in the hopes that a rebounding economy can bring still more storefronts to Forest Park.
Village Administrator Tim Gillian has described the now adopted zoning changes as relatively minor, but there are new distinctions for business owners to heed. For example, east of the intersection with Desplaines Avenue, first-floor offices will no longer be allowed to open without first getting approval from the council. These businesses, such as doctors’ offices, accounting firms and Realtors, are permitted on upper floors. The idea, according to proponents, is to dedicate sidewalk storefronts to those businesses that are likely to generate foot traffic.
In her presentation to the zoning board earlier this month, the village’s senior planning consultant, Jo Ellen Charlton, said there are 17 professional offices on Madison that don’t comply with municipal zoning regulations. The new rules adopted by the council won’t require any existing businesses to close – offices or otherwise – but potentially make it less likely that they’d be allowed to expand.
Two types of businesses were struck altogether from the list of allowed uses on Madison. Existing theaters and “religious uses,” of which there are two on Madison, may remain in operation but any newcomers face an onerous task in winning council approval.
Representatives of Circle Theatre, 7300 Madison, and Living Word, 7306 Madison, did not address the council Monday with any concerns about the zoning change. However, Gillian said the municipality has been in touch with those businesses to discuss the new regulations.
Commissioner Marty Tellalian said Monday that he’s hopeful the business district could one day be expanded to include a portion of Desplaines Avenue immediately south of Madison, though the market would have to drive that change.