First reported 3/16/2010 1:25 p.m.
Of the 22 people who spoke at the crowded zoning board meeting Monday night, only one was neutral about the variance that Team Blonde is petitioning for.
When Amanda O’Connor of 1000 Circle Ave. stepped up to the microphone, she said she was neither for Team Blonde, the Madison Street retail anchor pushing to legalize its sideline offering of spa services, nor for the smaller, neighboring spas crying foul.
“I’m here because I’m just tired of hearing about Forest Park businesses breaking the rules,” O’Connor said in the same village chambers where, a week before, most of the council meeting was devoted to sorting through how a popular restaurant’s new back room got to be noncompliant with zoning and building codes.
So intense were arguments made Monday night in the Team Blonde case that zoning board commissioner William McKenzie moved for, and got, the discussion continued until next month’s meeting of the zoning board. McKenzie and fellow zoning commissioner Burak Tanyu both asked Jo Ellen Charlton, the village’s senior planning consultant, to work with the village’s legal team in clarifying some points raised in the almost two-hour meeting.
At issue Monday night was use of small rooms in the back corridor of first-floor space at 7442 Madison for spa services: facials, manicures, pedicures, massages and hair cutting, styling and coloring. The facials, mani-pedis and massages were staples of a once-a-month Girls’ Night Out that Team Blonde, a boutique of hip, eco-friendly jewelry and clothing used to offer. Team Blonde’s owners, Heidi Vance and Jayne Ertel, have made those services a daily part of their business and, in the fall, added hairdressing. Like many municipalities, Forest Park mandates that there be 500 feet between businesses that offer personal grooming services. Late last year the village council reaffirmed its ordinance specifying specific distances required between spa services.
More than 60 people gathered in the basement of village hall Monday night to hear Team Blonde’s petition for a variance to the zoning law. Vance, a lawyer, told the zoning board of appeals that Team Blonde’s request for the change is “to protect and encourage a predominantly retail streetscape.” Vance and Ertel are asking that the 500-foot rule be waived for a hybrid business that offers such services if the business occupies more than 3,000 square feet, and at least 1,500 square feet of that space is devoted to selling goods.
The two Oak Park women who own Team Blonde have become cheerleaders for destination shopping in Forest Park. Vance is a former president of the chamber of commerce. Ertel, an accountant, is active in the Madison Street business owners’ association. Even those who oppose Vance and Ertel’s push to offer specialty services commend their success as magnetic retailers of specialty goods..
“We haven’t had so many people at a zoning board meeting in three years,” Austin Zimmer, the board’s chair, announced to the crowd before speakers began filing to the mic.
Among the 22 people who spoke, in addition to the one Forest Parker who was neutral, 14 people were for Team Blonde’s request for the variance and seven opposed it. Of those speaking out for the variance, seven were from Oak Park and three were from Forest Park. Of those opposed, two were from Oak Park and one was from Forest Park. Throughout the meeting, such words as “saturation,” “precedence” and “hybrid business model” surfaced. One speaker used “co-opetition” – a blend of “cooperation” and “competition.”
Interest in the meeting had gained momentum Sunday night when a regular contributor to the community chat board known as Forest Park Forums posted a “Dear Citizens of Forest Park” letter from David Riddle, an Oak Parker who, with his wife, Lee Conte, owns Chi Balancing Center at 7249 Madison. Riddle and Conte, who offer shiatsu and other specialty massages from the same 1,200-square-foot space as Skin Care Company, an independent that offers facials, chemical peels and related services.
“If this law is passed, any large spa could move right next to an existing spa with no problem. By changing a law in which city planners take years to create can only cause problems in the future.
“We ask if you could please join us and support the law as it stands today. We are only a handful of spa owners, but we cannot give in to a business which has had political power and influence within the town. We cannot allow them special privileges to not only change the rules they have been in violation of, but jeopardize our futures as business owners and members of the community.
“I guarantee this will be a very informative and revealing meeting,” Riddle wrote.
At the meeting, Riddle presented each member of the zoning board with a copy of a May 31, 2007, letter that he’d gotten through a Freedom of Information Act filing last month. The letter, which had been sent to Vance and Ertel by Mike Boyle, who was then head of the village’s building department, detailed that Team Blonde was not licensed for the manicures, pedicures and massages that it was offering monthly, and that there were no water permits for the basins used for pedicures. At the time, when Team Blonde was at the corner of Madison and Circle, the 500-foot violation was also noted.
Riddle argued that Team Blonde’s owners were aware of the violations more than two years earlier than the village began enforcing them.
Village Administrator Tim Gillian, who said he became aware of the circumstances last fall when he started his job, told the group that Vance and Ertel have since been making a good faith effort to find a way to come into compliance. Though in December Gillian had served Team Blonde an order to stop offering the spa services within 14 days, Vance told the zoning board Monday night that Gillian stayed that order until this zoning matter is resolved.
Vance also noted that as of March 11, Team Blonde has a state license to offer manicures, pedicures and massages.
The next zoning board of appeals meeting is at 7 p.m. Monday, April 19.