It’s going to come down to a matter of interpretation, this debate over the product and service mix of Team Blonde. And that’s OK. Zoning regulations are intended as guideposts, not absolute markers of right and wrong. Zoning in a commercial district is created to foster a community’s vision of its best self.
So let’s use that vision of Madison Street to parse out a resolution to the zoning issue at 7442 Madison.
The downtown zoning code was remade in 2006 and amended just months ago, at the close of 2009. The overarching goal of planners and the public officials who ratified the plan was to foster retail uses on the street that’s become Forest Park’s specialty shopping corridor. That’s why new offices are prohibited on Madison Street. That’s also why there’s a 500-foot-rule that keeps “spas” – establishments that offer haircuts and nail treatments – from proliferating. And that’s the rule that Team Blonde’s owners Heidi Vance and Jayne Ertel have gradually but actively come to violate.
In the business they started as straight-up retail years ago, these two smart merchants figured out, as shop owners across the country have, that just opening their doors in the morning to sell specialty items off the shelf wasn’t going to earn them a living. Occasionally adding in specialty services was a hedge, and a sideline that made all the more sense in a weakening economy and after a move to larger space.
Here’s where the interpretation comes in.
Competitors of Team Blonde’s sideline – other independent businesses in town that offer the hair, nail and skin care treatments now available all the time at 7442 Madison – want the 500-foot rule enforced because, it seems, the competition for customers opting for these specialty services is a concern. Zoning laws should never be created or enforced to protect a business from competition. It’s un-American. Competition is good.
Our interpretation is that the 500-foot rule was created so that, as you drive down Madison, you don’t see a strip of nail salons and haircut places. Remember, the underlying goal of the zoning is to encourage retail. From its facade, Team Blonde is all about retail – a shopping anchor, in fact, on Madison that even its spa competitors don’t question. With spa services tucked away at the back of shop space 150 feet deep, their presence isn’t the magnet that Team Blonde’s clothing and accessories show windows are. The five small backrooms are space no modern retailer is going to use for merchandising stock. In fact, when the zoning was revised in 2009, office use was allowed in spaces 50 feet or more back from the street.
So, we ask the village, get this resolution, too, on a fast track and let a retailer that’s drawing people to Forest Park evolve into a hybrid business of mainly goods and a few services. But pay attention and sort through how to draw the lines responsibly so that retail in a 3,000-square-foot space remains primary. Forest Park’s chronic inability to enforce its zoning and building codes, or to, at least, interpret them in a timely manner is unreasonable, unfair and exhausting.
Everything in Forest Park can’t be decided individually. We need a moratorium on “special case” rulings.