The village council is no closer to having a recommendation for how to proceed on the debate over spa services at Team Blonde. At Monday night’s meeting of the zoning board of appeals, the advisory body was split on whether to approve the variance that owners of the Madison Street retail anchor are petitioning for.
With three members of the zoning board absent from the April 19 meeting, the vote was 2-2. Voting for the amendment were William McKenzie and Austin Zimmer. Voting against the amendment were Ray Paulin and Richard Scafidi. Absent from Monday night’s meeting were Al Bucholtz, Patrick Jacknow and Burak Tanyu.
Discussion about fine-tuning phrasing in the variance that Team Blonde proposed at the zoning board’s March 15 meeting – a discussion that had at times gotten heated – was continued to this meeting. At the meeting Monday, Zimmer, who is chairman of the zoning board, repeatedly reminded people in attendance that the zoning board’s job is not to decide whether any law was violated.
“The role of this body is to consider a text amendment to the zoning code on its merits. Obviously, there’s a lot of passion on both sides,” Zimmer said to the audience of about three dozen. He then paused to tell everyone that they needed to hold their comments until they were called to take the microphone.
At issue continues to be 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 distances required between spa services.
Vance and Ertel are asking the village to relax the 500-foor rule for Team Blonde, arguing that their business is mostly retail with just a sideline of spa services and, in that case, does not qualify.
Jo Ellen Charlton, the village’s senior planning consultant, was charged to work with the village’s legal team in clarifying some points raised.
Here’s what was being considered:
“Personal grooming services, provided that no such business is located within five hundred feet (500′) of another business providing personal grooming services …, except that the 500′ separation shall not be required if personal grooming service is conducted in addition to a permitted retail store, downtown business district, in compliance with all the following requirements:
The personal grooming services and the retail store must be under the same property and business ownership.
The combined spaces for the retail store and the personal grooming business may not be greater than 3,750 square feet.
A minimum of 1,600 square feet must be solely dedicated to retail sales.
No part of the personal grooming service may be located within 60 feet of the Madison Street right-of-way.”
Members of the audience took turns making strong statements on both sides of the debate.
“Spa treatments will be in back rooms, out of the public’s view. What’s to stop someone from offering something elicit here on Madison Street,” said Lee Conte, a co-owner of Chi Balancing center at 7249 Madison, in reference to prostitution.
Steven Backman, a Forest Park resident who does video recordings of each village government meeting, told the panel, “We have unethical behavior being rewarded with this custom-tailored law.”
Jerry Webster, another regular at village government meetings, said the 500-foot rule, whether popular or not, was law and had to be abided by.
“I thought the 500-foot rule was stupid. Had the public been allowed to say this, I would’ve said it. These ladies pretty much do what they want to do. They should be held accountable.”
Support for Team Blonde came from customers and fellow Madison Street merchants.
“If this change is not allowed, it will be a travesty for all Forest Park businesses,” said Jane Thompson, a Forest Park resident.
Wayne Schauer, owner of the namesake hardware store at 7449 Madison, recalled the downtown that he invested in 11 years ago. “All that were here were restaurants and bars and empty buildings. It looks like we’re heading back to that. I can’t even believe we’re having this discussion. We need everybody we can have in retail here.”
Cec Hardacker, a co-owner of Two Fish Art Glass at 7401 Madison, said she regretted not having had the energy or the sense in December, while part of the downtown business district meetings on the 500-foot rule, to see that it was a mistake.
“The zoning ordinance in question was made to encourage retail. It was not meant to protect a particular type of business, but it inadvertently does. … What keeps coming to me when I look at the big picture is that this is most clearly a question of fairness. There is no ordinance that keeps a new business, say a sandwich shop from opening kitty-corner from another sandwich shop or across the street from a deli. … It is my hope you’ll find a way to approve this exemption and revisit the 500-foot rule at a later date.”
The matter now goes to the village council, which next meets at 7 p.m. Monday, April 26.