Big-box retailer Walmart wants to increase its presence in Forest Park – by nearly 25,000 square feet.

It’s part of an effort to align the store at 1300 Desplaines Ave., originally built in 1994, with the company’s new image. The new model in Forest Park means increased space for food sales, and several cosmetic and functional changes to the store’s property. 

“Gone are the days of the 200,000-square-foot stores,” Gregg Oltman, an architect involved in the project, told the Zoning Board of Appeals at a hearing last week.

Oltman said, in this case, Walmart does not want to construct a behemoth general store; instead, it wants additional space to sell groceries. 

Walmart wants a 159,230-square-foot building to do so. The plans call for a 24,659-square-foot addition to the east side of the building, changes to the façade, reconfigured parking, revamped stormwater and utility facilities, new loading spaces and a rerouting of the 305 Pace bus to the northeast and southeast corners of the store. 

Walmart is a heavy-hitter in Forest Park. Each year for the last seven years, the store has accounted for more than 20 percent of the sales tax collected by the village. It has contributed 21.4 percent thus far for fiscal year 2011, according to financial records provided by the village.

Jo Ellen Charlton, the village’s planning consultant, told the Forest Park Review that the project will bring 107 new part-time positions. Currently, the store employs 230 full-timers and has 143 people working part-time. No more full-time positions will be offered.

Last week, Oltman and Troy Paionk asked the zoning board to approve five variations to the village’s zoning code so their respective architecture and consulting firms can proceed with the project.

Oltman works for the architecture firm Shade L. O’Quinn, and Paionk is a project engineer at Atwell, which specializes in construction consulting. Both are part of the proposal and represented Walmart at the hearing.

Paionk stood before the board and listed the proposed variations: a parking lot with half the number of parking spaces required for a project this size; smaller parking stalls; less mandated loading space; permission to enlarge the building, even though the present parking lot plans do not comply with the ordinance; and changes to the village code that will, in effect, legalize the height of a sign on Desplaines that is currently too tall.

The board obliged their requests, albeit not without the expressed concerns of members Juan Montesinos and Burak Tanyu.

Montesinos was initially hesitant to vote “aye” out of concern over the lack of green space in the plan.

“I’d like to hear that we’re going to save a few trees,” Montesinos said.

“They’re [Walmart] providing more green space on the east side of the building,” Charlton told the Review in a phone conversation several days after the hearing. 

Although the proposal reduces the amount of overall green space, Charlton pointed out that Walmart is not required to have any, and they are keeping some.

“The fact that they have any green space is above and beyond what zoning requires,” she said. 

New trees and shrubs will appear at the end of each parking row and will surround the perimeter of the property, according to summarized plans.

Tanyu questioned plans for the parking lot. Eight more parking spots will accompany 25,000 additional square feet of store space. Congestion, he said, could be a problem.

In the end, though, both board members voted in favor of the proposal.

Walmart’s representatives now must successfully petition the planning commission and then the village board before the current project begins. The tentative date for the planning commission hearing is Feb. 7.

“The last thing you want to see is for them [Walmart] to leave the store without any improvements,” Charlton said.

Both Walmart and its representatives have said next to nothing about the project outside of last week’s meeting. 

Walmart corporate spokesperson Ashley Harris said “it’s too early” to say anything; and Oltman and Paionk did not return numerous phone calls and an e-mail to each of their accounts.