Plans to redevelop an empty lot that serves as the front door to Forest Park’s primary business district is slowly moving forward, and developers are hoping for some help from the village.
Midwest Property Group Ltd. aims to build a strip mall at 7209 W. Madison St. on the northwest corner of Harlem Avenue and Madison Street, but they are still awaiting a variance from the village’s Zoning Board of Appeals to allow a drive-thru Starbucks coffee shop.
Midwest Property also recently added a MedSpring Urgent Care facility to the roster of businesses slated for the development.
Plans for the shopping center, which would replace an empty lot that roughly eight years ago was home to a Shell gas station, first surfaced in March, and Midwest Property says it’s still waiting for a hearing. The developer originally aimed to have the project completed by early 2015, according to promotional material posted on its website earlier this year.
Jim O’Rourke, an attorney representing Midwest Property, said in a telephone interview that “any quality construction there would be preferable to an empty lot.”
O’Rourke said Forest Park village officials are concerned about the volume of vehicles entering and exiting the shopping center because of the Starbucks drive-thru.
“A lot of time was spent on the ingress and egress and at the end of the day having inbound traffic only off of Madison was determined to be the best for the corner,” he said in a news release.
O’Rourke noted that Midwest also will widen the alley access used by Parky’s hot dogs, directly north of the proposed development, making it large enough to accommodate two vehicles.
Midwest released renderings in March, showing the center will be constructed of brick and will include about 20 parking spaces.
“Everyone knows this gateway project needs to be done correctly, which was the goal of all parties,” O’Rourke said.
Forest Park Village Administrator Timothy Gillian said the slow movement on the project is not a holdup by the village but rather because the developer has not submitted a formal application.
“The village on multiple occasions has said, ‘You need to turn in a full application for either zoning or planning, depending on which course of action you take,’ and they have chosen not to do that yet; I’m not sure why they haven’t, but they haven’t,” he said.
Gillian added that “an artist rendering is essentially all we have.”
David King, who brokered the deal to bring Starbuck’s to the project, said, “a full and complete package will be delivered to the village very shortly. Within the next few weeks.”
The village Zoning Board of Appeals meets on the third Monday of every month and in order to get on the agenda the village must first publish a legal notice. The earliest the project could be scheduled for review by that panel is November, “and that would be pushing it,” Gillian said.
Forest Park Mayor Anthony Calderone could not immediately be reached for comment.
King said drive-thru facilities always require a special permission from the zoning board. He said he hopes to see a meeting scheduled “in the very near future.”
“I could not be more excited and proud of what this does to the entrance of our town,” he said.
If the proposal is approved, the Starbucks will replace an existing Starbucks west of the proposed development at the corner of Madison and Elgin.