Gas station. Empty gas station. Vacant lot. Gravel parking lot. Almost a Starbucks. Chipotle?
That’s the recent history of the gateway to Forest Park at Harlem and Madison. A prime location. Maybe a little small for certain commercial projects. But for the past decade, pretty much an unproductive eyesore.
That could change soon as the Forest Park Zoning Board of Appeals meets Jan. 19 to consider a variance allowing a drive-thru for a proposed Chipotle fast-fooder on the site. Every application for a drive-thru requires zoning approval. And with this intersection being so congested already — unless people are tooling through it — the ingress and egress issues of a drive-thru are real.
Before the real estate recession clobbered high hopes in 2008 and thereafter, Forest Park had higher expectations for two failing gas stations on Madison. Both at Harlem and at Desplaines there were grander plans for mixed-use or some more handsome and property-tax-rich projects. Desplaines and Madison wound up being a vastly expanded McDonald’s. Not exactly a statement project but a steady producer.
Now at Madison and Harlem we should count ourselves fortunate as the potential home for a Chipotle. If approved, the corner will feature one of those “Welcome to …” signs, which is good.
There are also plans for a Taco Bell to replace the car wash at Randolph and there is work underway on the abandoned Long John Silver’s a bit north on Harlem.
This all brings to mind that Forest Park’s primary development focus is always on Madison Street. Once in a while some attention is paid to Roosevelt Road. Never, not in the past 15 years at least, does the village focus on the traffic-rich Harlem corridor. There was once an ambitious plan for a large mixed-use project at Harlem and the Green Line, the current site of a CVS and a Dunkin Donuts. The plan extended south to an auto repair shop. It never came off the drawing board.
Going forward, there is tax money to be made on Harlem from Circle to 16th. Right now, there is some decrepit housing, vacant lots, a physical therapy place swimming in the old Blockbuster Video parking lot, and seemingly a taste for fast food.
Harlem needs to be on the village’s radar.