A six-story, 126,428 square foot personal storage facility at the corner of Harlem Avenue and Harrison Street was approved Monday by the Forest Park village council in a 3-1-1 vote.

This new U-Haul facility will be across the street from the existing rental and storage facility at 801 S. Harlem Ave.

The new facility will replace a truck storage area and a currently unused 9,819 square foot, one-story truck fueling and maintenance facility. The building would replace the current truck storage area, while a new parking lot and truck storage area will replace the building. The proposal cleared the Planning & Zoning Committee on May 16 with conditions that the village would work with U-Haul to figure out a way to add more greenery and more aesthetically pleasing fencing on the Harlem Avenue side.

Commissioner Joe Byrnes voted against the project because he believed that the project was too large and didn’t have enough parking. Commissioner Jessica Voogd voted “present” because she took issue with the fact that it didn’t follow the 2013 comprehensive village plan, which called for more fencing and more landscaping.  Buildings department director Steve Glinke argued that the plan was meant as a guideline that was nearing expiration anyway, and that putting the fence on both sides made no sense for this project.

As previously reported by the Review, the new facility would operate around the clock, and customers would need to use key cards to gain entry. U-Haul traffic study estimates, based on experience with storage facilities of similar size, concluded the building would have an average of 36 “check-ins” per day, with up to 11 check-ins at the same time during peak hours of operations. The construction is expected to take around 15 months.

The fencing was added to prevent people from cutting through the parking lot. During the Planning & Zoning Commission meeting, several members said they were worried that the fencing was too severe, and that U-Haul could do more to make the intersection that serves as an entrance to Forest Park more attractive.

During the June 13 board meeting, Byrnes said that he thought that the building was too big, especially for the village of Forest Park’s size. Glinke responded that the building isn’t that big compared to the Autobarn Volvo dealership on the Oak Park side of Harlem Avenue, 1140 Garfield St., and any redevelopment of the Mohr Concrete site is likely to be several stories tall, too. 

“You’re going to have 30 employees at peak period – where do those guys park?” he asked

Rick Rottweiler, district vice president for U-Haul’s Chicago service area, responded that many employees take public transit. The facility is directly south of the Harlem Blue Line ‘L’ station’s main entrance, and Pace route 307 serves the Harlem Avenue corridor south of Grand Avenue.

Voogd said that her issue was that “there’s a couple of things where it’s not fully compliant with the comprehensive plan.”

The comprehensive plan specifically touches on the Harrison Street side of the property, calling for improving sidewalks and other pedestrian amenities, as well as requiring developers to “improve landscaping and screening.” It calls on any redevelopment of the U-Haul site to “minimize traffic impacts on Harlem and negative impacts on properties to the south.” More generally, the plan calls for more landscaping and fencing that would reduce the impact of the vehicle headlight glare.

Glinke responded that there was only so much landscaping they could put in, and he argued that putting up fencing on Harrison side “wouldn’t add to the security.”

Village attorney Nick Peppers said that the plan was a guide – and a potentially dated one at that.

“There are parts of it that probably can be updated, should be updated,” he said.

Voogd responded that “the village spent a lot of money to create this as a point of reference” and not following it amounted to a waste of money.

Rottweiler said that U-Haul was still interested in adding more landscaping on Harlem Avenue side – it just hasn’t worked out the details yet.

“We have couple of planters here right now,” he said. “We’re working with the landscape architect. We’re certainly willing to entertain adding more trees.”