Crystal Car Wash on Harlem Avenue in Forest Park. (Alex Rogals/Staff Photographer)

The Forest Park Planning & Zoning Commission decided to hold off voting on whether to recommend the site plan approval and conditional use request for the Crystal Car Wash expansion, finding that there were too many lingering concerns about traffic and noise impact.

Crystal Car Wash, 901 S. Harlem Ave., previously purchased and demolished a vacant home across the street, at 7201 Lexington St., in order to build a 14-stall self-serve automobile vacuum facility. Many residential neighbors previously expressed concerns about the impact of noisy vacuums, with many arguing that the existing car wash was noisy enough, and having it expand would only make things worse. The commission was originally scheduled to consider the matter on May 16, but the owners asked for a continuance to give them more time to engage neighbors.

During an Oct. 17 Planning & Zoning Commission meeting, co-owner Neil Rembos said it would put in a noise-reducing fence on the north and west sides of the Lexington Street property and make it as high as the village regulations would allow. The new vacuums would have holsters designed to reduce the amount of noise, and Rembos said he agreed to make some modifications to reduce noise in the existing facility, including replacing the existing vacuum nozzles with a less noisy design and adding sound absorption systems at the car wash tunnel exit. But many residents in attendance expressed concerns about traffic and wanted a second opinion on whether the proposed noise abatement would be effective. 

Crystal Car Wash plans to operate the vacuum facility between 7 a.m. and 9 p.m. The Forest Park municipal code doesn’t allow businesses to make noise that “disturb[s] the peace” between 7 p.m. and 6 a.m., so they must get special permission, including the approval of the site plan. The Planning & Zoning Commission can either recommend approval or denial, but the village council has the ultimate say over whether this goes forward.

Rembos said he personally checked the new vacuums at the factory where they are being produced and had them tested at the car wash in front of Steve Glinke, the village’s head of building, planning and zoning. 

In addition to the aforementioned noise reduction measures, Crystal Car Wash agreed to install additional security cameras on the west sides of the two lots and put in a camera with license plate reading and vehicle identification equipment on top of the 13-foot pole at the northeast corner of Lexington lot. Rembos said this was done after discussions with Forest Park Police Chief Ken Gross, and that it would help address public safety issues on that section of Harlem Avenue. 

Several times throughout the meeting, he said that Crystal Car Wash didn’t have to take many of those steps, but they agreed to because they wanted to be good neighbors.

“This is something we want to do voluntarily, because we met with the group [of neighbors], we’re happy with the agreement that we made,” Rembos said. “This is our best effort to meet everyone’s needs.”

Planning commissioners Kerri McBride and Kevin Hibbits expressed concerns about the noise, with Hibbits noting that he personally drove around the area, and vacuum sounds were the one constant. They also wondered about the traffic study of the potential impact of the expansion. Glinke responded that it wasn’t something the village asked Crystal Car Wash to do because the village didn’t believe it was necessary.

Commissioner Ryan Russ said he would like to see more detailed information on how much noise is already there, to get a better idea of how much noise the fencing and other measures would reduce.

During the public comment period, several neighbors, including the family of Crystal Car Wash’s original owner, spoke in favor of the project. 

“Crystal Car Wash, they’re great neighbors,” said resident Debbie James. “We’re [not too bothered] by the noise, and I endorse improvement and enhancement, so I’m for the expansion.”

“I live right next door,” said Cecilia Grayson, daughter of the Crystal Car Wash founder. “It doesn’t bother me, and I enjoy them, I really do. I enjoy having them as neighbors.”

But many neighbors that came in argued that Rembos’ plans don’t go far enough, especially when it comes to addressing traffic. Architect Jason Sippel said that he would like to see an acoustic engineer study the noise-reduction measures. 

Mark Denny was among several neighbors who called for a traffic study.

“I think it’s disingenuous to suggest there wouldn’t be additional traffic — otherwise, they wouldn’t be investing in this business,” he said.

Catherine Hegarty said that, while the car wash has been there for decades, the vacuums are a relatively recent addition, and it didn’t use to attract as much traffic as it does now. She said she was willing to give the noise-reduction measures a chance, but wondered if it was possible to put in “something like a cul-de-sac” on Lexington to reduce the traffic impact.

Brandon Prosek argued the village should have been more hands-on with addressing the issue, comparing the current situation with two kids being left alone in the room by their mother. He said he supported “a cul-de-sac or a median” to calm traffic.

“I would ask that you provide the solution that is safer for the neighborhood,” Prosek said.

In the end, the commission voted to continue the matter to its next meeting to give the village and Crystal Car Wash time to study the acoustics, the effectiveness of the sound wall and wall height, the traffic and the possibility of adding a cul-de-sac at Lexington. They are expected to discuss the progress during the Nov. 21 meeting, but Glinke noted that the actual studies may take longer.