By Maria Maxham
Zoning restrictions have caused a dispute between a Madison Street building owner and Forest Park's village leaders.
Jim Schloderback has owned the property at 7451 – 7453 Madison St. for 25 years, and his family has had businesses in town since 1965. Although he's never lived in Forest Park, he considers it his home.
But when Schloderback's tenant, who was running a knitting store at 7453 Madison St., decided to retire after seven years, Schloderback's attempts to bring a new tenant into the space have caused friction between him and the village administration.
Schloderback said he was approached by Osvaldo Leon, a barber who wants to open an old-fashioned shave business on Madison Street. Due to zoning restrictions that dictate a minimum 500-foot distance between personal grooming establishments in the downtown business district (DBD), however, Leon can't open shop.
At the March 9 village council meeting, Leon addressed the mayor and commissioners, appealing to them and talking about the location and what he wants to bring to Forest Park.
A barber for over 20 years, Leon said he noticed the only barber shop in downtown Forest Park, on the corner of Madison Street and Desplaines Avenue, is for sale. Although there are salons for women, "us men deserve to have a shave parlor with hot towel shaves and haircuts specifically for men and boys," he said.
A "traditional" barber shop is what he wants to establish in Forest Park, not something "modern or sports themed," the kinds he says are taking over in other areas. "I want the whole jazzy feel," he added, stating that when he walked into the space at 7453 Madison St. he felt a vibe; he knew the location was "right."
"Right" or not, Forest Park has zoning restrictions in place regarding personal grooming businesses, specifically a requirement that they be at least 500 feet apart. Although on the south side of Madison Street there are some that are closer, those pre-existed the restriction being put into place, said Steve Glinke, who oversees zoning for the village.
Village Administrator Tim Gillian said that the intent of the restrictions when they were written was to create and maintain a well-balanced downtown business district.
"Forest Park was trying to encourage a walkable and inviting business district by having a big variety of shops and businesses," said Gillian. "If there are too many of any particular business, it limits the effectiveness of downtown."
Glinke said he met with Leon prior to the village council meeting and spoke at length with him about the business he wanted to open. "He's a nice guy, and his business plan sounds great," said Glinke. But at the end of the day, opening a barber shop across the street from two beauty salons is simply against code as it's currently written.
Distance buffering is common in zoning as a way to prevent a glut of too many of one type of business, according to Glinke.
"It's not just common," he said. "It's a best business practice." And he pointed out that it's not a restriction unique to Forest Park. Other nearby towns, including Oak Park, have similar restrictions. He produced Oak Park's zoning ordinance, which also has a minimum 500-foot separation restriction for beauty supply shops and personal service establishments.
"The mix on Madison Street is by design," said Glinke, who added that retail use generates more tax revenue for the village than services do.
"This is ultimately the policy decision," said Glinke. "If the elected officials wish to amend the text, our office will enforce the code. As written, though, it is consistent with the overall philosophy of the DBD's intent and the only way to ensure we have a mix of uses and offerings in all of the business districts."
Schloderback said he understands that Glinke's "hands are tied." What he wants is to see Mayor Rory Hoskins take a stronger stance on the issue.
"[Hoskins] said, 'I leave everything up to the department heads,'" said Schloderback. "But the people of Forest Park do not elect the department heads." He added: "Tony [Calderone] was pro-business. This administration seems to have put up a wall. Tony helped build Madison Street. I want to tell the new mayor 'don't stop.'"
Schloderback thinks maybe barber shops, geared toward men, should be separate from beauty salons, which are typically focused on women when it comes to zoning. "If there's an apple stand in town, and someone wants to open a banana stand, you wouldn't say no because they're both fruit stands. They're selling two different products. They're not competing."
Schloderback also thinks the building department is overworked. "Steve [Glinke] can't work 300 hours a week," he said. Having a staff person assigned to overseeing businesses on Madison Street and another being the point-person for Roosevelt is something else Schloderback thinks would help.
Hoskins said he spoke to Schloderback and explained that what he was asking for the new tenant was "a use not consistent with code."
"We want opportunities for businesses to flourish in town," said Hoskins. "But we need to balance that with a diversity of use in business." Like Glinke, Hoskins mentioned that retail and restaurants generate more in tax income for the village.
"I have nothing against Leon," said Hoskins. "But I don't want to second guess or micromanage the department heads." He said he told Schloderback that the only option for him at this point is to hire an attorney if he feels that strongly about the issue.
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