The Forest Park Village Council, April 8 made it easier for certain new businesses to open in the village, voting 5-0 to amend the ordinance pertaining to permitted use in the downtown business district, which is primarily Madison Street.
"We're keeping pace with the times," village Administrator Tim Gillian said in explaining the ordinance change that allows incubator kitchens and massage establishments to open without applying for a zoning variation.
"If we see a need for something," he said, "we try to get zoning for it in place. We are consistently looking at our ordinances. We want to make sure we're not preventing new businesses from coming to town."
Mayor Anthony Calderone concurred.
"We wanted to make it a permitted use and eliminate the need for a zoning hearing," he said.
According to Gillian, when village officials created the ordinance "years ago," they wanted to keep variety in the downtown.
"A new facility couldn't open within 500 feet from an existing one," he said. "We wanted to keep downtown from becoming all of one thing."
At that time, massage establishments were grouped under the umbrella of personal grooming businesses. That definition is different today, however, according to Gillian.
"We've concluded over the years that massage parlors are not personal grooming," he said. "So many are part of national massage therapy chains."
Calderone said village officials have seen an increase in requests for zoning variations from massage operators, estimating between eight to 12 requests for zoning variations for massage businesses in the past 10 years. He also noted that none of the requests were denied.
According to industry sources, the number of massage therapists in the U.S. is growing.
Associated Bodywork and Massage Professionals estimates that the number of massage therapists increased 140 percent between 1998 and 2016 to over 325,000.
Incubator kitchens are not as prevalent as massage establishments but the number of businesses is growing, especially in urban areas.
Incubator kitchens are shared-use commercial kitchens that culinary entrepreneurs can rent by the hour or block of time in order to commercially produce food products.
"There appears to be a need for space for these incubator kitchens," Gillian said. "Want to make sure we're available for it."
According to industry sources, the need for a kitchen incubator stems from the fact that in many places it is illegal to run a food business out of a home kitchen. In many jurisdictions, food products may only be prepared for wholesale or retail in a commercial kitchen that is licensed by the proper local or state regulatory agencies. Even in areas where certain products may be legally produced from home (per cottage food laws), many products still require a licensed facility, and in addition, most home kitchens cannot accommodate commercial-grade equipment and are not appropriate for running a business enterprise.
Entrepreneurs who need licensed commercial kitchens often rent space from a restaurant after hours, use a church basement kitchen, or seek any other type of kitchens that may be available, according to a study by Econsult Solutions, a Philadelphia-based consulting firm. Often these facilities are not ideal due to a lack of flexibility when the space is available, inconsistent access, expense, and a lack of adequate equipment. Kitchen incubators/accelerators and shared-use kitchens seek to fill this gap and provide facilities for these entrepreneurs.