By Maria Maxham
Ampler Development's proposed Taco Bell at 161 Harlem Ave. passed the Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) on July 20 and will next be voted on by the village council in August.
Alfred Teleron and Mario Valentini, architects from MRV Architects, Inc., presented the site plan to the ZBA. The four main points in their presentation related to safety, landscaping, sound, and light.
They reported that Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) has given them preliminary approval for the project, though final approval still awaits. Landscaping, which is nonexistent on the current car wash site, will be comparatively robust. Sound pollution will be mitigated by drive-thru speakers oriented to face north, away from residential properties, and landscaping will reduce noise as well. Light spilling onto other properties will be limited, and a photometric plan submitted to Christopher B. Burke Engineering, LTD, the village's contracted engineering firm, will be part of the permitting process.
Still, three property owners across the alley from the proposed Taco Bell site spoke up during the meeting with concerns about rats, late hours, noise, traffic, and a west side barrier.
John Olson, who owns a building across the alley, said he is concerned about how the trash will be kept, since rats are already a problem in the area and he doesn't want to see it get worse.
Valentini responded that Ampler Development is "very cognizant about those things," owning 350 restaurants, mostly in the Midwest. They have, he said, monthly rodent control maintenance programs. "They're one of the better operators Taco Bell can have," said Valentini.
Property owner Thomas Marhevko expressed concerns about several things, including the late hours of the proposed Taco Bell, the dining room of which will be open until 10 p.m. every day and the drive-thru until midnight on weekdays and 2 a.m. on weekends.
Valentini said, "We can't agree to something that's a competitive disadvantage." He said they'd like to keep the hours, controlling sound through the north-facing speakers, signs reminding patrons to be respectful, and a confirmation board, which would allow patrons to quietly check their orders.
Traffic was another concern raised by property owners, especially whether northbound turns onto Harlem Avenue would be allowed. The architects said that in IDOT's preliminary evaluation, this was not raised as an issue. But prior to permitting, IDOT would complete and submit a final study.
Finally, concerns about the west property line were brought up, specifically whether or not a fence, in addition to planned landscaping, would block off the Taco Bell property from the alley. Although not in the original plan, the ZBA added a fence with a minimum six-foot height as a condition of support for the plan from the ZBA.
Unanimously, the ZBA approved the site plan and conditional use for the drive thru. The plan will be presented to the village council in August, with opportunity for additional public comment then.
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