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Menards/Meijer Strip Mall Still a Bad Idea, But What's Done is Done

The Evergreen Parker sympathizes with residents' concerns about the proposed 91st and Western Shopping Center, but says it's time to apply lessons learned from that process to future development.

Recently I had cause to recall the debate surrounding the 450,000 square-foot, 1,500-parking-space . A story in the Southtown Star and a nice note from a resident both referenced a plan by some

While I sympathize with the residents' concerns, that development ship has sailed, as they say. The project has been approved by the village trustees and the developer has been granted the right to build the proposed shopping center. Of course, that doesn't mean the project will ever be completed. The global economic situation has made investors nervous, and if one or more Euro-zone countries defaults on its debt, credit markets could freeze up much like they did in 2008. Or worse. That could make financing construction of the shopping center problematic.

Additionally if the U.S. housing market, and by extension the broader economy, stay stagnant, one or both of the anchor stores—Meijer and Menard's—could pull out of the deal.

(Those two scenarios bring up an entirely separate problem: that construction could start but never finish, leaving a partially-built eyesore. See the Chicago Spire for reference.)

Is this retail project still incongruous? Yes. Is it still out of context for Evergreen Park? Yes. Could it be better? Yes. But for now we must assume that the project will go ahead as planned. Mayor James Sexton was quoted in the Southtown Star story saying of the residents, "Let them come on down. They're using the media and social media to fight a fight that is already over with." 

Which is glib, but also true. The lesson of the 91st and Western Shopping Center project isn't that it can still be stopped; the lesson is that we can stop something similar from happening in the future. But we can only do that if we come together as a community now and talk honestly about the kind of development we need in the village, where we want that development to occur, what we think it should look like and how it should fit contextually.

The way to avoid bad development isn't to fight it after it has been proposed, it's to proactively develop standards that prevent bad development from being proposed at all. Types of development, location, design and context are all issues that can and should be addressed in the village code. If, for instance, we codify density, use and general design guidelines for the 95th Street corridor between Western and Pulaski, and those guidelines omit strip malls as a possible development, then we avoid a situation where a developer proposes a strip mall for the . 

And once codes are written that govern development, the village's elected officials must enforce those codes. Although the issue is not completely analogous because Evergreen Park ceded control of the Sisters of Mercy land to Chicago in 1954, is proof that landowners cannot be relied upon to respect decades-old covenants regarding development. Property changes hands and covenants between entities can only be enforced through the court system. The village code is the binding law of the land.

This is part of the conversation we must have in Evergreen Park. The proposed Western Avenue strip mall is not the last pressure we will face from a redevelopment standpoint. As I have pointed out before, there is plenty of land in the village ripe for new building, should the economy be able to support it. We need to have a candid conversation now about what we want Evergreen Park to look like and what the best way is to achieve that vision.

Jane C October 19, 2011 at 02:50 PM
I'm happy to read a column by Chris containing some useful thoughts and information. Normally, I find his columns gratingly pompous and devoid of real substance or information. This column offered some constructive and concrete suggestions even though they are couched in his characteristic self important tone.

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