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Elmhurst divided as Addison Parking Deck public hearing closes

The empty lot (left) on Addison Avenue, just south of 2nd Street, in downtown Elmhurst is the site of a proposed six-story parking deck. (Mark Busch -
The empty lot (left) on Addison Avenue, just south of 2nd Street, in downtown Elmhurst is the site of a proposed six-story parking deck. (Mark Busch -

ELMHURST - Not everyone was buying into the "if you build it, they will come" philosophy behind the proposed six-story Addison Parking Deck at Thursday night's public hearing.

In the hearing's third installment in front of the Zoning and Planning Commission, Elmhurst residents and business owners again weighed in on the city's request for a conditional use permit and variations needed to build the 65-foot structure downtown.

"Unfounded speculation about potential need years in the future does not justify zoning relief today," Tamara Brenner said.

The Elmhurst resident referred to the comprehensive downtown plan which states that "two- to four-story buildings should continue to be predominate." She claimed that not only will the proposed structure limit potential development around the garage in the future, but that the downtown plan does not envision an "extra-tall parking garage."

Supporters continued to focus on the promise of attracting and retaining business. Several of them called on the famous line, "If you build it, they will come," from the 1989 film, "Field of Dreams."

"Smart and efficient" was how Tom Paravola described the proposed garage plan in terms of vehicular and pedestrian access. Paravola said he has operated the Good to be King retail shop on York Street for about 17 years and has vast experience with traffic flow downtown.

"I do not think you can overstate the need for consumer and employee parking at this particular strategic location," said Paravola, who was speaking as a merchant, but noted that he submitted two letters into record at the previous hearing as the Elmhurst City Centre executive director.

Like most of Thursday's opponents of the the six-story garage, Elmhurst resident and business owner Judy Fuchsen is in favor of a four-story alternative. She said she already watches "unbelievable" traffic backups from the window of her store, Al's Hobby Shop, on Addison Avenue.

Fuchsen expects that issue to be magnified by the parking garage as well as the proposed six-story Hahn Street project down the road.
"We don't want to direct people going away from downtown, we want to direct them to downtown," Fuchsen said.

Paula Pezza, a 27-year resident and former city alderman, said the six-story garage is not in line with the comprehensive downtown plan and the "vision of the people." She commended City Council's decision to deny the city's application last spring.

"I see this as a precedent project that will open the door, give a big green light, to transform our unique, quaint, attractive town into Anywhere USA," said Pezza, who would support a four-story plan.

A downtown parking study by Gewalt Hamilton Associates identified eight sites with potential for redevelopment that the firm says justifies the six-story garage. In addition to generating more consumer and employee parking need, the development of those sites would eliminate existing parking.

"If you build a parking deck with 690 spaces … you'll fill it," said Bill Grieve, a Gewalt Hamilton parking expert.

Kevin O’Keefe, director of membership for Elmhurst Chamber of Commerce, joined many of Thursday's proponents of the proposal in making an example of the existing downtown parking garages. He warned against building a four-story garage only to add levels in the future at a much higher cost.

Assistant City Manager Michael Kopp said at a September meeting that a four-story deck would cost around $11 million while the six-story option would require an additional $2.7 million.

Kopp, who spoke after public comment, said the city's new proposal works to address many of the issues, such as pedestrian safety, presented during the failed application process last spring.

He said this six-story proposal does comply with the downtown plan which allows for "somewhat taller buildings" at major intersections as long as they are centrally located in the downtown and not adjacent to lower density residential areas.

"The central business district core location is the optimal location to provide parking access to the largest number of patrons, not only for Addison Avenue but also for York Street," Kopp said.

The one certainty that came out of Thursday's meeting was that the public hearing is now closed, however, the public record will remain open for submissions until 5 p.m. Feb. 20.

The commission will begin deliberation Feb. 27.

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