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How about a hardware store, garden shop, day care center, café, dog park, hair salon, yogurt shop or art supply business? These were some ideas vocalized during the community-visioning event Saturday where more than 50 people gathered at Grange Hall to share thoughts about potential uses for a vacant lot at 2nd Avenue and Stockton Boulevard in Oak Park.
A McDonald’s with a 24-hour drive-through is currently proposed for the one-acre site, which faces commercial and medical buildings on Stockton and a residential neighborhood on 2nd Avenue.
“The goal of this meeting is to hear neighborhood concerns about the proposed McDonald’s and develop a new vision about what could go on that property,” said facilitator JoEllen Arnold, who owns a home near the site. “We will then take these concerns and ideas to the City Planning Commission in a few months.”
The event was hosted by Healthy Development for Oak Park and included a presentation by Ron Vrilakas, an architect with 20 years experience in helping shape the urbanscape in Sacramento. Vrilakas recalled a similar situation about a decade ago when a Jack in the Box was planned for 19th and J Streets, and Midtown residents were successful at “holding back the fast food flood gate.” He noted that it didn’t take long for a new opportunity to come along and offer a pedestrian-oriented development with smaller shops that are more fitting in Midtown.
Vrilakas advised the group to focus on the city planning aspect of the proposed McDonald’s and warned against asking for something on the site that is not feasible. He advocated the idea of a mixed-use project.
“This is a strong case,” he said. “Nobody has the right to develop a drive-through. It’s an entitlement in which the applicant asks for a special permit.” He said the applicant is asking for a special privilege in order to make more money without any gain for the community.
Regarding land use, Vrilakas said the drive-through McDonalds is inappropriate in relationship to nearby single-family homes.
“It’s extremely cruel to put this next to homes,” he said. It’s fundamentally criminal.”
According to City Planning documents, the request is for a 3,897 square-foot restaurant with 30 parking stalls, 11,500 square-feet of landscaping and a side-by-side drive through.
During the meeting, residents expressed concerns about what the McDonald’s would bring to their neighborhood. Top worries included increased traffic, pedestrian and bike safety, air pollution from idling cars, noise, trash and increased crime from people coming into the neighborhood at all hours of the day and night.
Switching from the image of McDonald’s, the group then engaged in creating a vision of something better for Oak Park. Arnold encouraged residents to think of what they drive out of the neighborhood to attain. People responded with a wide-range of thoughts including a dry cleaners, bike shop or gym. Artist Frankie Hansbearry illustrated the ideas on a long sheet of paper during the brainstorming. Some ideas were more popular than others, but many responded positively to the concept of a mixed-use space.
While the visioning activity was well received, people were aware that the land is privately owned. The landowner was identified as John Saca, executive president of Saca Development. According to the company’s website, its commercial arm has more than $1 billion worth of transactions with companies such as Chevron, Target, Home Depot, Starbucks and Walgreens.
Charlene Hauser, MD, of Healthy Development for Oak Park, lives on 2nd Avenue and said the site of the proposed McDonald’s is right in the middle of her bike commute to work. Hauser said there is not yet a date for when the proposed project will go to the City Planning Commission and that a traffic study has to be conducted first.
“We were excited to see such a great turn out for this event,” she said. “We look forward to working with our elected officials for the best outcome.”
Visit hdop.webs.com for more information on Healthy Development for Oak Park.