The neighbors aren’t going down without a fight.
Oak Park and Galewood residents, as well as the North Avenue Neighbors Association, continue to oppose the latest pawn shop slated to move onto North Avenue, a street that already has four within blocks of each other.
The Chicago Zoning Board of Appeals recently voted 3-1 to approve plans for an EZ Pawn store to move in at 6432 W. North Ave.
Larry Andolino, an attorney and Galewood resident, who has spearheaded much of the effort opposing the shop, said organizers have gathered more than 500 signatures against it. It seems to him, however, that the letter of support from Ald. Deborah Graham (29th Ward), has trumped residents’ concerns. But he believes their position has legal backing.
“[The pawn shop] definitely doesn’t go with the character and flow of community,” he said. “We have basis to appeal this.”
He doesn’t think an additional pawn shop is good for either community, nor does Ald. Nicholas Sposato (36th Ward). From a resident’s perspective, he said, customarily an alderman has great weight when it comes to zoning issues. Although it’s currently Sposato’s ward, redistricting will make it Graham’s turf by 2015.
Andolino suspects the zoning board is listening to her perspective because of that.
The objectors have approximately another month to appeal the zoning board’s decision. Andolino said specific language in the zoning code about how the store doesn’t fit into the community should make the case for the residents. There is a possibility, he said, that the administrative board did not properly apply the law. Typically in a zoning case, it’s the business arguing for administrative review. This time, however, it’s up to the neighbors to fight against the use.
“The community doesn’t have an economic vested use for it,” Andolino said.
In a letter to Graham from the North Avenue Neighbors Association, the group expressed its disappointment with her action. The group also calls out Graham for not being responsive to their requests for a meeting before a final decision is made. Graham is holding a public meeting next Tuesday at Galewood Community Church about the issue. The next vote from the city, however, was scheduled for Feb. 13.
Graham, who wrote a letter of support to the zoning board for the pawn shop in July, said she is in favor of the application because of jobs it would bring to her future ward. As for neighbors’ concerns that the pawn shop will hock possible stolen items, Graham wrote: “I am confident that the applicant’s international corporate structure will provide it with the resources necessary to ensure that the location does not become a destination of stolen goods.”
In a recent phone interview with Graham, she explained she was approached by the bank that owns the property because it had been vacant for some time. Because it’s a fairly small space, she was told it had been difficult to find a tenant.
Graham said she’s not necessarily in support of a pawn shop moving in but insisted vacancies aren’t good for an area. Because of this, she said she made the tough decision to support the use.
Graham said she is looking forward to having more conversations with the North Avenue Neighbors Association as well as the North Avenue Business Association about spurring economic development in the area.