Ald. Deborah Graham 29th District

Residents of Austin, Galewood and suburban Oak Park aren’t giving up in their fight to keep a new pawn shop off North Avenue even as the battle stretches into its second year.

A crowd gathered July 30 at Redeemer Church, 6740 W. North Ave., to discuss the latest move—a lawsuit filed against EZ Pawn this spring after the city’s Zoning Board of Appeals voted to approve the business. The pawn shop would be the fifth of its kind in the area.

Attorney Larry Andolino, a Galewood resident, is representing the community pro bono. The lawsuit seeks to overturn the special use zoning permit that would allow EZ Pawn to operate.

“We’ve got a good fight,” Andolino told the crowd. “We’re on the right side; win or lose, we win because we’re standing up and sending a message.

Ald. Deborah Graham (29th) addressed the crowd after one resident stood up and accused her of taking $2,100 from Reyes-Kurson, the law firm representing EZ Pawn.

“I did accept that from them,” Graham responded.

The money was supposed to cover meeting costs, said long-time community activist and resident Donald Glover. The area in question for the pawn shop will become part of Graham’s ward after the new aldermanic map takes effect in 2015.

It is currently in Ald. Nicholas Sposato’s (36th) ward—he turned down EZ Pawn’s initial request for the North Avenue location.

Some Galewood residents expressed frustration about having to work with two different aldermen.

“All the zoning goes by the 2015 map, so there’s all this B.S. we have to go through between two aldermen,” said Galewood resident Bill Smiljanich.

Graham responded by saying: “It’s not my desire to be on the opposite side of the community, but vacancies aren’t good for the community either.”

The storefront EZ Pawn would move into has been vacant for at least two years, according to residents. Glover said the community doesn’t need another pawn shop and is concerned about safety and good businesses moving out if EZ Pawn moves in—there are four pawn shops already on that stretch of North Avenue.

But mostly, Glover is upset with how he says Graham handled the situation.

“First of all, it’s the way she did it and lied to the community. She just didn’t figure this community would stand up.”

And if the lawsuit to overturn the special use permit doesn’t work, Glover said: “We won’t stop. We’re used to fighting, unfortunately. There’s other things we’d like to do, but this is how it is.”

Another way the communities are moving forward is by launching the North Avenue Zoning and Development Advisory Committee to represent residents from Austin Boulevard to Harlem Avenue.

Judith Alexander, who co-founded the North Avenue Neighbors Association of Oak Park, said there are two primary reasons for the committee: to stop negative uses of property on North Avenue and work toward attracting businesses the residents would like to see.

The committee would be separate from, but work closely with, the North Avenue Neighbors Association. It would also be the first of its kind to join Oak Park and Chicago residents in the interests of North Avenue.

While she admitted it’s too late for the committee to help stop EZ Pawn, Alexander maintained that the decision to form the committee is a direct result of the situation.

So far, the committee has enlisted residents with backgrounds in zoning law, architecture, public projects, local government and real estate. They’re looking for additional members with backgrounds in commercial real estate development and leasing. Their first meeting is scheduled in August, with the date to be determined.

Graham announced her own community meeting for Aug. 14 at 6:30 p.m. at a location yet to be determined.

When contacted after last Tuesday’s meeting, the law firm representing EZ Pawn provided a written statement: “We place stores where we believe we have a good fit within the community, we see solid market demand, and we meet all the standards for approval in the permitting process.

“As to the Easy Cash Solutions that will open on North Avenue,” the statement continued, “the Zoning Board of Appeals determined that the proposal met all special use permit standards, and the store opening and operation will conform to all applicable regulations. Easy Cash Solutions will be compatible with surrounding commercial uses, and the shop will occupy tenant space that had been vacant for many years.”