Wheaton looking to expand parking at Cosley Zoo
With an estimated 100,000 visitors a year, Cosley Zoo has its fair share of parking shortages.
In fact, officials with Wheaton Park District, which operates the free zoo at Gary Avenue and Jewell Road, say it's not uncommon for the 54-space parking lot to fill up. When that happens, patrons are forced to park in other lots or along side streets in the neighborhood.
To help improve the parking situation, the park district is seeking permission from the Wheaton City Council to expand the zoo parking lot by adding 26 spaces. The proposed expansion would be immediately south and adjacent the existing lot.
"We feel this will help ease the burden on our neighbors and increase the safety of our patrons by not having to traffic the areas around the zoo," said Steve Hinchee, a landscape/park planner with the district.
As part of the plan, a landscaped "rain garden" would be placed in the center of the existing parking lot to make it more visually appealing and help with stormwater management. The perimeter of the lot would be lined with landscaping.
City council members are expected tonight to decide whether the park district will get a special use permit to do the work. The district also is requesting several variances, including one that would allow the expansion area to not have lights. Park officials say they believe the existing lot's lights are sufficient.
If the project wins city approval, construction would start in late summer or early fall, officials said. The work would be done by winter.
Jim Hofner, who owns a neighboring office building, told council members last week that the expansion is needed if it solves the parking shortages, which he described as "a daily problem." He said there's simply not enough parking spaces at the zoo.
"I hope that, if this goes through, this is big enough to solve the problem," he said, "as opposed to, 'put X number of cars here and then have the overflow go somewhere else.'"
With its 5 acres of exhibits, Cosley Zoo has hundreds of animals representing dozens of species, including llamas, horses and owls. There's also a gift shop, a picnic area and a recently renovated caboose that's been on the grounds since the early 1980s.