How should Wood Dale develop along Irving Park Road, O'Hare? Mayor candidates disagree

  • Wood Dale Mayor Annunziato "Nunzio" Pulice, left, and his opponent in the April election, Kenneth Johnson, strongly disagree about the city's efforts to spur economic development.

      Wood Dale Mayor Annunziato "Nunzio" Pulice, left, and his opponent in the April election, Kenneth Johnson, strongly disagree about the city's efforts to spur economic development. Jeff Knox | Staff Photographer

 
 

The candidates in Wood Dale's contentious mayoral rematch have opposing views about the city's efforts to spur economic development.

Incumbent Annunziato "Nunzio" Pulice says the city has been working to revitalize Irving Park Road and improve its industrial park since he was elected mayor eight years ago.

But Kenneth Johnson, the former mayor defeated by Pulice in 2011, says there are more than 20 vacancies along the Irving Park corridor. He said a number of longtime businesses have left town or closed.

Johnson said he believes new businesses aren't moving to Wood Dale because of the city's "overaggressive and overly regulatory" building department.

"Wood Dale has created over 500 pages of regulations applied to our existing businesses that makes it extremely difficult for a mom-and-pop business to survive," said Johnson, who served three terms as Wood Dale's mayor.

If he's victorious in the April 2 election, Johnson is promising to repeal the new regulations to "make it easier for new restaurants, stores and industrial users to come to town."

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Pulice says Johnson did nothing to revitalize the Irving Park corridor when he was mayor.

"We've become more business-friendly," said Pulice, adding the city is collecting roughly $1 million more in revenue than it did during Johnson's tenure.

Pulice says there has been "major growth" in the industrial park over the past few years. Plans for another company are expected to be reviewed this month by the Community Development Commission, he said.

Meanwhile, he said, the city has partnered with existing businesses around town to clean up their properties. While the city has spent roughly $350,000 on that effort over the past three years, Pulice said the businesses have invested nearly $600,000.

"The city has taken an active approach," he said.

That approach has included buying parcels so they could be redeveloped. Pulice said one example is land near city hall that's expected to become the site of 155 high-end apartments.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"We're trying to create a nice transit-oriented district in that area around Wood Dale (Road) and Irving Park," said Pulice, adding that developers are showing interest in the city as a result.

But Johnson criticized decisions to have the city purchase several parcels without first having a developer for those sites.

"This is being done on the back of the taxpayers," he said.

Johnson also disagrees with Pulice about the city's master plan for the Thorndale Avenue corridor.

The "Corporate Main Street" plan proposes a mixture of uses on the north side of Wood Dale that would help the town capitalize on future western access to O'Hare International Airport.

Johnson says he read the plan and rejected it.

"It calls for wiping out sections of the industrial park and then putting hotels in its place," he said. "It calls for wiping out industrial buildings and putting softball fields in its place."

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Pulice says no businesses have been asked to leave the proposed development area. He said the plan simply outlines what could happen in the future.

"You don't have to sell," he said. "If you don't sell, you don't have to move. But what if your property becomes so valuable that you get an offer you can't refuse? You're going to take it."

And if a business relocates, he said, Wood Dale will work with the owners to keep it in the city.

"We are moving the city forward," Pulice said.

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