Elmhurst neighbors bringing fight against gas station to council committee

 
 
Updated 4/18/2019 8:06 PM
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  • The prospect of a gas station at the northwest corner of Route 83 and St. Charles Road is facing strong opposition from neighbors in the Pick subdivision.

      The prospect of a gas station at the northwest corner of Route 83 and St. Charles Road is facing strong opposition from neighbors in the Pick subdivision. Bev Horne | Staff Photographer

  • Signs have popped up in neighborhoods near the site of a proposed gas station in Elmhurst at the northwest corner of Route 83 and St. Charles Road.

      Signs have popped up in neighborhoods near the site of a proposed gas station in Elmhurst at the northwest corner of Route 83 and St. Charles Road. Bev Horne | Staff Photographer

  • Plans for a gas station at the northwest corner of Route 83 and St. Charles Road have brought overflow crowds to city hall meetings on the project.

      Plans for a gas station at the northwest corner of Route 83 and St. Charles Road have brought overflow crowds to city hall meetings on the project. Bev Horne | Staff Photographer

Jennifer Veremis is well acquainted with the busy intersection of St. Charles Road and Route 83 in Elmhurst, but she and her neighbors worry the prospect of a BP gas station there would make traffic flow even worse.

Her neighbors in the Pick subdivision, one of the oldest in Elmhurst, started mobilizing against the project in her family room as a group of about 30 a few weeks ago.

Their numbers have grown substantially since, to the point that project foes are showing up en masse to city hall. Their Facebook group now has nearly 400 members, and their website has nearly 2,000 hits.

"We feel the developer's plan is extremely vague at best," Veremis said.

Concerns about traffic also have resonated with the city's zoning and planning commissioners. This week, the advisory panel issued a recommendation to reject the developer's request for conditional-use permits to allow the gas station and a convenience store with a drive-through on the northwest corner of St. Charles Road and Route 83, a site currently occupied by two vacant restaurants.

On the eastern portion of the parcel, the developer wants to build the station with 16 fueling pumps and a convenience store with a drive-through tenant. Another tenant would move into an existing building with another drive-through window on the western portion of the property.

With the current traffic pattern, neighbors in the Pick subdivision say it's "nearly impossible" to access east St. Charles Road during the morning rush hour. To take the path of "least resistance," neighbors say, gas station patrons would use their subdivision streets as a turnaround.

Drivers leaving the site to southbound Route 83 also would block a turn lane onto west St. Charles Road, they say.

"There is just no way, no way, that the high-volume, fast-paced in-and-out that a gas station possesses will not be detrimental to public safety," Veremis said.

At the request of the city, traffic consultants also reviewed the site plans and delivered a three-page report to planners.

"In reviewing the available materials, the proposed access system for this development generally appears to be appropriate and is not expected to be detrimental to intersection operations," the report stated. "It should be noted, though, that given the lengthy existing and projected queues on IL 83 and St. Charles Road, traffic would rely on courtesy gaps, particularly for vehicles turning left out of the site's full access driveway onto eastbound St. Charles Road."

Opponents have seized on the notion of "courtesy gaps."

The developer's traffic consultants conducted a study primarily on weekdays last September, but zoning and planning commission Chairwoman Susan Rose said the traffic at that particular corner is "just as bad if not worse" on the weekends.

"As it is, you have cars really lining up for that left-hand turn from St. Charles onto 83, so people who want to go straight are frustrated, angry by the time they cross 83," she said. "The notion that they're going to be so courteous and let someone in, I personally find to be a whimsical notion at best."

The commission on Monday voted 7-0 to recommend that the city's requirements for a conditional-use permit pertaining to the gas station and a drive-through request have not been met. At an earlier public hearing, neighbors learned a Starbucks is no longer being proposed for the vacant Back Alley Burger building on the west side of the property.

The city's development, planning and zoning committee, a panel of three aldermen, will formulate its own recommendation. The full city council gets the final say.

In front of aldermen, Veremis said neighbors plan to repeat their concerns over traffic, safety and the development's proximity to Salt Creek. Neighbors say they would rather see a pharmacy or restaurant chain or urgent care clinic built at the intersection.

"This is not the right development for that corner," she said.

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