July 14, 2005

Pioneer Press, 7/14: Goodbye fitness club, hello Wendy's burgers

Goodbye fitness club, hello Wendy's burgers
by Amy Le
July 14, 2005

While Wendy's advertising slogan says, "Do what tastes right," a group of Forest Glen residents say they're not interested in what the fast food giant is serving.

Last week Edens Athletic Club members and neighbors trickled into Wesley Zameda's backyard for an impromptu community meeting. Zameda helped to organize the July 5 gathering after learning that a Wendy's fast food restaurant would be taking over the space of the current Edens Athletic Club, 5130 N. Cicero Ave.

Edens location on Cicero

Zameda's property, along with several other homes on the 5100 block of North LaCrosse Avenue, sits directly behind the neighborhood fitness club.

"We've got serious issues with this (Wendy's) deal," he said. "Everyone tells me that it's a done deal and there's nothing we can do. But this is where we live and we're not going to just sit back and give our stamp of approval."

Zameda, who spoke on behalf of the residents, said they are concerned with the amount of traffic, smell and noise the fast food giant could bring to the neighborhood.

Steven Schwartz, President and CEO of Chicago-based Tennis Corporation of America, told Pioneer Press that his company signed a 15-year lease with Wendy's International Inc. last April. TCA owns and operates more than 40 upscale multi-recreational health and racquet clubs in North America.

Schwartz came to the neighbors meeting and said that, contrary to published reports, the company did not sell the property to Wendy's for $1.4 million.

"There's a lot of misinformation floating around and I'm here today to answer any questions (the residents) have," he said. "We're not trying to be sneaky about this deal."

Zoning action

The lease with Wendy's is contingent upon the company obtaining a special-use permit for a drive-through facility.

The request for a special use is on the agenda for the July 15 meeting of the city's Zoning Board of Appeals. But the 45th Ward alderman Patrick Levar told residents at the meeting he would request a continuance of 60 days to help resolve the community's concerns.

The alderman said he is also planning to arrange a meeting of Wendy's, TCA and the neighbors on the block adjacent to the property.

Endy Zemenides, an attorney representing Wendy's [Acosta, Kruse & Zemenides, LLC, One South Wacker Drive, Suite 3890, Chicago, IL 60606, 312.759.3914], said they first met with Levar in early June to notify him of their filing for a special use application.

"Alderman Levar told us... that he doesn't want cars to go through the alley and he wants to keep noise to a minimum," Zemenides said. He said Wendy's already plans to add on a 6-foot fence, landscaping and a curb to prevent cars from traveling through the existing alley.

Moreover, the drive-through window and speakers, which will face the alley, will be set back 88 feet from the rear property line to reduce the effect of noise and lights on neighbors, he said.

Levar said he hasn't seen the formal layout from Wendy's, but he hopes that a community meeting will help residents get more insight into the proposed plans.

Traffic increase

Zameda and other residents are concerned that the addition of a drive-through could bring an influx of traffic on Cicero Avenue, forcing drivers to cut through adjacent residential streets like LaCrosse.

"The other businesses on Cicero Avenue are at the end of the block near Foster and Elston with accessible exits," Zameda said. "The Wendy's will be located near the center of the block and without a 'no left turn sign'; cars trying to exit northbound on Cicero will have to cross a double yellow line, blocking other cars attempting to travel southbound."

Wendy's officials said they have hired a firm to conduct a traffic study, and will submit them to the Chicago Department of Transportation's Review Committee. The study will look at safety of the existing curb cut on the property and traffic flow, Zemenides said.

Based on 1994 CDOT traffic data, Cicero, Foster and Elston avenues see a total average of 137,000 vehicles a day. Traffic count figures could be 5 percent higher due to increased development over the past 10 years in the area, said Maria Castaneda, a spokeswoman for CDOT.

As for the addition of a "no left turn" sign, regardless of what the property is zoned for, Castaneda said, if the business is located at a certain distance from an intersection or the amount of cars turning left may cause interference with oncoming traffic, a sign could be required. But the CDOT Review Committee looks at each proposed project individually to determine recommendations, she said.

CVS courted

Schwartz said a massive decrease in profits at the club lead the company's decision to close the fitness center this year. Edens Athletic Club has been serving the community for more than 25 years and has about 675 registered members. Schwartz, however, said the club would need to see an increase of more than 300 members a year in order to make a profit.

"We made a reinvestment 10 years ago in the club and we thought that we could turn it around, but profits still haven't changed," he said.

At the meeting, a frustrated resident asked Schwartz why a Wendy's was selected, rather than a bank or drug store at the site.

Schwartz said that three years ago, his company tried to get a contract with the CVS Pharmacy chain store, who was interested in leasing the property. But that deal fell apart after neighboring owners couldn't agree on a selling price, he said.

Joe Gill, a former racquetball operation director at the club, said he and other members are interested in proposing a deal to purchase the Edens themselves and to maintain it as a community fitness center.

Schwartz said while he has spoken with Gill, he has not yet seen any formal proposals from him. He added that TCA is "committed" to its contract with Wendy's.

"We can legally look at a backup offer if the Wendy's deal falls through," he said. "But I will only talk with Joe and his partners if they can assure us that they will not try to actively derail the Wendy's contract."

No date has been officially set as to when the club will close, Schwartz said.

Source: Pioneer Press

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