CHATHAM — A $5 million car wash on the South Side was approved by the city Wednesday, less than a day after neighbors demanded officials go back to the drawing board and introduce a development that better fits the community’s needs.
Neighbors said the fight against the Buddy Bear Car Wash isn’t over.
Developers at SDR Chatham, LLC got the greenlight Wednesday from City Council to build the car wash on vacant land at 201-357 W. 83rd St.
The single-story facility will be about 4,775 square feet and include 26 parking spaces. The project will bring 100 construction jobs and eight permanent jobs to the community, according to the developers’ proposal.
Buddy Bear Car Wash has 14 locations on the West and South sides, owner Phil Degeratto said. Another Buddy Bear, 1045 W. 95th St., is minutes away from the approved Chatham location.
The car wash is a “good fit” for the shopping center and the community, Degeratto said.
“Chatham is a resurging neighborhood, and we’d like to be established in it,” Degeratto said. “Families can shop, stop at the bank, grab lunch, and, now, wash their cars [at the Chatham center]. I think it all works.”
The City Council approval came a day after a dozen neighbors stood in the heat Tuesday afternoon to protest the plan. The protest was organized by the West Chatham Improvement Association, a community group founded more than 70 years ago.
As drivers honked in support, neighbors stood in front of a Buddy Bear banner on 83rd Street chanting and waving colorful signs touting, “Residents Say No. Buddy Bear Must Go.”
Neighbors said they told Ald. Howard Brookins Jr. (21st), whose ward includes the car wash, at two community meetings that they don’t want the development in their community.
Members submitted a petition against the car wash with hundreds of signatures to the city and representatives at Brookins’ office, said group President Bernita Turner.
Brookins did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Neighbors want a sit-down restaurant or a business that will bring jobs, Turner said. There are “five car washes within a quarter-mile of the new location,” and Chatham doesn’t need another, Turner said.
“The community is angry that we’re not being heard,” Turner said. “It’s like we fell on deaf ears. [Brookins] has left us out of the system and out of the process.”
Lorri Baldwin, a community representative with the West Chatham group, said neighbors have been “dissed” by Brookins.
At previous community meetings, Brookins boasted that the car wash would bring tax dollars to the neighborhood, Baldwin said.
But with the controversial new ward map, the car wash and nearby commercial district will remain in the 21st ward, while neighbors who live nearby will be moved to Ald. Roderick’s Sawyer 6th ward, Baldwin said.
“It’s unethical,” Baldwin said. “We have to let people know they can’t walk all over us. Our tax dollars pay for their salary, so they work for us. If they just diss us, as [Brookins] has done, we will fight. We want to squash this project.”
Further frustrating neighbors is the fact that Brookins won’t be alderman when the development is complete, said Felicia Troy, a resident for 60 years. Brookins announced in September he will retire after a new alderperson is sworn in this spring.
If Brookins wants to “hand the reins over to a new generation,” as he previously said, he should let the next alderperson work alongside neighbors to build something everyone wants, Troy said.
The community will accept “anything but a car wash,” she said.
“The car wash will bring even more traffic, and they’re already using my street like the Indianapolis 500,” Troy said. “I thought that [Brookins] was closer to us than to let something like this happen. He’s getting ready to retire, and he’s going to leave us like this.”
Degeratto said he’s received the support of Brookins and other members of the community to build his business on the long-vacant land.
Although there are multiple car washes near the site of the development, “just like restaurants, they’re not all the same,” Degeratto said.
Neighbors have voiced concerns about the strain the car wash might add to the drainage system in the vacant lot, Degeratto said. Chatham often experiences flooding.
But the development will bring “a lot of good improvements with stormwater detention,” Degeratto said. And when it’s raining, they’re not washing “a high volume of cars,” he said.
The car wash will also bring jobs to the community, Degeratto said.
Along with the eight permanent job opportunities, the company will hire locally for services such as landscape and building maintenance, area management and service technicians, he said.
“I’m looking forward to being a part of the community, and, hopefully, we can win over the opposition and they realize that we are a plus to the community,” Degeratto said.
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