A Downers Grove citizen group was recognized by the Citizen Advocacy Center last month for its role in blocking a new Walgreens at 63rd Street and Woodward Avenue.
The Downers Grove Citizen Group of 63rd and Woodward was among four recipients of the 2012 Citizen Initiative Award, an honor presented each year by the Citizen Advocacy Center (CAC), an Elmhurst-based non-profit dedicated to building democracy for the 21st Century.
According to a release from the CAC, the award recognizes local community activists who are "catalysts for participation and have used civic, legal, and community organizing tools to advocate for a self-identified issue of public concern."
In late 2011, the village of Downers Grove began working with developer 63rd and W LLC/David Agosto, who filed a petition to construct a new Walgreens pharmacy at the northwest corner of 63rd Street and Woodward Avenue, ultimately replacing the existing store on 63rd Street and Belmont Road.
The original petition for the land—located in an unincorporated residential area—involved the annexation, demolition and consolidation of five residential lots and ultimately rezoning the lots to B-2 for General Retail Business, as well as a special use permit for a drive-thru.
After learning of the Walgreens petition, the citizen group began attending meetings and doing research to identify several areas of concern, including traffic, public safety and adherence to the town's comprehensive plan.
According to the CAC, the residents participated at every level of the governmental process for six months—organizing their community, circulating a petition with more than 1,300 signatures opposing the plan, speaking out at meetings and lobbying the petitioner about their concerns.
The overwhelming majority of the residents present voiced their disapproval of the idea. Many cited traffic concerns and safety concerns with children walking to nearby schools.
In June 2012, the developer withdrew the petition for the store and requested that no further consideration be given to the proposed development. In an official statement, Walgreens cited the traffic on Woodward Avenue as the reason for withdrawing the petition.
The CAC said the Downers Grove group was deserving of the Citizen Initiative Award because of its "outstanding efforts in organizing neighbors to preserve their community's characteristics."
“The individuals honored by the CAC are dynamic in that they have identified an issue of public concern important to them and have taken action to organize community initiatives, to advocate for greater accountability of public bodies, and to make a difference in the communities in which they live," said Terry Pastika, executive director of the Citizen Advocacy Center.
"Often times these individuals are criticized by government officials as trouble makers, uninformed, 'NIMBYs' and more," Pastika said. "The CAC identifies these individuals as inspirational because they embody what it means to live in a participatory democracy, and their dedication to addressing a community issue is strong, even in the face of adversity.”
Patty Gruber, a member of the Citizen Group of 63rd and Woodward, said the group was thrilled to learn of the award. She cited the hard work of residents like Dee Gordon, Liz Chaplin and Michelle Schelli.
"We worked together diligently for six long months to try to stop Walgreens from building in a residential area," Gruber said in an email. "This was an invaluable experience that taught me that you can make a difference in your community if you are organized, well informed and vigilant."
The Citizen Advocacy Center held a ceremony Dec. 12 to honor all recipients.
- Petitioner Withdraws Petition for Proposed Walgreens
- Residents Resist Potential New Walgreens Store
- Plan Commission Votes Against Proposed Walgreens
- Proposed Walgreens Relocation to Receive Second Public Hearing
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