Brookfield Zoo will not go forward with plans to turn its Hollywood Avenue gate into its main delivery entrance if the Brookfield village board refuses to approve a cul-de-sac for a new parking lot proposed for Rockefeller Avenue between Golf Road and Hollywood Avenue.
Last week in an interview with the Landmark, Brookfield Zoo Director Stuart Strahl said the latest proposal for the Rockefeller lot, introduced at a meeting of the Brookfield village board on May 22, would preclude plans for making the now-dormant Hollywood Avenue gate into a delivery entrance because he does “not want to put the traffic onto a public street.”
“The problem is that if large trucks go up Hollywood Avenue, it’d be really bad,” Strahl said.
Instead, Strahl said the zoo would wait and see what happens with the lot and any traffic implications arising from its construction.
The parking lot issue is being driven by officials at Riverside-Brookfield High School, who say the lot would replace parking spaces lost when the school undergoes a major redevelopment in the coming years. In March, voters approved a $58.8 million bond issue that will add classroom and athletic facilities on the north side of the high school building. In the process, the school will lose its faculty parking lot, which sits off First Avenue just north of the school.
In January, school and village officials unveiled a preliminary plan that prohibited traffic from heading west on Rockefeller Avenue by placing a cul-de-sac at Hollywood Avenue. A month later, that plan was altered. While still prohibiting westbound traffic on Rockefeller Avenue, that plan included a diverter that would have allowed the creation of a delivery entrance for the zoo on Hollywood Avenue, but only through the Rockefeller Avenue parking lot.
The zoo, which owns three properties on the north side of Rockefeller Avenue west of Hollywood Avenue, proposed to landscape the area and screen it from residents.
In addition, the new Rockefeller Avenue lot will become critical if there are any delays in building a proposed parking deck built on land owned by the Cook County Forest Preserve District, which now serves as both a student parking lot during the school year and staff and overflow parking for the zoo when school is not in session.
While the parking deck has always been part of the plan from the high school’s point of view, the Cook County Board of Commissioners, which oversees the Forest Preserve District, has in recent years been critical of both public and private entities who use their land.
For decades, RB has made use of Forest Preserve District land north of the school for both parking and athletic fields, although Brookfield Zoo has always reserved the right to use them for overflow and staff parking any time the crowds at the zoo warrant it.
Despite that long-standing agreement, in early 2005 the Forest Preserve District named RB one of the 11 worst “violators” of county land in the Chicago area.
In response, the zoo and high school proposed an agreement where the RB would pay $1 for use of the athletic fields and $10,000 per year for use of the paved area where students park. That agreement, however, was never formally ratified by the Cook County board, which would have to sign off on any such agreement.
“We need to get an agreement with the county … that sharing the land is OK, and that the county is totally indemnified by the school district,” Strahl said.
Approval for the parking deck, therefore, is in the hands of Cook County commissioners, not school or zoo officials. With fall elections for the county board and president heating up, a decision on any such land-sharing agreement might not come for months.