It's been a few months since seniors living in Mills Park Tower lost access to about 10 parking spaces near their affordable senior living building in the Pleasant District.
While the decision by the village to turn the spots, which run adjacent to Mills Park along Pleasant Place, into permit-only parking aimed to help area residents, the newly permitted parking – the village is charging about $250 per quarter for each spot – has left seniors without a nearby place for caregivers, doctors, family members and others to park while visiting and making deliveries to the building.
More than a dozen seniors turned out for a special meeting of the Oak Park Board of Trustees in late May, calling the change "thoughtless" and a "great hardship" for those unable to walk several blocks to find a parking spot.
Mills Park Tower resident Ron Fernandopulle told board members that after his recent foot surgery his nurse found it difficult to find parking during a checkup and once she was there had to leave quickly over fear of getting a parking ticket.
"The ticket might be more than she's making for an hourly rate," he said.
Fernandopulle said he believes it was a "greedy" decision by the village to make money off the spots once used by those living in Mills Park Tower.
"There's no excuse for this crappy decision," he said, calling on the village to refund the money for the permits and "put them back to what it was."
Sal Fioretti said in a recent interview that he is visited three times a week at Mills Park Tower by his caregiver, Dorothy, and said, "I'm afraid she's going to quit."
He said Dorothy earns only $10 an hour and likely can't afford tickets from the village if she is unable to find parking.
"She needs the work and I need her," he said.
Resident David Kelm said that before the permit parking structure was established it was a "come-and-go situation" where parking was sporadically available but added that now "when the people aren't there they just sit empty."
Others at Mills Park Tower said they've had family members skip or shorten their visits because of the parking situation in the area and that many relatives who also are elderly have a difficult time walking even a block to get to the building to see their loved ones.
Food and other delivery services also have been made more difficult by the removal of the parking spaces, according to residents.
Eileen Gerges said her twin has stopped coming to visit because of the parking shortage and added that one of the residents in the building had a caregiver quit because there was no place to park.
The Oak Park Board of Trustees acted quickly in referring the issue back to the citizen-led Transportation Commission, where the recommendation originally was suggested. But with the permits already sold it could be impossible for the village to quickly reverse the new permit parking system.
Jack Chalabian, chairman of the Transportation Commission, was not immediately available to discuss the decision by the commission to recommend making the spots permit-only.
Village Manager Cara Pavlicek said the change is part of an overall review the village and Transportation Commission has undertaken to improve parking throughout Oak Park.
"I think the Transportation Commission is trying to be responsive to residents first and foremost," she said. "The needs of Mills Park Tower were not completely vetted in that process, so they're going to look at that again."
Trustee Bob Tucker, who serves as trustee liaison to the Transportation Commission, said the problems caused by the permit parking were an "unintended consequence."
"We're trying to develop a system overall that balances the needs of many different interest groups," Tucker said of the parking review the village has been undertaking.
He said the board and commission need to respond quickly when unintended consequences come about as a result of parking changes.
"There's not a single member on the board … that doesn't have a lot of sympathy for our senior citizens," he said. "We want them active and engaged and to make their lives as easy as we can."