Recent news reports on the future of the Cascade Drive-in, located in West Chicago, have prompted expressions of community sentiment and support for saving the iconic venue, the owner of which has leased the property at 1100 E. North Avenue since 1961. Over the last several years, the property owner has indicated a desire to sell the land, and chose not to renew the Drive-in’s lease when it expired on December 31, 2018.
While many have suggested the City of West Chicago become involved in some way to prevent the loss of the Cascade in our community, this is essentially a private matter between a property owner and a tenant. The City does not have an ownership interest in this property and thus has no legal authority to intervene. If the owner of the land doesn’t wish to renew the lease and/or wishes to sell the land for some other legally permissible use, the City must allow this to occur, regardless of how much City officials would like to see the outdoor theater remain and continue to operate.
The land is currently zoned Estate-Residential and the Comprehensive Plan currently designates it as Commercial. What this means is that any developer wanting to do more than an acre lot residential subdivision would need to petition the City for another zoning designation. This, in turn, allows the City Council to control the future land use and ensure that a development is complimentary of our community’s character and respects the residential areas and Wheaton Academy to the south. Some have suggested that the City rezone the land to allow the outdoor theater to remain; zoning is not at issue here and changing the zoning has no bearing on the owner’s desire to sell the land.
The City annexed the Drive-in site, the vacant construction yard to the east and Scooby’s in 2003. The purpose of this annexation was to control future land use, as these properties were zoned industrial in the County and more intense land uses would be objectionable to the residential areas to the south along Prince Crossing Road. This decision proved most beneficial when the City indicated to a potential developer that it had no interest in a trucking operation that would have stored over 900 trucks per day, a use that could have been allowed if the land remained unincorporated.
Several people have suggested that the City of West Chicago or another third party declare the Cascade a landmark, which could be legally done if certain criteria are met. However, even if the City declared it a landmark, it would not require the owner of the land to continue leasing the property for such use.
City officials recognize and appreciate the positive impact the Cascade Drive-in has provided West Chicago residents and visitors. That said, its role is limited to evaluating any future land use requests of the owner and/or interested developer of the land if the owner chooses not to continue leasing the property for an outdoor theater, and continuing to assist the operator of the Cascade to find an acceptable, financially feasible alternate location in the community.