By Jim Bowman
Battle lines formed among OP trustees last night, May 3, on the issue of gummint meddling (planning) vs. free market laisez-faire, specifically about rethinking the transit-related retail "overlay" with its fine-tuning of zoning regulations so as to get things just right as viewed from 123 Madison Street.
It was a 4-3 split, Abu-Taleb, Salzman, Tucker and Barber vs. Johnson, Lueck and Brewer, the group of four being in favor of revisiting village regulation of retail establishments, the latter opposed. The vote was not to change anything but to ask the Plan Commission to consider it.
Abu-Taleb, at 9:35 after a half hour discussion of a related motion full of fencing and niceties, reprised his campaign theme: "The village is not nimble [in business matters]. It's over-regulated. Let the market decide what's best. Government has to get out of the way. What happened to supply and demand? I urge us to think about these matters [granting zoning variances] from a business-owner's point of view."
Johnson: Let the market decide? No. "In the 70s and 80s in Oak Park [when
village business-related policies did not work well], it was anything goes." Keeping the lights on retail strips "nine to nine" is one thing, "ten to three" is another. (Nearby residents object.)
Salzman: It's not let a simple "market-decide" or not, "but the business community knows what's best." We trustees, on the other hand, feel that our "planning expertise" knows better.
Brewer: We must consider why the transit overlay in the first place? (Seeking to shape areas near "L" stations and Metra station through aggressive zoning requiements.) "It's to maximize the transit advantage. In the planning community, this is a major emphasis."
Lueck: Focus should be "not on business owners," but "on citizens." The village has "to make the most of our land," use it to the best advantage, in this case what's near transit. Reconsidering the overlay is to overlook what went into approving it in the first place.
"We shouldn't forget that. To change it leads to uncertainty. Business people don't want uncertainty, we heard tonight." [Not quite. We heard that the
current situation is confusing and there's uncertainty for them in wondering
what's required. This is what was said they do not like.]
Salzman, intent, moved, looking neither right or left: "We should not hold anyone ill-informed" who wants to reconsider the overlays. [Angry but controlled, apparently at Lueck's comments, resenting implication that he -- as first-term trustee? -- is ignorant of years-ago arguments in favor of overlay.
She too had been quite intent in her remarks.
"We need answers quickly" in matters of business investment, he continued (rather than imposing delay for extensive weighing and balancing of regulations and circumstances -- the uncertainty mentioned earlier, rather than Lueck's warning against changing what we have.
Johnson: Endorses Lueck's "uncertainty" argument, calling it "a very important point." To "just open up boundaries" (thus characterizing restriction-relaxing) not a good idea.
Brewer: Regarding earlier comment that "we" have to look closely at the overlay, he meant the board, so that trustees might understand reasoning behind overlay, thus echoing Lueck's defense of transit overlay.
The vote: The village lawyer told them Abu-Taleb could not vote on asking the Plan Commission to reconsider the overlay for Oak Park Avenue, immediately south of South Blvd. because his Maya del Sol restaurant is part of that strip. The ensuing vote -- on reconsidering overlay for this strip and "Southtown," on either side of the Eisenhower -- was a 3-3 tie.
Then at the request of one of the Group of Four, Southtown was separated from the other. Lueck raised a new objection, Salzman protested that "goal posts were moved," that "we trustees" should be able to agree on (merely) putting the issue before the commission. (On the other hand, if you think it's a bad idea, why put it to a commission?)
The vote on asking Plan Commission to reconsider the Southtown overlay was 4-3 in favor.
Thus was joined the philosophical battle, marketeers vs. planners, with odds now favoring the former. This apparently is what 58% of the voters had in mind when they raised Abu-Taleb to the presidency.