Whiteco, round 1: project pitched to Plan Commission

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In the first four of what is expected to be some 20 hours of Plan Commission hearings on Whiteco Residential's proposed apartment and retail complex, the developer and accompanying consultants set out to make a case for why the project would benefit Oak Park.

Some additional details of the development, slated for Harlem Avenue and Ontario, emerged (see sidebar) at the meeting. But no significant changes have been made since a redevelopment agreement between Whiteco and the village was approved late last year.

The proposed $47 million project, at 140-feet-tall, exceeds zoning standards by 15 feet, and incorporates 206 dwelling units, 76 more than what is allowed. The development is also 60 parking spots shy of the 260 space requirement.

Dan Slattery, Whiteco's attorney, said at Thursday's hearing that he believes the project will bring a diverse group of residents into the village.

"This is something the village needs. We are losing apartment stock. Apartments tend to bring a more racially diverse group of residents," he said. "Overall, this is an appropriate and welcome development."

At the end of the meeting, Plan Commission Chair Colette Lueck requested that the developer incorporate more detail into the proposal.

"This needs to be more fleshed out," she said. Whiteco's architect said the project will be clad in brick and limestone, as well as a synthetic limestone, but he had not settled on exactly what sort of brick would be used?#34;-an example Lueck cited of where more detail is required.

"If [what sort of materials] are not in the ordinance [the commission would approve], you can put up any brick you want," she said.

Prior to Lueck's closing statement, the commission did press the developer on some issues, including traffic and how long Whiteco is committed to keeping the development's housing rental.

Tim Connelly, Whiteco president, said the company has committed for 10 years to keep the project apartment-based. Village Development Services Director Mike Chen said Whiteco will pay a financial penalty to the village if the project is converted, even after 10 years.

Questions were also briefly raised regarding the village's subsidy, estimated at $8.25 million, and if the village is too heavily subsidizing a project that would have otherwise not come to Oak Park.

Total recovery for the village on its investment is expected to be reached in 15 years, which Chen said is not unusual.

The commission hearing was continued to Jan. 20.
?#34;Katharine Grayson


Various consultants working for Whiteco Residential made some of the following predictions about the impact the apartment complex will have both on the neighborhood, and village wide:

? The development will bring 366 people of all age groups. Of those, 13 will be elementary school students, and three will be high school students.

?  Following the 450-space expansion of the Holley Court garage, there will be a 182-space surplus on weekdays, and a 632-space surplus on weekends.

This takes into account parking lost at the Harlem/Ontario lot, the 32-space lot on Lake Street next to Chipotle, parking demands resulting from the RSC project on Lake Street and the Mar Lac project.

The village is studying the best way to address traffic flow in and out of the garage.

?  Whiteco's parking and traffic consultant said the traffic impact of the project should be "modest." According to the Illinois Department of Transportation, roughly 36,200 cars travel per day along Harlem near Ontario Street.

On a scale of A, being best, to F, total gridlock, Whiteco would put the intersection of Harlem and Ontario 0.04 percent away from "E."

However, consultants said the project has enough access and exit points to keep traffic effectively flowing.

?  Whiteco's attorney said, based on census data, 60 percent of Oak Parkers own one or fewer cars. The traffic and parking projections do not take into account use of public transportation.

Financial projections
?  The proposed Trader Joe's will generate $1,000 in revenue per square-foot of retail space.

? There will be a net gain of $536,000 to five Oak Park taxing bodies. School districts will see the most benefit, while smaller government entities will receive less. For instance, the park district would see only $1,500.

? The project will generate roughly 43 jobs.

Housing costs
? Rent for a studio apartment is estimated to go for $1,100. A prospective renter of a studio would need an estimated income of $39,600.
?#34;Katharine Grayson

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