How to entertain yourself in the doldrums of winter

Opinion: Columns

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By John Hubbuch

January and February are pretty slow months for TV and the movies. Village Players is dark. So I would like to recommend the Oak Park Plan Commission's meetings for your winter's entertainment. There, they'll be reviewing and soliciting public comment on the Interfaith Housing Development Corp.'s proposal to build a four-story apartment complex for low-income residents at the former Comcast building at Oak Park Avenue and Madison Street. The performances will take place on Jan. 30, Feb. 3 and 17, and March 3.

The buzz is that this should be great theater. It's a drama, and drama requires conflict. The conflict here is between those who would build housing for low-income people earning less than $26,300—veterans, hourly workers and people with disabilities. Oak Park would have a chance to not just talk about diversity, but actually do something about it.

The countervailing view that creates the necessary tension comes from the neighbors who will be defending hearth and home from sketchy intruders with their low-income sociology and the possible decline of the neighborhood property values.

Unlike classic drama here, there are no clear heroes or villains, but rather good people with conflicting and competing interests—a modern drama more like Sam Shepherd or Tracy Letts than Sophocles. Now, there will be real anger and yelling. There will be some comedy, even buffoonery. It will be exhausting lasting more than two months, but it will be rewarding—like a season of "Dexter" or "Breaking Bad." But this will be even better because it will be real, engaged people fighting over something they really care about. That doesn't happen all that much these days.

SPOILER ALERT! DON'T READ ANY FURTHER IF YOU DON'T WANT TO KNOW WHAT HAPPENS.

In the end, after much deliberation, the commission will not grant one or more of the eight zoning variances to build this project. The passion, commitment and sheer numbers of the neighbors who vote and pay taxes will trump the less focused, charitable efforts of the Chicago-based developers.

John Hubbuch, an Indiana native who moved to Oak Park in 1976, is a retired lawyer. Hubbuch served on the District 97 school board and coached youth sports. He is the father of three and grandfather of one.

Reader Comments

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Ken  

Posted: January 14th, 2011 1:29 PM

Regarding your statement about diversity, you seem to suggest that no economic diversity exists in OP. Keep in mind that OP already has more than 700 units occupied by Section 8 voucher tenants. The census tract that includes the Comcast building already has a high percentage of Section 8 renters, relative to the area. These residents are integrated into the community, not crammed into a segregated high-density building as the Interfaith proposal would do.

Resident from Oak Park  

Posted: January 14th, 2011 9:37 AM

Characterizing the folks who oppose this plan as only concerned with property values or anti-low income people is unfair. I am concerned about overcrowding and I'm a renter. 51 units for up to 102 people, in tiny $700 500-sq ft apartments, with inadequate parking in a traffic-congested area doesn't make sense. Also the 1st floor would be retail with no designated parking. The Walgreen's lot across the street is often full, too.

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