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By Anna Lothson
Oak Park didn't receive any of the $500 million in federal grants for its Lake Street streetscape improvement plans, but that hasn't stopped the village from pursuing the project.
Last year, the village brought on the Chicago-based Lakota Group to create plans for the Lake Street Corridor in downtown Oak Park from Harlem to Euclid. A no-bid contract was approved for $108,000 for Lakota to initiate the plans, in hopes of receiving funding. Trustees agreed, however, that work needs to be done regardless.
To help accomplish this, the Lake Street Streetscape Committee, made up of village commission members, business association representatives, village staff and Lakota consultants was formed last summer to help create a vision.
At Monday's village board meeting, a presentation from Lakota discussed the progress of the group.
Highlighted in the presentation was the number of meetings and discussions about the project. This included a walking tour, six advisory committee meetings, four public walking tours, along with online and intercept surveys.
The results show there was plenty of diversity in terms of age of residents and time taken by those who participated in the surveys. Overall, the surveys reported a majority of people thought the village should make streetscape improvements throughout the downtown business district.
In fact, 75 percent agreed online and 70 percent through intercept surveys. While a majority expressed support, there were no questions about funding mechanisms, a factor Trustee Colette Lueck pointed out.
"That's the piece that we're left not knowing," Lueck said. "It's helpful to realize that for most people, what a place looks like makes a difference. But no one answered questions about paying for it."
She said the problem with the survey was people supported plans but there was no opportunity for people to understand how or if the projects could be funded. A representative from Lakota said the finances come in the next step.
The presentation included a brief discussion about identifying opportunities to improve pedestrian and bike conditions and amenities, evaluating parking and reviewing what materials would be best for the aesthetics of the area.
In the walking tour, it was indicated that people care about a number of things on the street, including keeping Oak Park's unique character, supporting outdoor dining/seating, creating a strong entrance/gateway at Lake and Harlem, increasing public seating, and thinking about integrating sustainable options. Comparing it to the Marion Street overhaul, a majority of people in the surveys said they favored the changes on that street.
These next steps include presenting the concepts to be developed and refined with the advisory committee and developing a range of options to evaluate based on cost and sustainability. The group will then present back to the board on costs and avenues of financing available.
Madison Highland granted extension
Wednesday Journal reported in its Jan. 2 issue that the plans for the long-delayed, four-story Oak Park office building still had legs. At Monday's meeting, it was confirmed that the project has made significant progress but needs more time for its permits.
The development was initially approved in 2009 by the village board, but there have been multiple delays since. A building permit application deadline was set for Jan. 16, but the board approved a six-month extension Monday night.
The delay is due to the process of securing tenants and buyers. Trustees asked Village Planner Craig Failor if there was a downside to delaying the permit deadline and he said no.
Failor said the development is good for the area and it's good that plans are moving forward. Reportedly, the development team, led by Mary Jo Schuler, is actively negotiating letters of intent. Demolition on the homes sitting on the property is complete and inspection has been passed. Plans for the property, which will be used for office space and retail remain the same.
Following the vote, one resident asked to speak about the development. David Kralik, a neighbor of the project, said he does not support the plans, citing that it received a negative recommendation from the plan commission. He and other residents have been left out of the loop about progress, he said.
"The only people who seem to think this project is a good idea is the village board," he said. "We look forward to positive development in site. We believe there's a positive and potential solution that does not involve building a cavern at the end of the block."
Oak Park clerk recognized
Village Clerk Teresa Powell has earned the designation of Certified Municipal Clerk, which is awarded by the International Institute of Municipal Clerks, according to a news release.
IIMC grants the designation to municipal clerks who complete demanding education requirements, and who have a record of significant contributions to their local government, their community and state. The organization, founded in 1947, has 10,300 members throughout the United States, Canada and 15 other countries.
"On behalf of the IIMC Board of Directors, I am honored to endorse the conferring of CMC to Teresa Powell, CMC of Village of Oak Park," Brenda Cirtin, IIMC president wrote in a press release.
"We share your pride in this achievement and we applaud your support of the role Teresa plays in your city."