Colt gets 11th hour stay, pardon may follow

Final decision not reached;Meeting set for Nov. 9

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By DREW CARTER

They made it to 1:14 a.m. That's the point early Friday morning when Oak Park President David Pope dropped the E-word. Extension.

 

Trustees ended a seven-hour meeting?#34;starting Thursday and ending Friday--that was to culminate in a decision about the Colt Building put-call purchase agreement and general path for redevelopment of the downtown superblock with approving another extension. The agreement, now several years old but facing an end-of-October deadline, is between the village government and the Taxman Corporation which owns the property.

 

Before adjourning, though, four trustees expressed disapproval of the recommendation to demolish the Colt in favor of a north-south street connecting Lake Street to North Boulevard, touted for establishing four new retail corners, providing better circulation and sight lines, and giving drivers a path to get to a proposed new parking garage.

 

Trustees Robert Milstein and Geoff Baker were the strongest critics of a plan recommended by the Downtown Sub-Area Plan Steering Committee--the ad hoc committee the board charged with studying the superblock and put-call agreement. Most trustees were in favor of opening Marion Street and Westgate to vehicular traffic, and building a parking garage on North Boulevard roughly where a village-owned surface lot now stands.

 

After not taking positions on a few of the issues, Trustee Martha Brock apologized "to the community" and excused herself at 12:25 a.m. "I'm too tired to go any further. I don't know what I'm saying at this point. I don't know what I'm agreeing to, either."

 

Trustee Ray Johnson was the plan's strongest advocate. Having served as liaison to the steering committee, Johnson explained why the group arrived at conclusions for the major recommendations and advocated the positions to the board. Trustee Greg Marsey, the board's other liaison to the committee, could not attend the meeting because he was in California for a family funeral, but phoned in briefly via a loudspeaker to say he backed the committee's recommendations.

 

Pope mostly backed the committee's plan, adding concerns he had with some areas he felt needed more discussion.

 

That made Trustee Elizabeth Brady the swing vote. Brady was against the new street because she was "pretty confident" Oak Park would never get the kind of retail that would allow it compete with shopping in Oak Brook and Downtown Chicago. Settling for less would mean the village might look like the Shops of Woodfield or Arlington Heights' downtown, she said.

 

Brady said the reason people are willing to pay high property taxes in Oak Park is because it is unique. Taking that away could hurt property values, she said.

 

"I think Oak Park is a gem, and we don't have to start cutting new facets at this point."

 

Representatives from Focus Development and the Taxman Corp., owners of the Colt, were disappointed to see the committee's recommendations be "discarded" after months of work. "That causes a lot of concern for us," Tim Hague, Taxman president, said.

 

The developers agreed to extend the put-call agreement to Nov. 15 to allow time for the board's next meeting, when it and the developers will discuss more nuts-and-bolts issues of a possible redevelopment partnership that might not include constructing a new street.


"We're going to invest a lot of money, you're going to invest a lot of money. Let's make sure we get this thing right," Hague said.

 

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