By Dan Haley
It is not easy to change your mind. Especially in a small town when you've been elected for advocating a specific position on a complex issue. Especially in these days of social media thunder where core supporters feel, not implausibly, that they have a call on you.
But Deno Andrews and Dan Moroney, two of the Oak Park village trustees elected just in April on a platform opposing what they said was an overlarge Lake Street high-rise proposal, did change their minds about the Albion project. On Monday night they joined four board colleagues in widely approving construction of the 18-story, mixed-use project on the northwest corner of Lake and Forest.
In the final week leading up to this unexpected outcome, both Moroney and Andrews smartly used their make-or-break power — at least one of their votes was needed to create a super-majority to overturn the narrow Plan Commission recommendation opposing Albion — to substantively change the building's design.
In that 11th hour process, the massing of the high rise was shifted away from an 18-story wall of glass facing Austin Gardens to a series of stairsteps, notches, setbacks — choose your architectural term of choice — that will reduce the amount of shade cast by the building over the park.
Having read the just-released "findings of fact" from the Plan Commission, it was clear that the most notable reason the proposal failed in that body was concern over its impact on the public park. Moroney and Andrews asked village staff to inquire if the developer was open to substantive changes. Moroney even sent along to Village Manager Cara Pavlicek a penciled sketch of what was either a new version of a high-rise or his plans for his front-porch steps.
Now Tammy Grossman, the village's lead staffer on development, has been talking to Albion since the morning after the Plan Commission's initial vote. I presume some softening of fixed positions had been underway on the developer's part. After all, they really want to build a building here.
Monday's full house at village hall was a raucous one. Opponents were in the vast majority, and their feelings were clear as they hooted in the affirmative and snickered in derision. In the end, as trustees were speaking their piece on why they supported and Trustee Simone Boutet opposed this project, most of them pointedly thanked the opponents and urged them to stay active and involved.
Trustee Moroney, though, had his dander up and was not so forgiving of the critics who have been "in his ear" and dominating his social media feed for months. Clearly, he did not like being compared to Donald Trump, being called a liar, having Monday's crowd laughing as the developer spoke. "The value of Oak Park is civility," he said.
It may prove a challenge to get back to that place. And it may require the new trustees to remove themselves from the echo chamber of Facebook to maintain a clearer view of the full range of views held in Oak Park.
Opponents — and the park district put itself at the center of the opposition — overplayed their hand. The confluence of general opposition to development, to change, to height, to density was given credible cover and focus with concerns about Austin Garden. When an alternate proposal surfaced that largely addressed the shade issue in the park, opponents were left with the weaker argument that they just don't like tall buildings in Oak Park.
Jan Arnold, executive director of the park district, was a speaker Monday night. With the shade argument largely neutralized, she said it was really about more than shade. It was about "altering the feel of the park for residents."
Now Albion, a better Albion, will be built. And in the process not only has the project gotten better but so have our trustees.
Answer Book 2018
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