DTOP Steering Committee is an example of 'open planning'


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Bill Strong, One View

Village board public testimony last Thursday on the superblock plan:

'm here tonight as a board member of the Business and Civic Council of Oak Park ... and as an individual homeowner and taxpayer. The Business and Civic Council (BCC) was established last year to advocate for policies reflecting the belief that timely redevelopment and economic growth ... when properly planned, financed and implemented ... produces substantial benefits for all Oak Parkers.

Economic growth affects virtually every aspect of our civic and community life?#34;the ability to fund pre-school programs, schools and parks ... public safety ... upkeep of our public and private infrastructure ... and progressive policies that foster racial, ethnic, cultural and economic diversity.

The Business and Civic Council endorses the consensus plan proposed by the Steering Committee. While the plan will obviously evolve, we believe it offers outstanding potential for a dramatic revitalization of our flagship retail district?#34;one with exciting public areas and retail venues.

The alternative ... buying back the Colt building from Taxman Development ... is a recipe for stagnation and further uncertainty in Downtown Oak Park.

If you reject the Steering Committee recommendation, you will be sending an unmistakable signal that will seriously compromise the confidence of the investment community in how the Village of Oak Park handles redevelopment opportunities.

If you reject the Steering Committee's recommendation, you will, in effect, be laying this issue off on the next village board because there is little hope ... especially in Oak Park ... that an alternate plan could even be approved before a new board takes office in 2007.

People shop for convenience, quality, selection and price. The overall experience and ambience figures into the equation, too. We would submit that most people don't shop for the historical or architectural experience. There seems to be a view among some ... but not all historical preservation advocates ... that what is new cannot possibly resemble the old. They probably have the "Shops of Oak Park" in mind. But the Steering Committee report talks about the need to improve those facades and better integrate them into the rest of Downtown Oak Park.

The BCC believes that you can put guidelines and regulations in place to build new buildings that have character. We advocate moving in that direction ... saving the facades or structures that truly merit saving. But we don't need to save old buildings just because they are old ... especially if they are not functional for today's retail world.

Some members of the Steering Committee that you appointed said they went into this process with the view that the Colt building should be preserved. To their credit, they were willing to open their minds to alternative points of view. They came to the conclusion that there are trade-offs that can be made in balancing economic viability with sensible historic preservation.

We hope that this board will consider this issue in the same spirit of open inquiry.

I'm not an expert in historical preservation, but I truly don't understand all the fuss about the Colt Building. Maybe if it looked like it did in 1932, we would want to save it. But it doesn't. It was remodeled through the years and to my untrained eye is a very nondescript structure these days.

As a consumer, I don't want to go to a downtown retail museum. I want to go to a living, breathing, thriving retail district. We have an opportunity to achieve that through adoption of the Steering Committee report.

First, I really hope that as a community ... as we consider such critical issues as the one before you tonight ... we can move beyond simplistic and divisive rhetoric demonizing the business community.

Just this week (Oct. 12) in Wednesday Journal, for example, there was a letter complaining that the village has not done a good job of balancing ... and I quote ... "the desires of citizens vs. developers and special interests." You were elected as trustees to decide where a particular business interest intersects with a broader community interest. And that intersection does in fact exist.

Your own Steering Committee found that there are ways we can bring different views to the table and find common ground.

And by the way, who are these shadowy "special interests?" Are they just people who don't happen to share your point of view? Is it the former school board president who wrote eloquently in the Journal earlier this month about the relationship between a thriving downtown and generating more funds for our public schools? Is it the small business owners on Marion Street who wrote in the Journal this week (Oct. 26) about their desire for an exciting new vision for the downtown? Is it the chairman of the Community Design Commission who chaired the Superblock steering committee? If these are the so-called "special interests" ... good people who want what's best for Oak Park ... then count me in.

It seems that those who don't like the result of a process attack the process and demand that it be redone. Several of you were elected on a promise of a more transparent and open planning process. Your Steering Committee conducted just such a process. I respectfully request that you honor it.

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