High-rise by Unity Temple would be tallest in town

Golub & Company plans 28-story tower near Frank Lloyd Wright masterpiece

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By Timothy Inklebarger

Staff Reporter

Oak Park's next big luxury high-rise apartment building could be 28 stories tall and constructed on the site of the U.S. Bank branch drive-thru and a parking lot at 835 Lake St. – less than a half-block away from Frank Lloyd Wright's Unity Temple at 875 Lake St.

The proposal is by Golub & Company, the same developer that built the 21-story, 270-unit Vantage Apartments, 150 Forest Ave., in 2016.

The proposal came to light after Golub called a meeting with residents of the adjacent Courtland Condominiums, located to the east. That meeting took place at the Carleton Hotel on Nov. 8.

Golub Senior Vice President Michael Glazier, Golub's senior vice president, could not immediately be reached for comment, but spokesman Jim Prescott said in a telephone interview that the meeting was being held as a courtesy to Courtland residents.

He said neither the press nor the general public were invited to attend.

"We're trying to be respectful and courteous, and those conversations are private," he said.

About 25 Courtland residents attended the meeting. They were told the plan is to build a 28-story tower, which would be 107-feet tall, with 256 units. If the plan is approved by the Oak Park Board of Trustees, it would be the tallest development in the village.

The tower would be set back from and rise above a seven-story block facing Lake Street and would include a U.S. Bank branch on the ground floor and other office spaces.

The seven-story lower section of the structure would be 55-feet tall, according to Courtland resident Noah Hayman, who attended the meeting. By comparison, the Courtland building next door is approximately 33 feet tall.

Hayman said Courtland residents also were told that the project would include a parking garage on the southern portion of the property.

Courtland residents were presented with a slideshow at the meeting with images of the proposed building, and Hayman took a photo of one of the renderings.

"[Representatives from Golub] were taken aback and immediately said, 'You don't need to take photos, and this will all be made public,'" Hayman told Wednesday Journal.

Hayman called it a "slimy tactic" to not release the information to the public, and said the private meeting "shows how lacking in transparency they're trying to be, although they say otherwise."

Hayman said Glazier and others at the meeting said shadows from the building "won't impact Unity Temple's sunlight features."

"They put a lot of research into that," he said, adding that "they showed thermal imaging" to illustrate that the building's shadow would have minimal impact on nearby vegetation. 

"I think that is B.S.," Hayman said. "Minimal impact is really a relative term."

Courtland residents also were told that Golub representatives already have met with the leadership at Unity Temple about the project.

Courtland resident Caralyn Sheehan said she also felt like Golub wanted the meeting to remain "like a secret."

"I felt like everyone [who attended the meeting] was against it," she said. "Some people were angrily against it, like myself."

Sheehan said rumors have circulated about what would be built at the site in anticipation of U.S. Bank selling the property.

"At some point, we thought something would be built here, but we hoped it would be something more along the lines of District House [at 702 Lake St.], something in scale with things around it," she said.

Sheehan said she gasped when she saw the building's height.

"It just looked huge, gigantic," she said. "Given the current climate in this town for development, of course they're going to try to shove a monster development onto a tiny footprint."

Sheehan said she informed Unity Temple's director of operations, Elizabeth Plummer, about the proposal. Plummer did not respond to calls from Wednesday Journal about the project.

Prescott said in a telephone interview prior to the meeting that there will be a public process, and "there will be ample opportunity for public input and comment, but we're not there yet."

He declined to discuss any details about the building's height, size or number of units.

Prescott did reveal that Golub representatives have had "informal discussions" with the Oak Park Economic Development Corporation. The developer has not submitted any formal plans to the village, he said.

Courtland residents were notified by its condo board in a letter, which stated that "the village informed us that a developer is submitting a proposal to construct a high-rise, luxury rental building on the [parking] lot" on the west side of the condo building.

"If their proposal, along with the requested variances, is approved by the village and the relevant commissions, construction could begin in late 2019," the letter to Courtland residents notes.

The letter further stated that Glazier and Golub's civic affairs consultant and architect would attend the meeting.

A public hearing for all residents of Oak Park will be held in late November, according to the letter.

tim@oakpark.com

 

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Jason Cohen  

Posted: November 16th, 2018 8:14 AM

This is the new OP. We may not like it but as long as people want to build these buildings our local government will accept them. My main ask is for us to stop offering massive tax breaks. I get the need for some help on taxes maybe during the construction phase but that should be all the help needed. We are clearly a popular location so let's act like it. We don't need to beg. We are in control here. This especially applies to buildings that want to get special permission for giant buildings. If you can't be profitable building here without massive incentives then don't build here.

Kline Maureen  

Posted: November 15th, 2018 4:57 PM

Bob Stokes, why not also demand a construction process that does not COMPLETELY obliterate the sidewalk for half the block or more, making pedestrian traffic impossible. Why not demand a construction process that does not block a full lane of vehicular traffic? Why not demand a bit of set-back so there is some street level green space, and not just a "green roof" up seven floors? If a developer can't make a go of it, then perhaps they should pay a bit less for the property, to whomever is selling it.

Michael Nevins  

Posted: November 15th, 2018 4:57 PM

The three new members of OP village board won almost solely because of their opposition to Albion. Perhaps the village board is NOW committed to a certain "vision," but the majority of voters didn't support or approve of this "vision." Yes, it should be debated publicly and then voters can best determine what they wish for where they live. The exact opposite, though, is occurring. That is my major complaint. We didn't ask for this, but here it is. Actually, we REJECTED this! It's sort of like OPRF and how they keep going against the wishes of voters and wanting to build a major pool. Their phone survey? It concluded "nope." The referendum? It was close, but the pool lost. And so how do we end up with a $218M plan? You can skip the phone survey and put this directly on to the 2020 ballot. I'm fairly confident it will lose, but you never know.

Bob Stokes  

Posted: November 15th, 2018 11:23 AM

How do you say yes to 4 and no to the 5th? Traffic? Shade? Wind? Kids who need expensive classrooms? Aesthetics? Dog poop? (one of the more interesting Albion complaints). Village leadership is committed to a dense core for various reasons. This building fits into that vision. You may not like this vision, or perhaps you will be forced to live next to a construction zone for 2 years of your life (as do the folks in the Vantage building, ironically) but the merits of an urban core seem fairly straightforward. The center of the Village (Euclid to Harlem, South Blvd to Ontario) is dense and urban, while 99% of the land use in the rest of the village is still suburban. Sure, we should demand a design that won't age too poorly, and maybe we can exact a sizable donation to the library and/or park district from the developer. Even short of that, I think this a vision enhancing proposal.

June Stout  

Posted: November 15th, 2018 10:09 AM

US Bank does not own the property so they cannot sell it

Michael Nevins  

Posted: November 14th, 2018 10:47 PM

@CG & TM. Traffic in that area is already atrocious and so am I mistaken in questioning the benefit of such a disproportionately large structure in this location? To save $10 a year in my prop taxes? 28 stories? Why not 128 stories? Alright, why not a building which fits in to the area? The businesses at those locations are there based on current demographics. Are we that desperate that we'll accept anything......any where? If people want to live in downtown Chicago and have stuff like this......they can/should. How about we develop Scoville Park? Austin Gardens? The extra money from Albion, etc. is just being quickly spent by D97, etc. If we don't control spending.......

Christopher Goode  

Posted: November 14th, 2018 9:35 PM

@Michael: I didn't say that we would get lower tax bills. I said that the tax increases might be lower as a result of this and some of the other projects. We do get some greater revenue as a result of the increase in property value and the increase in residents living, buying and paying taxes in our village. Other than raising tax rates it is one of the few ways we have as a village to increase taxes. But I have no illusions that our tax bills will ever be lower. They will only go up but perhaps this will help them to not increase quite as rapidly. Other ways to keep them from increasing quite as rapidly is for the Village Board to be more careful about what they are giving away and how much they spend on vanity projects like rehabbing Marion Street, Lake Street and now throttling Madison Street, tearing down stuff they built only a few years ago. It was the notion that the High School was going to tear down a parking garage built only 15 years ago that helped to sink the pool referendum. The village, likewise, has to quit doing bone-headed things that cost lots of village money for little apparent gain and then paying lots more money to undo or redo them not much later.

Tom MacMillan from Oak Park  

Posted: November 14th, 2018 7:48 PM

@ Michael - I have zero expectation that any new building is ever going to help any of us to have lower property taxes. But if it is a luxury building, that allows for it to pay its fair share and cover the cost for the people being added to the overall population, so at least we get that. But we do get with a project like this is a healthy downtown business district, which is a good thing for everyone. Lots of restaurants and services to choose from when so many customers are there. That space now is and has been a dead zone for the most part. If it is 28 stories, so what. Nicer views from the top.

Michael Nevins  

Posted: November 14th, 2018 7:36 PM

@CG and TM: I heard the same arguments for Albion, etc. I didn't notice any positive effect, though, on my property tax bill afterwards. Did I miss it? I believe that the plan by Golub is to scare people by initially requesting 28-stories and then "settling" for "only" 21 or 22 - which was their original plan. Let's start with numbers from a potential development and then tell us what effect this will have on our annual property tax bill. If it's minimal - as I'm guessing it is - then don't grant the variance. Should we next easily grant variances to developers next to our homes.....so that they can build a 28-story building? I'm sure that they'll have a study that shows this will only minimally affect sunlight and nearby vegetation! Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice....shame on me.

Christopher Goode  

Posted: November 14th, 2018 4:49 PM

Oak Park is a very desireable location for transit oriented development. Young people are less dependent on cars and use mass transit more frequently than us older folks, and as we age, we too may want to use our own cars less and rely on our feet and on transit when we can. Our community is at the very geographic center of the Chicago area, is the closest suburb to downtown and has good train, el and bus links to the loop. We have a relatively diverse population, good schools and a pleasant downtown working and shopping district of our own. Developers want what we have. We need to exploit that as it is probably the best way to increase our tax base, but without giving away the store to each and every developer who comes along. These projects mean more folks living in Oak Park, and buying things at local businesses and eating at local restaurants. While 28 stories may be taller than it needs to be, I think that this kind of development makes sense at this location. The property is underused now and we can stand to have some more density in that part of our village. The parking garages associated with all of these new buildings seems to be handling the downtown parking needs nicely. I have never had difficulty finding a parking space in any of them to do whatever business I want to do in town. Given that we are an older, built-out village this is the kind of development that has the ability to help keep any tax increases lower than they would be otherwise, while maintaining the character and quality of our single family home districts.

Tom MacMillan from Oak Park  

Posted: November 14th, 2018 2:04 PM

Replacing a drive through bank that generates no sales taxes makes sense. Replacing or updating a failed 1920's hotel with better housing makes sense too. That location is so under utilized right now. Great spot for luxury condos or rentals.

Bruce Kline  

Posted: November 14th, 2018 1:50 PM

I wonder if Trustees Maroney and Andrews finally received their backbone transplant, since their last diagnosis: hypobackbonia? We'll find out soon enough.

Jakob Eriksson  

Posted: November 14th, 2018 9:36 AM

The stretch of Lake between Oak Park and Forest was always a unattractive dead zone (in no small part due to the four huge churches, and the elephantine USPS) despite it's location between two great areas of the village.. All this new development in the area is both welcome and sensible. It doesn't fix the church/USPS problem, but at least it dilutes their effect.

Deborah Risteen Mercer  

Posted: November 13th, 2018 4:36 PM

Worst idea in the history of ideas

Mike Hanline  

Posted: November 13th, 2018 2:25 PM

What strikes me is that after two high-rises have already been completed, and with a third currently under construction, that there is still apparently this type of demand. Good news for the vibrancy of DTOP, would be nice if it led to a freeze or reduction in property taxes, but I certainly won't hold my breath...

Zachary Wagner  

Posted: November 13th, 2018 9:06 AM

Sorry: "not more than 15 FEET taller than the immediately surrounding buildings."

Zachary Wagner  

Posted: November 13th, 2018 9:05 AM

I was just trying to be forthright about my own bias and highlight that both people in favor and those opposed to something like this are good people who have the best interests of Oak Park and its future at heart. I can't tell you how many times I've heard/read people use "thoughtful development" as if it's obvious to everyone what that means. To me, high density (i.e. 15?"20 stories+) high rises with incredible proximity to public transit, highways, airports, and walkable amenities seems like the most "thoughtful" type of development in the world. This would cultivate and add to the fiber of the community, imho. When others use the term "thoughtful development," it seems to me that they mean "not more than 15 taller than the immediately surrounding buildings." Which is an entirely fair opinion to hold. But it doesn't strike me that one is necessarily or obviously more "thoughtful" than the other. Just different people valuing different things. Bottom line is that I was trying to state my own opinion without disparaging someone else's as "less than."

Ada Johnson Tikkanen  

Posted: November 13th, 2018 8:51 AM

of course you're saying one position is more right than the other. The fact you call yourself "pro-development" speaks volumes. There are those of us who want thoughtful development adding to the fiber of this community .

Zachary Wagner  

Posted: November 13th, 2018 8:40 AM

Hosting a private meeting for condo residents doesn't strike me as sneaky. It could also just be a sincere effort to talk to people who will be most affected by the development, i.e. before people who live in other parts of downtown OP or outside of downtown OP. I feel like confirmation bias plays a lot into how people in the community perceive these developers. People who are already predisposed to mistrust developers will view just about anything the developer does as shady (no pun intended), greedy, or unethical. On the flip side, people who are especially pro-development (like me) will likely give the developers the benefit of the doubt. I'm not saying that either disposition is more or less right than the other. Just something to keep in mind.

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