Another butt-ugly downtown development doesn't benefit Oak Park

Opinion

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The developers and retailers who are engaged in the Downtown Oak Park process, most of whom are not residents, seem to be very confused about our process and what has occurred in our community recently. They shouldn't be.

For the past 50 years the VMA and the retail community have been in charge of downtown Oak Park. It was the retailer community that demanded we build the mall. Retailers demanded that we take the mall down. Retailers demanded that we streetscape and remove on-street parking on Lake. Now retailers are demanding a superblock. I am sorry, but from my perspective, the retail community doesn't have a very good track record of creating the climate for their own retail success, and, meanwhile, we pay the bills.

It is no secret to us citizens that the coolest retail and dining area in our community is the Avenue district. With perhaps the greatest single block of small-town historic commercial buildings in the midwest, the Avenue is a beautiful place to shop. The question for us is how do we replicate that success in the downtown area? Now to me as a retailer, that's a no-brainer. The members of the Oak Park Plan Commission and local developers can call me obstructionist all they want, but it doesn't take a genius to see that a superblock of new, dense multifamily construction composed of architecturally insignificant, butt-ugly buildings with a smattering of ground-floor retail doesn't fit the bill.

The trustees who took advantage of the tour of Lake Forest's Market Square and have listened to the proposals made by the much-respected Main Street Program need to step up and take a leadership role in all this. When developers understand what we want, they can tailor their proposals to our needs. However with our Planned Unit Development Ordinance still in place, the developers are continuing to bring super-dense proposals with no benefits for our community. And now another fight is ensuing.

And more fighting is in the offing: developers want to tear town all of the vintage commercial buildings on the east side of Oak Park Avenue south of South Boulevard, and they are moving rapidly. Vacancies occurring in commercial spaces are not being filled. Also, it appears that the YMCA will be moving, and they will sell their building to a developer who will tear it down and build something much more dense.

Let's not forget that in the last election, the citizens gave this village board a gut wrenching 53-year-old eye-opening mandate: Stop the developer nonsense. They also elected a man as village president who promised to be a moderate and not be in the developers' back pockets.

The opportunity is here to create a downtown Oak Park that is as lively and architecturally interesting as the single family community that surrounds it. Let's not let Taxman or Whiteco or any other developer misunderstand what we know is good for our community. If all anyone is offering today is second best, then let's wait till tomorrow. And please, for once, let's live up to our architectural heritage and do something great and lasting. Does anyone really think that either Seymour Taxman or Dean White have anything in their developmental background that makes them equal to this task?

Paul Hamer
Oak Park

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