Garages with robots to park your vehicle, what to do about the closure of Dominick's and possibly switching to an aldermanic form of government in Oak Park were among the myriad topics discussed Wednesday night at an informal meeting with residents hosted by Village President Anan Abu-Taleb.
The forum, held with Trustee Peter Barber, was the third held by Abu-Taleb since being elected village president in April. During the campaign, Abu-Taleb promised to hold the informal meetings, which are held every other month, in an effort to give residents a chance to speak their minds about issues in the village. Wednesday's meeting was held at the Oak Park library on Lake Street.
Rick McNamara, owner of Shirtworks on Marion Street, floated the idea of including a parking garage at the proposed Colt site development on Lake Street in downtown Oak Park – but one that would use a robotic computer system to park the cars.
"It's been done in Germany, South America and Japan and here in the States as well," he said. "You drive up to the entrance, you get out of your car and the computer takes your car and parks it close to the other cars, so you gain 20-30 percent more parking in your parking area."
He acknowledged that such a proposal might not be feasible, adding, "But we could look at it."
McNamara also said he's hopeful that the proposed Colt development will go beyond environmental LEED certification for building construction and make the development energy independent through a combination of geothermal, wind and solar power.
Residents also voiced concerns about the pending closure of the Dominick's grocery store at 259 Lake St. Resident Karen Mansfield said she's concerned that once the store closes at the end of the year there will not be a walkable grocery store in the area. "The village is going to lose sales tax revenue," she said. "How are we going to attract a new food store?"
Barber said the village board shares her concerns but added that Safeway, parent company of Dominick's, owns the property, not the village.
"Village staff and the staff of the Oak Park Development Corporation have definitely had lots of conversations from the owners and we've been given good signals that there is going to be something, but I can't really tell you more than that," he said. "I don't know much more than that, but I can tell you it is a priority."
The hottest topic of the evening was over discussions at village hall concerning the possible construction of a new District 97 school district administration building on land behind village hall. Chris Williams, who lives near the proposed building site, asked what would happen to the existing administrative building located at 970 Madison St. The existing building, which is in need of repair, he said, would end up being another vacant building.
"It's going to fester," he said.
Abu-Taleb reminded residents there is no formal proposal on the table for the project and that residents opposed to it haven't given the idea a chance.
"When people think about D97, it's not just a letter and two numbers; this is probably the second largest employer in our community," Abu-Taleb said. "More than 800 people work for D97. They need an administration building."
Resident Barbara Mullarkey said she's heard that the project could run $3 million to $10 million.
"I would hope that people would want money of this nature to be spent on students, not buildings," she said.
She said talk of the proposed building has sparked interest in the village of switching from a trustee form of government to an aldermanic form of government. Having trustees representing various parts of the village, rather than having all trustees elected at-large, "could make a better government," she said.
Abu-Taleb said he had not heard discussions about such an overhaul of village government but noted, "I kind of like the idea."
A date has not been set for the next community forum, which is expected to be held sometime in February. Village trustees and representatives of D97 will hold a joint meeting Saturday, Dec. 14 at 8:30 a.m. at village hall to discuss ideas for a new elementary school administration building.