Whiteco's second coming heads to Plan Commission

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Starting Jan. 6, the Oak Park Plan Commission will hold what is expected to be a series of six or seven public hearings on the controversial Whiteco development project proposed for Harlem Avenue and Ontario Street.

The village board voted on Monday to forward an application to build the 14-story apartment and retail complex at the village-owned site to the commission. Whiteco is requesting relief from four zoning regulations regarding height, density, residential parking and perimeter landscaping.

The proposed $47 million project, at 140 feet tall, exceeds zoning standards by 15 feet, and incorporates 206 dwelling units, 76 over what is allowed. The development is also 60 parking spots shy of the 260 space requirement.

In order for the project to move forward, it must receive approval from the commission, which would then send a recommendation to the village board.

Last year, the Plan Commission held hearings that stretched over 40 hours on an earlier Whiteco project that was eventually voted down. This year, however, the commission is looking at limiting the number of meetings?#34;even if they stretch late into the night, said Village Planner Craig Failor.

The hearing process is broken into several pieces, including presentations from the developer and opponents, cross-examination, testimony, and others.

Failor said this time, the commission is "going as long as needed" to complete one piece at each hearing, rather than adjourn meetings at roughly 10:30 p.m. as is usually done.

The procedures guiding the commission have also changed since the first round of hearings. Now, only residents living within 500 feet of the proposed project can cross-examine the developer, unless they submit in writing an explanation of why they are "an interested party."

The commission is also going to be looking to keep individual testimony, which can be given by all residents, to roughly five minutes, though that's "not a hard and fast rule," Failor said.

Aside from 200 high-end apartments, which range in rent from $1,000 for a 500-square-foot studio, to as much as $2,500 for a two-bedroom, the project also includes an 11,000-square-foot Trader Joe's specialty food shop and 3,000-square-feet of additional retail space. Six town homes are also to be built along Ontario Street.

The village will pay for a $7 million expansion of the Holley Court Garage as part of the project.

Trustees approved a joint redevelopment agreement with Whiteco late last month, which calls for the village providing the developer an $8.5 million subsidy. Construction would take 24 months. If the project is approved in February, the development could open in October 2007. 

Contact: kgrayson@wjinc.com

Before the village board on Monday approved a contract to demolish a small condo building on Harlem Avenue, which will make way for the Whiteco project, Trustee Galen Gockel urged that demolition be postponed for as long as possible.

"Some of us lived through the Stankus Hole (the site where 100 Forest Place now sits that was left vacant for years after developer Jonas Stankus couldn't get money to finish his high rise project)," Gockel said. "I'd like the fewest days as possible where a fence is around rubble."

Village Engineer Jim Budrick said that demolition would likely start after the holidays, and that any "hole" would be neatly filled in with dirt.



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