TIF, Whiteco and Downtown planning: Three meetings, three positions

Opinion

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Three public meetings, addressing related issues, deserve  the attention of Oak Parkers interested in preserving our quality of life and using our limited tax dollars responsibly. 

The first meeting, at 7 p.m. tonight at the high school, is the final meeting for public input in the Crandall Arambula (CA) Master Plan for downtown Oak Park (DTOP). This plan will guide DTOP development for the foreseeable future, and requires a TIF extension with massive public expenditures. 

We like many of CA's suggestions for public improvements, including upgrading public spaces to attract more shoppers. We are troubled, however, that preservation of DTOP's historic character was ignored. Up to 22 historic buildings face demolition. The Historic Preservation Commission (HPC) and the Community Design Commission (CDC) should have provided design input from the start. HPC has only recently been asked to comment. Their 2003 DTOP architectural survey was rescinded by the village when they approved demolition of the Hoppe building, needed for the Whiteco project.

We are concerned about the impact large-scale residential and commercial developments will have on traffic and parking. In this gridlock area with limited on-street parking, additional development should be evaluated for any negative impacts on existing retail businesses. A traffic/parking study should be completed to determine how much additional development can reasonably be supported.

A marketing study should be done to evaluate the adaptive reuse potential for buildings scheduled to be demolished. Madison Street in Forest Park proves rehabilitation of older buildings preserves historic character and is key to keeping rents down, thereby retaining and attracting small businesses.

We'd like to see some creative ideas for adaptive re-use along Westgate Avenue, a street designed in the 1920s to resemble a small English village. The plan calls for demolition of many of these buildings for a new north-south street and larger commercial projects that will impact the human scale  of this street. The  plan needs more public participation and needs to reflect citizen concerns.

The next meeting takes place tomorrow night at 7 p.m. at Village Hall. The Plan Commission will vote on Whiteco's 200-unit luxury apartment project.

While the village is spending only six months on the master plan, Whiteco has preoccupied village staff, elected officials and the public for nearly four years. The resources diverted to Whiteco occurred at the expense of other commercial areas. Whiteco is the result of a faulty process resulting with the village donating up to $10 million in tax revenues to one developer, for one project.

The lack of a public process for this "done deal" undermined citizens' trust in their elected officials. Refusing to hold a competitive bid process for this highly desirable piece of property is fiscally irresponsible.

In 2003, the Plan Commission rejected Whiteco I. The village board, save Trustees Gockel and Milstein, rescinded this vote at a morning meeting held without notice. The board had a second opportunity to issue competitive bids, but refused.

In order to make Whiteco II more acceptable to the public, the board decided?#34;again without input?#34;to purchase the Hoppe building for $2 million, demolish it, and give it to Whiteco. Whiteco I was a bad economic deal for the village; Whiteco II is worse.

Whiteco is flawed for other reasons. In spite of the enormous subsidy provided by the village, the net additional parking gain is minimal. The development violates the allowed density by nearly 50 percent, while providing no compensating benefits. Neither the scale nor the aesthetics of the building is compatible with the surrounding historic neighborhood.

Approving the Whiteco subsidy sets a dangerous precedent. Our schools and parks are starved, while our village provides this huge subsidy with no justification. If elected, we will issue RFP's and seek a premium for this highly desirable site to aid our schools and parks. We will solicit citizen involvement and select a project that has broad community support.

The third meeting is the public hearing for the DTOP TIF extension at Village Hall Feb. 7 at 7 p.m. This is the last meeting regarding the extension before a board vote.

While a TIF can be a useful tool for municipalities to upgrade blighted areas and ultimately increase the tax base, they should not be used if private development is likely to occur otherwise. There are a number of projects being built or planned without TIF funds. While additional upgrading of public spaces should be considered, we don't believe incentives are needed to bring in private development.

Any extension needs to be evaluated in the context of the overall needs of other neglected commercial areas. The health of our village should be judged by the health of all commercial districts, not just DTOP. Sales tax and real estate tax revenues are generated from all areas. Farr's Roosevelt Road study was completed nearly two years ago and we need to decide how implementation of those improvements are financed. There needs to be a master plan for Madison Street.

We did not receive an independent evaluation of the TIF rom 1983 to 2004 as promised by the village. A simple review of increased assessed evaluation is not sufficient to justify a 12-year extension requiring an additional $105 million dollars of public expenditures.

We believe a successful, vibrant community shapes a vision for its future and plans carefully to make that vision happen. We want to work together on essential issues that will enhance our quality of life, and then leverage our abundant resources to achieve that vision. We want to utilize all the amazing talent in this town.
New Leadership Party

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