After months of meetings, the Oak Park Plan Commission appears set to decide whether to green-light a controversial apartment building proposal near Oak Park Avenue and Madison.
The commission heard closing arguments last week from both neighbors and a Chicago-based developer hoping to create a four-story, 51-unit apartment building for low-income singles at 801 Madison. Commissioners plan to reconvene on March 3 to make a final recommendation on the project.
They started discussing the proposal on Feb. 17, giving glimpses of their opinions, but held off on a full-blown debate until next month.
Commissioner Mark Benson said his main concern is the building's lack of parking. The developer is only providing 32 spaces for 51 units, arguing that many of the low-income tenants will use public transportation.
"The parking, to me, is a dramatic problem. Not just a problem, a dramatic problem," Benson said.
He alluded to studies showing that poor people still own cars and need their vehicles to get to work and to move up in life. Parking is a "deal breaker," too, for Commissioner Susan Roberts.
Commissioner Gail Moran said she wasn't as concerned about parking for residents as she was for the commercial space on the ground floor. She hoped the developer, Interfaith Housing Development Corp., would acquire more parking before breaking ground and also keep a manager at the building 24 hours a day.
"I think that would give the neighbors some comfort that this is not just a building of 51 people without any type of assistance or supervision on site," Moran said.
Commissioner Steve Rouse said he had major concerns when the development was first proposed, many of which were addressed during the hearings. While he still has some quibbles, he believes that overall it's an "intelligent" reuse of a "horrible" looking building. If a for-profit developer were buying the property, he said, the proposal might be much worse — taller with far more apartments.
"It would be much more of an imposition on this neighborhood," he said.
The developers are targeting the building to people who live or work in Oak Park already, but who can't afford to live on their own. They said last week that they couldn't give a firm number on what percentage of tenants would come from Oak Park.
Rouse said such vagueness isn't reassuring to neighbors.
"You're not providing anyone any comfort in the neighborhood because you're not able to give any ratios," he said.
Commission Chair Linda Bolte said neighbors brought up "legitimate" concerns in their closing arguments. Those included the need to do a six-month parking study after the building is filled up. She also expressed the importance of having a tenant list for the building that gives preference to seniors, individuals with disabilities and people who already live or work here.
The commission will continue deliberating and make a final decision on the project on March 3. The village board will have the final say, though, sometime in May.
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