Don't listen to doom and gloom?#34;OP isn't sinking


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Bob Milstein, One View

The VMA has arrived. Elections must be around the corner. Bob Kane, VMA President (an insider for many years), is the "new blood" of their party. He writes to the papers and comes to a village meeting. In both actions, he is a purveyor of doom and gloom for Oak Park. Perhaps they need to become the Village Morose Association.

Trustee Ray Johnson, whom I personally like, like Bob Kane is the doom and gloom VMA trustee left over from the prior board. Together they are trying to?#34;along with a few in the business community, Forum Oak Park (actually a new political party), and the Taxman/Focus group?#34;paint the NLP as the party of destruction and the enemy of the taxpayer.

The NLP has been in office about one year. The VMA in 50-plus years left Oak Park with virtually every business district in bad shape. Lack of economic investments in most of the business districts has left Roosevelt, North Avenue, Harrison, Chicago Avenue, and parts of Austin Boulevard and other areas blighted. Even the great downtown TIF has not performed properly.

They ought to be ashamed of themselves. They are going to scare the developers away.

The NLP has kept its word to the people of Oak Park by supporting a progressive platform:

? A new agenda format that is clear and transparent

?  Improved website with full documents, not summaries

? Balanced budget, with a 0 percent increase in operations

? VOP 6 broadcasting of meetings has increased substantially

?  Participatory Planning procedures voted on and passed

?  Indoor Clean Air Ordinance in a citizen/business community task force review

? Catalyst project dollars allocated for multiple business districts, not just a few districts

? New village-wide, retail rehab grant programs, not just for DTOP

? Commission appointment process in review to ensure fairness of citizen selections

? Commission work plans voted on by board (first time ever) and they have a green light

? Historic Preservation Commission asked to look at landmarking DTOP as a historic downtown with the National Historic Trust assisting

? Colt/1145 Westgate purchase and removal of Taxman/Focus from the negotiations (after Taxman Focus sold their ownership rights for the Shops of DTOP to a REIT)

? A new village manager is coming to Oak Park, and citizen input is being asked for

? Green standards and other sustainable development practices being "required" in planning process, RFPs, etc.

?  Moving away from negotiated agreements to RFP only

?  Affordable housing under serious review

?  Efforts to gain support by the other taxing bodies for an area-wide discussion and assault on the property taxes and our tax capacity in Oak Park

?  Full funding of partner agencies and accountable performance standards

? Increased spending for public safety needs

?  Barrie Park, a successful conclusion

?  Improving the shuttle system to cover all areas of Oak Park

?  Planning that increases green space along all major streets

? Early retirement program to reduce cost and open promotion opportunities

? Performance-based management across all departments

The Taxman/Focus Corp.'s leader, Seymour Taxman, said at a PUT/CALL extension meeting with the board that the Shops of DTOP were in play. He knew then that he was selling the shops to a real estate investment trust. In essence, he made a promise that he could not fulfill so that he could get a yes vote for an extension. Taxman/Focus now manages the shops and does not own anything. Oh, they own the $19.5 million they sold the Shops for. Oh, and lest we forget the architect for the project, Mr. [Joseph] Antunovich, was the chair of the Illinois Landmarks Preservation Commission at the time it placed the Colt building and Westgate on the endangered historic buildings [list]. Seems he has a proclivity for seeing buildings as historic and then when he is the architect, the buildings lose their distinction. In this case, we will keep the historic distinction, so we do not get a lower level product that has limited distinction.

As I recall, Mr. Taxman kept telling us he loved Oak Park. I remember him lecturing me on the public trust. Jeez, at least I was up front with our supposed partners and the citizens of Oak Park. So what does Taxman/Focus do after the village exercises the legal right to call the building (did Mr. Taxman negotiate a few deals that needed the Colt building to consummate the arrangements)? He authorizes an unprofessional scorched-earth press release that debases the integrity of the board. Me thinks he doth protest too much!

Trustee Johnson will milk every ounce of this for his re-election campaign. He says he doesn't know where this (the superblock) is going. Funny, he was in the same room with all of us when we were debating the issues. In fact, when Trapani was in power, Trustee Johnson always wanted a "uniform" voice to the public, even if we disagreed. Here the trustee wants to now be the knight in shining armor.

And don't let Jon Hale, Forum Oak Park, fool you by acting hurt because the board did not support the advisory committee's superblock plan 100 percent. The committee's report was accepted. The citizen-elected board agreed with many but not all of the recommendations. The citizen-elected board is the only accountable body to the public. We were elected to make decisions. We have exercised our right to purchase the Colt and 1145 building and put an RFP out. Real competition in the free market! Now isn't this an idea?

Oak Park is not sinking. The value of Oak Park's land tops a billion dollars. From a market perspective, if we "sold" Oak Park, we would bring in around $3 billion. Our property taxes are high for homeowners, in particular the single-family homes. The homeowners actually end up subsidizing the businesses and multifamily taxpayers for several reasons: 1) the latter get higher tax reductions on appeal, 2) the burden has shifted to the single-family homeowner, 3) the tax appeal process is an onerous old-boys network that favors businesses and multifamily building owners, and 4) in some instances taxing bodies are spending more.

Yet the schools are excellent. The housing market is still working well. Our apartments have a better occupancy rate today than in the recent past.

Yes, businesses have left Oak Park. Yes, businesses have come to Oak Park. Yes, we need to create more vibrancy in business districts starting with (but not all-inclusive) lighting, landscaping, rehabbing, historic restorations, better marketing, and we need to look at that nasty idea of eminent domain. If owners hold areas of Oak Park hostage for multiple decades and have bad buildings racked with code violations, we need to rescue them ... now.

As the election year gets closer, you will see the VMAers all around town. Don't be fooled by the sudden interest and feigned sincerity.

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