Whiteco foe takes village to court, pitches his own deal

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An Oak Park resident and real estate developer has filed a complaint against the Village of Oak Park in federal court arguing that the village's joint redevelopment agreement with Whiteco Residential violates Tax Increment Financing (TIF) legislation.

The complaint, filed on Monday by resident David Lehman and Lehman Real Estate, asks a judge to order an injunction barring the village from using TIF funds to support Whiteco's proposed 14-story development at Harlem and Ontario. The village is currently slated to provide Whiteco with a roughly $8.25 million incentive, which includes a land write-down and a $4 million cash subsidy.

The complaint also asks a judge to rule that the village's agreement with Whiteco violates the TIF act. The court action also requests that the court monitor the village's future actions regarding the publicly-owned property. 

Coupled with his complaint, Lehman has offered to develop a nearly identical project at the site?#34;with the critical difference that the 200 dwelling units would be condominiums, rather than apartments.

Whiteco has agreed to keep its project rental-based for at least 10 years. If the building is converted to condos, Whiteco must pay the village 75 percent of the village's investment in constructing 200 additional spaces at the Holley Court garage.

Lehman said as part of his deal, he would pay 100 percent of the cost of those spaces?#34;$3.2 million, and would not need the $4 million cash subsidy. He will, however, accept the village's land write-down.

Though Lehman said he's "fully prepared" and would "love to" buy the property, he's mostly interested in sending a message to village officials that a TIF subsidy is not needed to develop this property.

"My point is the TIF is not necessary. Instead of blowing me off, and blowing off everyone who's complained about this, they need to explain why the TIF is necessary," he said. "And if they're hell bent on it, I'll take it for $5 million less."

Ultimately, Lehman said, his goal is to have the process stopped, and the project competitively bid.

Lehman said he's forwarded his offer to Village President Joanne Trapani and the village board. When contacted Tuesday morning, and before being asked a question, Trapani said she couldn't "talk right now."

Village spokesman David Powers said he was not aware of the legal complaint or the offer.

In the past, however, village board members who support the project have cited its rental nature as a key benefit.

Lehamn said he has been in the real estate business for 20 years, and though he hasn't developed a project of Whiteco's magnitude, he's managed similar projects.

"I've not built a project of this size, although I currently own a project five times larger than this," he said, adding that he often serves as an investor in development deals.

"My role is to get a project built by bringing in my partners and homebuilders," he said, "so it's a routine thing for me."

CONTACT: kgrayson@wjinc.com

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