Roughly 20 community members came out Monday night to testify before the village board on a possible extension of downtown Oak Park's Tax Increment Financing (TIF) district.
School officials from districts 200 and 97, as well as Realtors, the business community, and others, came out in support of the TIF extension.
Several proponents called the extension critical to generating positive economic development downtown.
"Extending this district gives us the resources to continue development. To not do this, would be to turn our back on the greatest opportunity we have," said Seymour Taxman, owner of Taxman Corporation.
"We must be creative to meet our own fiscal problems. The extension has the flexibility to generate development downtown with better planning principles," said resident Mark Angelini.
School officials also cited the "carve-out" agreement between the districts and the village as a benefit of the TIF extension.
"Dist. 200 will receive $2.9 million more under this agreement than if the TIF were to end," said Dist. 200 CFO Cheryl Witham on behalf of the school board. Dist. 97 President Ade Onayemi also spoke in favor of the extension.
Many critics at the meeting, however, said the village has, in the past, irresponsibly used TIF funds, and an argument couldn't be made that downtown is a blighted area.
"Why hasn't the money been used for infrastructure before? It was used to acquire property at inflated prices. You're asking for a blank check," said resident Kathryn Jonas.
"The TIF has served its purpose. We no longer need this TIF to support developers. The area will be self supporting," said Michael Leavy. "The carve-out is fine, but it's still not the full increment that's being [released] to other taxing bodies."
Opponents also said the village was unnecessarily accelerating extension of the TIF, which won't expire until 2006, but may be voted on as early as next month.
Board votes to demolish Hoppe
The fate of the so-called Hoppe Building, at 461-67 N. Harlem Ave., was finally sealed Monday night after trustees voted 5-2 to demolish it.
A controversy over the village-owned building's historic significance began last month, after the Historic Preservation Commission ruled it may be eligible to receive local landmark status. Demolition of the building is critical to construction of the Whiteco project, and expansion of the Holley Court garage.
Trustees Robert Milstein and David Pope voted against demolishing the building. "This is not about this building. It's about historic preservation as an issue," Milstein said.
The majority of board members, however, said the building isn't historic, and the debate over the building's future has been motivated more by politics than preservation.
"To go back to this shows there is not the leadership on our board that there needs to be," said Trustee Diana Carpenter. "Our historic preservation commission is being put in a political arena and tossed back and forth to see where it can land or can't land."
Trustee Galen Gockel voted for demolishing the building, but offered his backyard as a safe harbor for displaced rabbits, though he said "skunks can go elsewhere."
Village President Joanne Trapani also offered her garden as a new home to rabbits.