Whiteco gets 1st green light in 2 1/2 years

? Plan Commission OKs latest proposal, adds amendments. It's unlikely that village board would overturn the decision.

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Whiteco Residential's latest rental and retail development proposal for the corner of Harlem Avenue and Ontario Street won a preliminary green light last week from the Oak Park Plan Commission.

The Plan Commission voted 6-1 to recommend that the village board approve the controversial proposal, after some 30 hours of testimony and deliberation. The commission's attorney will complete a "finding of fact" before a final vote to send the recommendation to the village board.

It is unlikely that the Plan Commission's recommendation will be overturned by the village board, as trustees already approved a redevelopment agreement with Whiteco in a 5-2 vote.

A "supermajority" of the board, or five trustees, would have to vote against the project to nix the commission's recommendation.

At its final hearing, commissioners went point-by-point through remaining questions they had about the deal, which the village will aid with an $8.25 million subsidy. In the end, they did not argue or attempt to sway others to vote their way, each commissioner voting without explanation.

Whiteco plans to build a 14-story apartment and retail complex at the existing Harlem/Ontario parking lot. The development features 200 high-end apartment units, townhomes along Ontario Street and a Trader Joe's specialty food store.

As part of the project, the village has agreed to expand the Holley Court garage by roughly 400 spaces.

Limiting tax appeals

Before the vote, commissioners added a handful of amendments and conditions to their recommendation, including a commitment by Whiteco to not appeal its tax assessments beyond a certain rate, and the company would provide an ombudsperson and contact information to file complaints with during construction. Encouraging safe and direct pedestrian connections to Lake Street from the Holley Court garage and along Harlem Avenue was also an amendment.

The conditions, along with other concessions that Whiteco made since its first design, did not sway the opinions of opponents of the development in attendance who were hoping for a different vote.

"I was just hoping the whole thing would be canceled and we could say goodbye to Whiteco," said Paul Heyes, who like many observers wore a New Leadership Party button.

"I think the second proposal is much improved over the first one," said Kathleen Mullaghy, executive director of Holly Court Terrace, and member of HOCA, the Harlem Ontario Community Association. However, Mullaghy opposed the development, calling it an "overdevelopment of a small parcel of land."

She's also concerned that construction noise, congestion and dust will hurt Holly Court Terrace economically, as some seniors may choose to wait to move in until the project is complete.

"I feel that while they tried to make it more palatable, they still didn't address the most important things we raised," said Rose Meyer, a Holly Court resident.

Meyer felt the deal asks residents to trust that the developer will act in good faith.

"It's a business proposal, and I would like some guarantees," she said. "Nothing is tied down."

?#34;Katharine Grayson contributed to this report

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