Yes, to a senior center

Opinion: Editorials

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By Editorial

When the Journal broke the story last fall that Oak Park Township was negotiating to purchase a building on Oak Park Avenue to use as a senior center, we opposed the plan. Now the deal is nearly done. The township has entered a contract with the new owner of the property and only needs approval from voters, in a public meeting this evening, to finalize the plan.

We're conflicted.

The senior center is needed. The current facility is hidden away in the upper reaches of the Oak Park Arms retirement hotel. The township is sinking rent into a largely invisible, inaccessible location. The township — and remember this is a distinct public body — has carefully set aside money over a decade so it could invest when the moment was right. Now, its officials believe, the moment has arrived.

The property they seek has been empty for several years, tied up in a larger, failed commercial development. With foreclosure and the bum economy, the two-story 1920s building can now be had for $650,000. That's half the purchase price from a few years ago. Another half-million, also already tucked away by the township, will be used to renovate the structure.

Our concern now, as it was last year, is that the 100 block of south Oak Park Avenue has potential to be a vital commercial area. It isn't now. We know that. Our offices, after all, have been on this block for 30 years. Several years ago, along with The Avenue business association, we urged the village to rezone this block to prevent a use such as the senior center, or some other non-retail, non-restaurant uses. The village declined to accommodate that suggestion.

The result is that no zoning variances are required for the senior center, and while not the ideal use, it will bring people and activity to the block. On that basis we support the township's effort.

Reader Comments

12 Comments - Add Your Comment

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Brian Lantz  

Posted: March 8th, 2011 10:26 PM

Lou, for someone who wasn't there to hear the presentation, you seem to demand quite a bit of precision from the opinions of others. Come to think of it, "recalling" the Township space isn't very exacting either. You don't recall the rows of enclosed offices and open area in the back? I have a question. Do you know whether this needed senior center will have an elevator for accessibility, handicapped or otherwise, to the second floor of the proposed building?

Lou Belpedio from OakPark  

Posted: March 8th, 2011 5:24 PM

Brian, I was not there but I don't doubt you. However, there is a difference in saying a space study was 'never completed' versus saying one was 'not presented'. The question is whether one was ever completed or not. If not, that would be surprising.

Brian Lantz  

Posted: March 8th, 2011 4:29 PM

Lou, I can say one was not presented at the public hearing I attended. Were you there? Then, I assume you'll agree.

Lou Belpedio from OakPark  

Posted: March 8th, 2011 2:39 PM

Are you saying that you're certain a space needs assessment hasn't been conducted/completed in all the years the township has been on S. Oak Park Ave? I'd find that hard to believe if that's the case-- especially with a pending building purchase across the street. Please find out if you can. I've only been in there twice but it struck me as cramped with little cubicles if I recall. It's not a large building by any means.

Brian Lantz  

Posted: March 8th, 2011 10:42 AM

Lou, you are correct. I have not studied the engineering of the current Township space. But, then a cost benefit of modifying the space - including plumbing - was never completed. I assume $1,000,000 would cover it pretty well. As for space planning, if you have visited the current space, you'll agree it is completely underutilized. Thanks for the reality check though.

Lou Belpedio from OakPark  

Posted: March 7th, 2011 3:25 PM

Aren't the township and the Residence Corp. unrelated entities? If you're sure that the building isn't needed, then something should be done about it before this money is spent. I'm no genius, but I'm not aware of the township offices having kitchen facilities or the space to prepare 50-80 meals with needed support staff. Such a statement should be based on fact or personal knowledge of the situation and not an opinion after a visit or two. 'I bet' doesn't cut it.

Jeff  

Posted: March 7th, 2011 9:15 AM

WOW, I have just found a topic of discussion that John Murtagh doesn't have an opinion on! This is exciting.

Brian Lantz  

Posted: March 4th, 2011 7:09 PM

Chris, I agree. A senior center beats a vacuum store. Although I did buy a good used cleaner there one time. The problem is real estate always cycles. This slump is bad. But over the long term, when the cycle returns, the taxes generated I suspect will far outweigh the buying power of seniors on fixed income. Not sure if you've been in wither the offices of the Township or Residence Corp. But, both spaces are very inefficient. I bet senior services could be provided the current office.

Gavin Morgan - OP Township from Oak Park  

Posted: March 2nd, 2011 3:17 PM

Clarification: Meeting begins at 7pm tonight at the Oak Park Public Library, Veteran's Room, 2nd Floor.

Gavin Morgan - OP Township from Oak Park  

Posted: March 2nd, 2011 3:13 PM

Clarification: State statute requires posting notice in 3 public places at least ten days before the meeting and publication in a local newspaper. The Township posted notice on 2/15/11 at the Township offices, Village Hall, and Library. Notice also published in the Wednesday Journal on 2/16 & 2/23. In addition to meeting statutory requirements, the Township sent a press release to the media, elected officials, and citizenry of Oak Park, & posted details on the Township's website.

Chris Goode from Oak Park  

Posted: March 2nd, 2011 9:09 AM

In an ideal world this building would be great for shops and restaurants but I don't see many of them wanting to open there and rezoning won't change that. We have all been seduced by the ease of malls with parking at the door, and while I would love to see dense, pedestrian friendly shopping areas flourish as they once did, those days are unlikely to return. The Senior Center would likely generate more foot traffic then a vacuum cleaner store. I think it beats a vacant building up and down.

Brian Lantz  

Posted: March 2nd, 2011 9:09 AM

I really don't know how a vote at the Township's offices - at a time and place I don't believe was publicly noticed - can suffice as a substitute for a referendum on the April ballot. Further, the Township needs to reduce its tax burden in light of the absolutely necessary D-97 referendum. The problem with seperate tax districts is that each looks to its own without regard to the overall burden.

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