Voters approve Oak Park Township building purchase

Opposition from Avenue business district not enough to kill deal

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Jean Lotus

Contributing Writer

A standing-room-only crowd at the Oak Park Library gave electorate approval last week to the township government's purchase of 126-134 S. Oak Park Ave. The two-story building will be used as a senior services center.

The township board had already approved the deal, using funds husbanded over the past decade. And with the sales contract in hand, the government body just needed Oak Park voters to say OK, and they obliged at a meeting March 2.

"Opportunity knocked, not on our door, but right across the street," said Township Supervisor David Boulanger.

After about a year of "waiting and negotiating" with the property's current owner, Granite Realty, the township will pay about $650,000 for the vacant property. That's about half what the price would have been five years ago, according to Boulanger. The township was able to pay for the building without passing a referendum or taking on debt, and the proposed remodeling requires no zoning variances.

"This is an opportunity to finally make convenient and accessible our services that keep our seniors independent in their homes and apartments ... and to do so without new taxes," Boulanger said.

The approval of at least 15 registered voters was required by state township electoral rules, which date back to the "mid-19th century," according to Boulanger. Other elected boards are not required to get voter approval to buy property if they don't have to raise money. Some 139 registered voters attended the meeting, where 97 voted for the purchase and 11 voted nay, according to the township.

One dissenter was Geppetto's Toy Box owner Brandy Masoncup, president of The Avenue Business Association. Masoncup said that she was concerned that the "eclectic, urban-suburban, independently owned boutique business center" in The Avenue business district was a destination where, "retail space is limited."

"We would love the senior center to be located in our district," Masoncup said. "We are concerned that it would be relocated on one of our busiest shopping streets."

Realtor Jack Strand, who owns many buildings in Oak Park, also objected saying, "I keep thinking of Aurora, Chicago Heights. Whenever you go into their downtowns, nothing's happening. So they put in senior citizens centers; they put in PADS centers ... When they say we're going into a blighted area, it's bogus. This is a viable location."

But Township Assessor Ali ElSaffar pointed out that the building's previous tenants, a vacuum supply store and a laundromat, were not successful.

"It's not the best location," he said.

Senior services are currently housed in a cramped space on the fifth and sixth floors of the Oak Park Arms, 408 S. Oak Park Ave., where the township pays $120,000 a year for rent. Boulanger said the township — even after paying another $500,000 to rehab the new building — would save about $60,000 per year in the new location, allowing funds to be reallocated to new programming.

Renovation is expected to be completed by the spring of 2012. The township's lease on its current senior services space at the Oak Park Arms ends on June 30, 2012.

The building was originally supposed to be part of a high-profile condo project across the street from the CTA Green Line stop. But the economy tanked, and it, along with three other nearby properties, fell into foreclosure.

Reader Comments

24 Comments - Add Your Comment

Comment Policy

Cash Money  

Posted: March 8th, 2011 7:15 PM

When I'm not makin cash money I'm reading the Better Government Association Website. I made a donation today in "honor" of Oak Park Township.

Tim Mitchell from OP  

Posted: March 8th, 2011 5:36 PM

BGA Website Reader, I've read this somewhere else before--

Cash Money from Oak Park  

Posted: March 8th, 2011 4:39 PM

Why is the Oak Park Township Supervisor paid an annual salary of $20,000 per year. The job is only part time. David Boulanger is seldom at the office and maybe works 2-3 hours a week at most. What a nice gravy train job for him. Also, note that both school boards, the park district board and the library board do their respective jobs for no annual financial compensation. Don't let the title "Township Supervisor" fool you, it is simply another word for board president.

Nick from Oak Park from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: March 8th, 2011 3:15 PM

@Dave - I couldnt have said it better. The Township commissioners even had the nerve to make light of the previous retail at those locations saying that they were "lowly." Wow - way to get the Oak Park Business community behind you. Also, if the Township has the money to spend million dollars of their own money on an outright purchase, then maybe tax payers are subsidizing this outdated government body wayyyy too much!!! I'm just saying.

Clara Hopkins  

Posted: March 8th, 2011 12:17 PM

I've not heard of the OP township owning any high school buildings. They're not in that business, Mr. McCaffrey. I don't think the township should have to subsidize renters at the Arms either (if that's what is being suggested). Paying rent to a for-profit business that pays property taxes is a poor use of everyone's tax dollars. Regarding the new location, the township sponsors Pace buses that offer all seniors from all over OP the chance to remain mobile--not just residents of the Arms.

Brian Lantz  

Posted: March 8th, 2011 10:50 AM

Legal Eagle: Do you have any background information on how Evanston folded its Township into the City operating budget? Did it require a community referendum? My understanding from the BGA's blog was that completing this set of tasks was a complicated process. It sounds as if it may not be. Senior: I can tell you that your points/concerns were not discussed at the hearing.

Roger McCaffrey  

Posted: March 6th, 2011 9:26 PM

So how did the Township accumulate, in secret, $650,000 to buy this building? How can they spend another $500,000 for rehab? The Township owns the High School building and should be spending the money there. The schools and tax relief should come first. What arrogance by anointed politicians looking out only for themselves and their power base. Has Todd Stoger moved to Oak Park?

Jason Malley from Oak Park  

Posted: March 5th, 2011 3:39 PM

Nothing for nothing, but shouldn't the head line read something more like" "of those who voted, voted to approve Oak Park Township building purchase"? I did not vote, heck I did not even know that if you showed up at the meeting a vote would take place. So here: I vote that we recall the vote and put it on the April 5 ballot. Anyone else agree?

Fed Up from Oak Park  

Posted: March 4th, 2011 8:47 PM

If anyone really wants to make a dent in the govt in Oak Park, contact me NOW to organize for the Aprtil 5 election. It's not too late. obseastern@aol.com

Dave Heidorn from Oak park  

Posted: March 4th, 2011 11:54 AM

What are people applauding? One less building on the tax rolls? Not listening to people who actually run businesses and what they need to help them survive? More free stuff for the wealthiest group of Americans? Another glaring failure of leadership in Oak Park. They could have just rented space at the other failure of Oak Park leadership, the new SRO our leaders want on Madison.

A. Parent  

Posted: March 4th, 2011 10:15 AM

@Sarah: you must be a troll, playing the racism card. Strand makes an observation about two cities with histories of economic downturn. Nowhere is race mentioned. Your thinking process is flawed. You are making an inference based on your own preconceptions. Or is your intent to incite ill will? If not, get a reality check.

Ridgelander from Oak Park  

Posted: March 4th, 2011 9:55 AM

From the Better Government Association: In Cook County there are 30 townships. LaSalle County has 37 townships. Sangamon County has 26. Each township collects taxes to support the salaries and pensions of, at least, seven elected officers, plus staff. What have they done for you lately? Our resident "gov gurus" explore townships here: bit.ly/BGAtwnshps

Jim from Oak Park  

Posted: March 4th, 2011 8:39 AM

The loss of this retail space is forever It makes the business district less viable for private investment and threatens the future of the existing business. The Village had the opportunity to help revitalize this section of south Oak Park Ave but sided with the Township contradicting their own master plan for Oak Park developed over three years ago. Funny how things work

A Senior from Oak Park  

Posted: March 3rd, 2011 10:51 PM

No one, least of all the government types, consider what this means for the residents of Oak Park arms. With about 200 people there, the loss of $120,000 means that either the arms finds a new tenant -- who in earth would want it on the upper floors -- or they raise rents by $50 per month, or they cut services. Not to mention the convenience of having teh service there in their buildings. The only convenience is for the bureaucrats across the street who packed the meeting with govt types

Sarah  

Posted: March 3rd, 2011 10:11 PM

Racism is alive and well among Oak Park realtors with Realtor Jack Strand invoking Aurora and Chicago Heights as the basis of his opposition. Makes you wonder if Strand wasn't once a blockbuster? Next you know he'll say these seniors are going to bar-b-q on their front lawns and throw watermelon seeds all about. What a piece of work.

Barbara from Forest Park   

Posted: March 3rd, 2011 8:57 PM

It would be interesting to know just how many seniors actually participate in the Senior Services now located at the Arms.

Barbara from Forest Park  

Posted: March 3rd, 2011 8:54 PM

Looking forward to the new Vacuum Store on Oak Park Ave north of Lake Will carry Electrolux.

The Cleaning Lady from Oak Park  

Posted: March 3rd, 2011 8:45 PM

I hadn't realized my beloved vacum cleaner store had closed at this location. It was a wonderful operation. I just hope I'll be able to find some place nearby that also sells vacums. I wonder if Oak Park has any other vacum cleaner stores near the Green Line and Oak Park Ave?

Legal Eagle from Oak Park  

Posted: March 3rd, 2011 6:06 PM

Some villages and cities have decided to fold their overlaying township government into their local city government. For all practical purposes they are one and the same. Evanston, IL is a good example of a successful merger of the two seperate taxing bodies. This was possible in Evanston because like Oak Park, the village and township have idential geographic borders. Not one inch of the towship lays outside the village limits, making a merger relatively simple.

Legal Eagle from Oak Park  

Posted: March 3rd, 2011 5:54 PM

A little background on townships: Townships that lay entirely within the boundary limits of a municipality are very limited in authority. State statue limits them to youth, senior, general assistance(local finacial aid)and mental health endeavors. Townships in unincorported areas function more like a local villages or towns. They handle trash pickup, builiding permits, animal control and other services. OP Township has identical boundaries as the Village of OP, hence OP Twsp's limited serv

Ney Vote  

Posted: March 3rd, 2011 10:21 AM

Was at the meeting last night and felt, though the aye's would have passed it no matter what, that the lack of voice given to the potential opposition during the actual vote process was a shame. Also disheartened that the property was not even given a chance to be on the "tax roles" because it was not allowed to be marketed - so the cry of "it's a poor spot for retail" really was never tested.

epic lulz  

Posted: March 3rd, 2011 10:17 AM

Sneaky? The township had a public and well publicized vote of the residents in attendance as required. Cf VOP, which always makes such property purchasing decisions in secret executive sessions. If you don't like townships, quit whining and get involved: https://bgathinktank.wordpress.com/2011/03/02/township-reform-pops-up-on-illinois-lawmakers'-radar/

Brian Lantz  

Posted: March 3rd, 2011 9:05 AM

The meeting last night was interesting in that of the 150 to 200 people attending there were only approximately 2 dozen people under the age of 65. I still don't understand why spending $1,000,000 doesn't call for a referendum on the ballot. However, it seems likely the Township statute is oriented toward rural areas, where Township forms of government are relevant. Townships in built up metropolitan areas are antiquated structures served by municipal, county and state jurisdictions.

DeJordy  

Posted: March 3rd, 2011 8:36 AM

They use a sneaky means to thwart the voters and take a potentially productive property off the tax rolls. Why don't they use their own useless building and its free employee parking lot for this purpose? Get rid of the townships!

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