High-rise rally draws crowd to Austin Gardens

Residents argue that 18-story apartment building will hurt Austin Gardens

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By Timothy Inklebarger

Staff Reporter

Perhaps 200 people turned out Sunday afternoon to Austin Gardens in downtown Oak Park for a rally to oppose a proposed 18-story apartment building they say would damage the ecology of the park.

Organizers of the Austin Gardens Don't Throw Shade Rally made no presentation but marked off areas of the park they say would be negatively impacted by the shadow that would be cast over the park for much of the year.

They collected signatures for a petition to send to the Oak Park village board to encourage that body to oppose a zoning change needed by Albion Residential to build the structure. Existing zoning on the Lake Street parcel -- just south of the park -- allows an 8-story structure.

Albion released a statement following the digital publication of this story, noting that the company intends to protect Austin Gardens as well.

Residents and organizers argued that a large shadow already is cast over the park by the 21-story Vantage apartment building that was recently completed directly to the east of the proposed Albion building.

Mary O'Kiersey, a former resident of the neighborhood, said she and others opposed the Vantage building when it was first proposed. Now she opposing another one, she said, as she signed the organizer's petition.

"Up until spring, that (Vantage) building casts a huge shadow on the park," she said. "Now if they put another one here, it's going to block out the solar panels that are on the roof of the new nature center."

Joshua Klayman, an Oak Park resident who gathered petition signatures at the event, said residents are concerned that the dense shadow will damage the ecology of the park, preventing trees and other wildlife from receiving the proper amount of sun for much of the year.

Klayman said he's been collecting signatures at the CTA stations and other areas of town and hasn't had a single person say they're in favor of the high-rise building. "I think if you were to take a proper poll, there would be overwhelming opposition to it."

Traffic on Lake Street would increase and the character of the neighborhood would be eroded by the building, he said.

Albion has said that it oriented the building in an L-shape with the massing of the structure closer to Lake Street to reduce the shadow cast over the park, but Klayman said he's not buying it.

The L-shaped orientation only has the effect of moving the shade back by a few feet, Klayman said. "So it really doesn't have any effect."

Albion, in a written statement, reiterated its position that the L-shaped orientation would "minimize impact on Austin Gardens." The company noted that if it built an 8-story building as of right, it could do so in such a way that would have a much greater shadow impact on the park.

"Our shadow studies also show an 80-foot, block-shape building would create just as much, and at certain times of the year, more shadow impact on Austin Gardens than the building we proposed," Albion President Jason Koehn said in a written statement.

Organizers Laura Stamp and Ada Tikkanen said they consider the rally a success because of the big turnout. They emphasized that people really value the park and that's why they showed up.

"If people didn't feel strongly about this park, then they wouldn't be here," Stamp said.

She said it's not good enough for Albion to argue that the shadow would be less pervasive during the summer because many people want to use the park year round. "Yeah, we want the sun in the summer, but on a winter day we want the sun as well," she said.

Tikkanen argued that she and others are not anti-development, but want "thoughtful development" in the village.

"Just put thought into what you're building, where you're building it, the style of it," she said.

She noted that Forest Avenue, which runs adjacent to the park, "is the gateway to Frank Lloyd Wright" district.

"You have people from all over the world coming here and walking down this street, and all of a sudden you're hit in the face with a big monolith," she said.

The two organizers taped off trees with yellow police-style caution tape to show which ones would be affected by the shadow. Orange spray paint marked the grass with the words "Dead Zone" to demarcate how far organizers believe the shadow would stretch across the park.

That space will see "six hours of sun or less per day" when the shadow is at its largest, Tikkanen said.

Koehn said in the written statement that "the fear the building we have proposed would 'destroy' Austin Gardens is incorrect. It won't."

"Tall buildings and green spaces coexist across the country," Koehn said. "For proof a few blocks away from Austin Gardens, see Mills Tower next to Mills Park."

The issue has been a big topic in the upcoming village board election set for April 4, but Stamp said she has no interest in hearing the developer's proposal.

"I see people as quote, 'Let's give the developers a chance,' – unfortunately, I don't trust them to actually listen to us and I think money talks," Stamp said. "When candidates say no, they're the people I want to vote for."

Koehn said Albion has commissioned an arborist to review the potential impact on "trees, vegetation and wildlife" at the park.

Albion has submitted a proposal to the village, which is being reviewed by village staff.

Koehn said the arborist's study will be added to the planned development application when the report is available and "no matter what it includes."

The board of trustees will review the proposal and then forward it to the Plan Commission for further review. That commission will hold hearings on the proposal and then submit a recommendation for the board to approve or reject.

Koehn said Albion hopes to work with the Park District of Oak Park – which already has formally opposed the project – to enhance the park and "make it more accessible for neighbors and newcomers."

"Austin Gardens is an asset for everyone, including potential new residents in our building," Koehn said. "To suggest we want to 'destroy' it makes no sense and is a fear not based on fact."

* This story was updated to include comments from Albion Residential President Jason Koehn 

CONTACT: tim@oakpark.com

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Ada Johnson Tikkanen  

Posted: March 23rd, 2017 9:05 AM

I just had to watch this video again b/c it makes me so happy to see so many families enjoying this wonderful park on such a beautiful day. Also want to thank everyone who came out and showed your concern for thoughtful development and the fate of Austin Gardens.

Mary Pikul  

Posted: March 21st, 2017 6:37 PM

I am all for expanding green space to Lake Street. Now that is a vision.

Diana Ostreko from Oak Park  

Posted: March 21st, 2017 5:41 PM

I live only steps from Austin Gardens and for 19 years this beautiful space has been my back yard. Pat Quinn made a speech there in 2013 and made grant money available for the Environmental Learning Center which has greatly added to the beauty of the park in multiple ways. Maybe we should ask what he thinks about the proposed monstrosity that will loom over the solar panels?

Josh Klayman  

Posted: March 21st, 2017 4:50 PM

Correction to comment below: comments by Bob Larson and Ada Johnson Tikkanen were from *3/20*

Josh Klayman from Oak Park  

Posted: March 21st, 2017 4:46 PM

Re: Mills Park comparison (see 3/18 comments by Bob Larson and Ada Johnson Tikkanen): Mills Tower is only HALF the width of the 1000 Lake site, measuring east-west (see satellite photos on Google Earth). With a building to the south of the park, the E-W dimension determines the amount of shade, multiplied by height. With a building twice as wide, height has twice as much impact on the area of shade.

Barbara Purington  

Posted: March 21st, 2017 8:40 AM

@Bill Kopper, YES!

Bill Kopper from Oak Park  

Posted: March 21st, 2017 8:17 AM

Had I wanted to live at North and Clybourn I could have moved to the city. Allowing this monstrosity to go up will complete the destruction of the entrance to Forest, arguably the most significant residential blocks in the US. For the last 17 years we've seen much construction in DTOP with the promise of some type of property tax abatement. The current referendums for D97 suggest this policy has not kept taxes in check. So while I'd love to see the current building at Lake and Forest go, the citizens of the village have every right to insist on something more to scale with Austin Garden. The best design would invite you into the park from Lake street.

Christopher Payne from Oak Park  

Posted: March 21st, 2017 7:29 AM

I take issue with anyone that considers what happened to Mills Park as a "good thing". Mills Park is an embarrassment. I wish folks were thinking more about preservation (as they are now with Austin Gardens) and the context of a one of our treasured National Landmarks before they cut apart historic fences and dotted the landscape with oversized unusable stupid benches and pathways and plantings that have nothing to do with the history of that site.

Jim Coughlin  

Posted: March 21st, 2017 1:36 AM

Who cares about Austin Gardens? Not the Village President and a majority of the board of trustees. And certainly not the developers who will encase the park in shadows and create a wind tunnel that will forever decrease the quality of life in a historic neighborhood.The Park District of Oak Park and all those involved in community historic preservation need to work together to protect the park. Call on the Village Board to embrace thoughtful development.

Ada Johnson Tikkanen  

Posted: March 20th, 2017 10:43 PM

Mills Park is a shining example of architectural connectivity with its surroundings (do I even have to insert a NOT here). Further, it's a whole different scenario Bob. Just b/c it's a big ole piece of concrete in a park doesn't mean you're comparing apples to apples. There is more acreage in Mills Park and there are less trees. I'll leave the specifics of this to the horticulturists and arborists...b/c I'm not either of these. That's just what I've culled from many conversations dealing with this comparison. Also the wind tunnel effect caused them to have to get rid of the playground. Now once again, that's just based upon conversations I've had - if you know differently - please let me know. All viewpoints are appreciated.

Bob Larson  

Posted: March 20th, 2017 10:06 PM

I did Ada, but I also looked at Mills Park for a real life example & see green grass, trees and a beautiful landscape. I'm just saying the tower probably will not be that adverse to the park. Shade does not equal death! Now, the other issues should also be considered in evaluating the project.

Ada Johnson Tikkanen  

Posted: March 20th, 2017 9:47 PM

Bob check out the shadow studies on the park district page - and then research what you find - then let us know.

Bob Larson  

Posted: March 20th, 2017 8:28 PM

I don't know if the shade is that much of an issue. I don't see any adverse effects from Mills Tower on the park just north of the tower. Just saying.

Ada Johnson Tikkanen  

Posted: March 20th, 2017 6:35 PM

Deno Andrews, Simone Boutet and Dan Moroney have all expressed the need for more thoughtful development. So if you care vote them into office. I feel in my gut, which is absolute conjecture - so don't sue me - that they are our only hope in more thoughtful development (yes I said thoughtful development twice). Make your vote count on April 4!

Mila Tellez  

Posted: March 20th, 2017 6:21 PM

so who running for the board is for the development. we need to have our voices heard with our vote!!

Barbara Purington  

Posted: March 20th, 2017 5:56 PM

Expand green space and park to Lake St. No building of any kind. Green space is precious in urban areas. Lake St. traffic driving west is already bumper to bumper. Thoughtful development, yes.

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