Is the future of Oak Park any clearer today?

Opinion

Share on Facebook
Share on Twitter
Print

Ken Trainor

Ah, the morning after. By the time you read this, you'll know who won the village elections. Writing this several mornings before, I only know that one of three basic scenarios occurred:

1) A VMA-dominated Oak Park board of trustees

2) An NLP-dominated board

3) A messy mix of the two.

The most intriguing scenario: VMA renegade, David Pope, as president, with three VMA trustees and three NLP trustees (depending on who Pope picked to fill his trustee seat). A disaster...or just what Oak Park needs?

Either way, the new board will have to pick up right where the past board failed:

1) Attracting the "right" amount, and kind, of development

2) Preserving our history and character

3) Getting the "right" amount of citizen input.

And making all three equally important.

The VMA has a track record on development. They haven't always done it well, but they've pursued it aggressively and consistently.

They don't have a good track record on historic preservation, however. The current board botched the Drechsler building development, screwing the Historical Society in the process, and now seem willing to decimate fully half of Westgate in addition to opening up the Marion Street mall.

Their attitude toward citizen input seems grudging at best. The village still hasn't figured out how to include citizens in a constructive way that doesn't scare away prospective developers?#34;or at least not the kind of developers we want. Some developers are OK to scare away.

NLP, meanwhile, only has a track record of opposing development. Yes, they give lip service to favoring "the right kind" of development, but until they gain power, it's all talk. If this election changed that, they'll have to prove they're not just a bunch of NIMBYs.

Oak Park Avenue and Madison Street, the YMCA, the downtown plan?#34;opportunities abound to prove they can find the proper balance between development and preservation.

If NLP gained power and development stalls, they'll be judged a failure. If the VMA stayed in power and only fills the available "holes" with large, uninspiring buildings, while doing nothing tangible to preserve our heritage, they, too, will be judged a failure. If a mixed board resulted and they don't learn to work together, they will be failures as well.

And if David Pope was elected and can't learn to speak in sentences of less than 75 words each, he'll not only be judged a failure, he may well get strangled by his fellow trustees (or our long-suffering reporters).

Whoever has the power this morning after, here's what we need:

1) A clear, workable, consistent, open development process that incorporates citizen involvement early without driving off the "good" developers (defined as the ones willing to work with surrounding neighbors).

2) A way to integrate development and historic preservation, making heritage an essential part of the development process.

That means if you can throw money at Whiteco and take an entire building off the tax rolls to create an open plaza (as proposed by the Crandall-Arambula plan), you can certainly set aside some space for the Historical Society in the Drechsler building?#34;or some other visible location in the downtown TIF district.

While we're at it, why not buy the Colt building and Taxman's Westgate property and move Station Street west so we can save at least two-thirds of Westgate, then find a developer with a clue who can turn it into an interesting "heritage development." Maybe the Historical Society can find a home there. Extending the TIF supposedly gives us the wherewithal to get creative, right?

Or is that too much vision for the morning after? Pro-development, pro-preservation, pro-citizen involvement, equal partners. That's our ticket to the future.

How does the future look this morning?

Reader Comments

No Comments - Add Your Comment

Comment Policy