Most elected boards have a project that defines their term in office. More than the routines of budgeting and hiring. Apart from the endless distractions which jump up and bark for a board's immediate attention. These are singular, notable projects, often something botched in the past that has come round again. A project threading together themes and frustrations which brought at least some of those officials to office.
So it will be with the newly formed Oak Park village board and the Colt building site on Lake Street. The Colt is the epicenter of everything gone haywire with village government and large building projects over the decades. The village way overpaid to assemble the many parcels that make up what is currently an enormously expensive surface parking lot. They bought the parcels without a clear plan. A petty political feud and contempt by some trustees for developers sank near complete plans to redevelop the site 10 years back. The village government-mandated processes to plan an appropriate project for the site took way too long. Very little of the meshugaas above was accomplished with any sort of transparency. And then the brutal recession laid low any development prospects for several years.
Now development again seems possible. After a short charade suggesting the village was open to development proposals from other builders, Oak Park is again negotiating with Clark Street, a reputable developer which was the dance partner in place when the recession smothered all progress five years ago.
Start the clock.
Start with this question: What's the goal? By next spring be ready to break ground on a notable but not overwhelmingly dense mixed-use project that combines added retail, 200-plus apartments or condos and adequate parking for both the development and replacement parking for the public. Build in necessary infrastructure such as the long-planned north-south street connecting Lake Street to North Boulevard, but don't go nuts on the streetscaping. Impress us, don't wow us. Make this happen in a reasonably transparent way. Don't give away the store to the developers; don't confound the project by choosing the color of the brick. At the end, the reputation of Oak Park among developers ought to be that the village is a reasonable partner but not a patsy. Remember, government processes are intended to serve the end, not be the end.
Anan Abu-Taleb is Oak Park's village president in large part because he said he could make development happen smarter and faster in the village. He has multiple trustees who share that mindset. We trust there is no one on this board ready to defend the past, endless practices. Oak Park can do better and with this clean slate, the Colt building site is the place to prove it.
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