Start at the end on Colt building

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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.

Reader Comments

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Enuf is Enuf from Oak Park  

Posted: June 26th, 2013 10:47 AM

WJ should include its own role as the 4th estate in local development issues. In the past, the WJ has blindly supported development proposals, marginalized critical thinking, and offered criticism only in hindsight. Better investigative, proactive and objective reporting of development proposals would go far in improving local development. Local media should provide critical analysis, not boosterism.

paul from Oak Park  

Posted: June 26th, 2013 10:34 AM

There should be no developer subsidies. There should be no variances granted. We should not build this development a parking garage that we have to rebuild every 30 years. We should however let this developer buy our land, build to our Zoning Laws and get out of his way so he can make his money the old fashioned way; Without Ours! The very same way all quality communities do.

John Butch Murtagh from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: June 26th, 2013 12:00 AM

I would caution that the residents know little about the Clark project. There been no drawings, insight into the business configuration, or how the new street (s/n) being introduced. So far, the residents have not been brought into the discussion. That approach always leads to discontent.

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