Oak Park forms committee to evaluate future of Lake Street

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By Anna Lothson

Staff Reporter

The Village of Oak Park was left in the dust by the recently announced $500 million in federal grants for infrastructure projects, but that hasn't halted its planning efforts.

In March the village board approved a $108,000 no-bid contract to have the Chicago-based Lakota Group create plans for the Lake Street Corridor in downtown Oak Park from Harlem to Euclid. Although the contract was approved to increase the village's chances of securing the grants, Oak Park officials said for now they must tap into the village's own resources to continue the project.

The formation of a Lake Street Streetscape Committee, made up of village commission members, business association representatives, village staff and Lakota consultants, was approved last week to create a vision of what's next. Some trustees, however, were skeptical about forming a committee that has no financial or aesthetic guidance.

"I'm a little concerned — you form a committee around no parameters of what their budget is," Trustee Colette Lueck said. The committee, she added, may spend time on scenarios that are not viable and ideas that have to be scrapped.

Lueck is in favor of "broad-based" planning and said the committee must approach the plans knowing the funding limitations.

Loretta Daly, Oak Park business services manager, said this project will follow similar patterns of other streetscape projects in the village. She emphasized the Lake Street plans are in a very preliminary stage.

"We want to take an inventory of what current conditions are. We've begun to review different palettes that are available," she said. "We have in no way started to move into determining what we would want to begin to put forward."

Since there is no specific funding earmarked for the project, trustees stressed this undertaking has multiple directions it may or may not go. She said the committee is aware of the financial constraints and understands the board has not given direction on its viability.

Cara Pavlicek, interim village manager, explained that any streetscape project is typically part of the village's capital improvement program so funding comes from allocated sales tax dollars. The scope of the project would need board approval, but she said there may be possibilities for grants once the plans are done.

Trustee Adam Salzman suggested an amendment to the resolution requiring the committee to present two updates to the board before bringing forward its final proposal. The board agreed and unanimously approved the measure.

"When it comes to these streetscape proposals, most of the action seems to be taking place at the committee level," Salzman said. "I don't think that's a bad thing in and of itself, but I do think it may have helped cause us to run into some trouble at the board level because these plans get very far down the road."

He'd like to avoid playing catch-up and be involved in the discussions earlier.

"It's like trying to hop into a conversation that's already been going on for a few months — like trying to hop onto a moving train that's already barreling down the track," he said. "I'd like to board the train earlier."

Daly said the committee doesn't have a timeframe yet but indicated it would be a few months out. She added that the group has time to present two updates to the board.

Salzman emphasized it's important for the board to have some oversight without hindering the progress.

"I certainly don't think we should [inject] ourselves into the committee process," he said. "We could even curtail discussion. By the time the plan has come to us, we know what the alternatives have [been] and could be."

Moving forward with the project is important, said Trustee Ray Johnson, who noted that it's difficult to set a budget perimeter because the board hasn't started its 2013 budget process.

The village has infrastructure needs that must be met, he said, and this project is part of that.

"The only thing I want to amplify a bit in regards to the infrastructure is that having a menu of options is critical," he said, adding that having an understanding of the village's greatest needs could lead to prioritized decision making.

"We need to be much more fluid on how we prioritize all that work."

Email: anna@oakpark.com Twitter: @AnnaLothson

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Posted: July 11th, 2012 10:32 PM

I think the village board is bored. Time to tear up those blue slate heated sidewalks and granite curbs, or add more blue slate heated sidewalks and granite curbs? $108,000 no bid contract on another consultant? Taxpayers reeling from bills while the board continues to act like spoiled children. Maybe David Pope should move to the Hamptons.

Enuf is Enuf from Oak Park  

Posted: July 11th, 2012 3:44 PM

A good trial attorney never asks a question they don't first know the answer. For the same reason, the village board never creates a committee that doesn't first support a predetermined outcome. Look at the Lake St. Streetscape Committee. It's comprised mainly of those who have publicly advocated, and stand to benefit from, expensive streetscaping schemes. Look at the planning consultant team for the Comprehensive Plan. It's comprised mainly of friends and associates of Pope.

John Butch Murtagh from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: July 11th, 2012 3:14 PM

Ray - Maybe I was wrong, but I am not likely to ever find out. Keeping track of the iterations and multiple reiterations of DTOP plans is impossible, and I suspect not accidental. You sure have the residents snuckered.

John Butch Murtagh from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: July 11th, 2012 3:09 PM

Enuf - Plan Charades - Re your last comment regarding resident involvement in Lake Street Corridor, the board, not all members, has decided to limit involvement of residents. Why? Maybe fear of fresh ideas that might interfere with the core plan. It also may be fear that there it will be revealed that there is no core plan. Residents also tend to discuss funding, that a real dream-killer. The Board has initiated a revision of the 1990 Comprehensive Plan courtesy of a HUD Grant. A Steering Committee to work with the consultants, other OP Taxing Bodies, etc. was formed. 75% of those appointed to the committee were city officials (elected or appointed) and village employees. 2 members of the commission will represent the residents. Board members quoted that more residents were not needed because the work mundane - process, organizing community meetings, etc. In fact, the Steering Committee work is not mundane. It responsibility includes oversight of the consultant's, Housel Lavigne Assoc., and a multi step review of their progress; including content. The Steering Committee participates in about ten formal meetings with the consultants, staff, and Plan Commission. The meetings include reviews of work by the consultant's team, review of staff reports, discussion with Plan Commission, final project review, etc. Steering Committee is a misnomer. A more accurate name would have been Center of All OP Planning Committee. The OP Board Charade is more of an illusion to the board members than it is to the residents.


Posted: July 11th, 2012 2:36 PM

Actually, if the spots are full, it just means that the spots are full. That doesn't necessarily correlate to people in stores. And good logic on the mayor. It doesn't work in one town in the world, so it can't work here. Nevermind that our bloated system doesn't work and can't make a decision. Let's not criticize that. Let's focus on someone else's failure. Good logic.


Posted: July 11th, 2012 2:35 PM

OPRFDad, we're the opposite...we use our free hour in the garage then get the heck out. Shopper, somebody parking in the lot and ordering one coffee at Caribou then sitting for an hour isn't exactly the kind of high return purchase we're all hoping for. lol If you have a good alderman, actually that style of govt works great. I lived under a mayor-council with a mix of district and at-large for a number of years and it functioned beautifully.


Posted: July 11th, 2012 2:23 PM

If the spots are full, that means there are plenty of traffic in the stores. How does that City of Chicago Mayor thing working out? They even have neighbor hood representation(alderpeople). How is that working out? The west side and the south side are still the crap holes they were from 25 years ago.


Posted: July 11th, 2012 2:19 PM

Bingo, Kyle. I tried to park in the Lake/Harlem lot last night, and it was packed. Why? One reason is the gym - people who work out there park in the flat lot across the street. They aren't patronizing stores, they are working out. There's just not enough parking in the area, nor will there ever be. And I won't step foot in the garages. People in OP are careless in the sunshine. In the garage, they could care less about your car.

Ray Johnson from Oak Park  

Posted: July 11th, 2012 2:16 PM

@ Enuf: I stand corrected and forgot about the amendment you noted -- but it doesn't change the fact that the board which passed the Design Committee idea, and subsequent boards, never actually created the committee and instead proceeded with short-lived work groups focused on specific blocks/areas. Now...its time for a bike ride.


Posted: July 11th, 2012 2:14 PM

Shopper, what you didn't factor in your equation is how the people who can't find parking are driven away from ever shopping DTOP. And they can't come on bike because the new bricks are bumpy. The constant events force people to alter what businesses than buy from. And the way residents are starting to resent the way that business gets everything they want while residents are left with pretty sad looking OP ghetto. Yes, let's have THAT outcome. lol


Posted: July 11th, 2012 2:14 PM

Kyle, I like that idea.The problem with the Board is group think and their micro-managing of the free-market. It is also what leads to the disproportionate focus on the shopping districts versus neighborhoods. Streets and sewers crumble while the Board throws money at the same areas over and over. It's an ineffective system. Implement a mayor to represent the shopping districts and omnibus issues, and the local reps can speak for the separate communities within OP.

Ray Johnson from Oak Park  

Posted: July 11th, 2012 2:13 PM

@ Observer: Throwing around "liar" will get my dander up and you've got the wrong Westgate property. As you note, the One View is dated 2011. The Super Block Committee was created by the 2005 VOP Board, and it was that board which purchased 1145 Westgate and the Colt Building on Lake St. I voted against those purchases, as we had a developer ready to move forward at the time.

Enuf is Enuf from Oak Park  

Posted: July 11th, 2012 2:10 PM

I was referring to the Downtown Design Commission (see resolution below), not the Downtown Sub-Area Steering Committee. There are so many downtown committees that they all blur together, but they all are common in one regard ... they are created by the village board to support their predetermined decisions.


Posted: July 11th, 2012 2:08 PM

OPRFDad, I'm undecided about dumping the township, but I do know that more than a mayor I'd really love someone specifically for my district. The conversation would be completely different sitting here talking about what individual elected officials have or haven't done for their neighborhood they represent. I think At-Large is part of the reason for the imbalance of focus.


Posted: July 11th, 2012 2:03 PM

Clearly the decisions that were made by whomever regarding DTOP have clearly worked and have been beneficial to both the shopper and business. Every evening you can not find parking either in the surface lot east of Harlem or on the street. Thank you VOP and DTOP. Keep up the good work. Study, research and collect whatever data necessary to have the outcome you did for DTOP and Pleasant district. ;-)

Enuf is Enuf from Oak Park  

Posted: July 11th, 2012 2:02 PM

At the Mar. 21, 2005 Board mtg. (agenda item T), Trustee Kostopulos proposed an amendment to Resolution No. 2005-R-102 that the Board direct staff to prepare an ordinance creating the Downtown Design Commission to include representation of historic preservation, community, architects and downtown property owners. It was moved by Trustee Kostopulos, seconded by Trustee Johnson, and approved by the board 6-1. (www.oak-park.us/public/pdfs/2005 Minutes/03.21.05 Minutes.pdf)


Posted: July 11th, 2012 1:59 PM

John, I know I'm swimming against the tide of history. lol But to OPRFDad's comment, I think handing a few people a generic "plan a birthday party" is a whole lot different than saying, "you're in charge of cake, you're in charge of balloons, and you're in charge of hiring the magician." BTW, I enjoy the history since I haven't been around that long...it's hard to catch up on all these old issues.


Posted: July 11th, 2012 1:58 PM

@Ray Johnson, why do you find it necessary to lie? You voted to purchase Westgate and even wrote an Op Ed piece supporting your position (http://www.oakpark.com/News/Articles/09-27-2011/Westgate_purchase_was_in_Oak_Park's_best_interest). No one should believe anything that comes out of your mouth or computer keyboard.


Posted: July 11th, 2012 1:55 PM

Ray Johnson, what do you think about dumping the inefficient Village Board and electing a mayor? Also, what do you think about dumping OP township? The Village has way to much government for an entity of its size. How can we shrink our government and our costs?

Ray Johnson from Oak Park  

Posted: July 11th, 2012 1:51 PM

@ John: I don't understand your confusion. Everything you restated is correct and yes, I thought the consensus plan was great - and created by members of the historic preservation, plan, transporation, environment and energy commissions, business owners, and others. The plan (by an advisory body) was presented to the VOP board, which ultimately voted the it down. Next up was the purchase of Colt and Westgate, due to the desire of historic preservation. Old history here, but you asked.


Posted: July 11th, 2012 1:38 PM

Oh, thank goodness. I was worried that the Village wouldn't think to form a committee and get lots of meaningless input before it does whatever the heck it wants.

John Butch Murtagh from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: July 11th, 2012 1:23 PM

Kyle, I agree with a simpler approach but that is out of character for OP. Enuf's background is important because it shows there is not much in DTOP that has not been studied to death. It has all become a large Monopoly game. Plenty of strategy, but no real money.


Posted: July 11th, 2012 1:07 PM

Not to hammer home my point, but in the last few posts we've talked about: Superblock, Sub Area Plan, Downtown Design, etc. which are all pretty meaningless descriptors. Whatever happened to a group of people in a community just looking at "hey, where do we need to install trash cans & some benches?" Aren't we obfuscating? I really don't mind ad hoc mentality b/c we have a history of grand plans that never get completed. But would we be better served by issue-driven rather than location-driven?

John Butch Murtagh from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: July 11th, 2012 12:51 PM

Ray, I am confused. The VMA press release of 10-28-10 does not seem to support your viewpoint on the SuperBlock Commission. Was the commission work a success or a failure? Bob Tucker is the current Chair of Oak Park's Community Design Commission, and he has served on Oak Park's volunteer commissions for thirteen years. Many Oak Parkers know Bob from 2005 when he was the Chair of the Downtown Oak Park Sub Area Plan "Superblock" Steering Committee, where he helped build a consensus recommendation for the Village Board from numerous stakeholders regarding the "Superblock".

Ray Johnson from Oak Park  

Posted: July 11th, 2012 12:23 PM

@ Enuf: Sorry -- one more thing. The VOP board never did create a Downtown Design Commission. I don't recall overwhelming support for the concept at the time, and as it turns out, ad hoc design commissions have been productive, as they focus on a smaller footprint, or can collaborate with a developer when and if a project comes forward.

Ray Johnson from Oak Park  

Posted: July 11th, 2012 12:18 PM

@ Enuf: I served on the Super Block Committee, with Trustee Greg Marsey, and we were tasked with reviewing the area bounded by Marion, Harlem, Lake St. and N. Blvd. A plan was presented to the VOP Board, mostly centered on Westgate/Marion and a new Station St. off of Lake St., but that plan was voted down by the VOP board at the time. Subsequently, the Colt and Westgate buildings were purchased, of which I was the sole 'no' vote.

Enuf is Enuf from Oak Park  

Posted: July 11th, 2012 12:09 PM

Whatever happened to the Downtown Design Commission that was created in 2005 via a village board resolution (that included Pope and Johnson) to ensure compliance with the 2005 Greater Downtown Master Plan? Why is the Lake St. Streetscape Committee necessary when a Downtown Design Commission has been already created? Why is the Lake St. Streetscape Committee mainly comprised of property and business owners who will benefit from an expensive streetscaping plan?


Posted: July 11th, 2012 11:40 AM

On Marion, you have a valid point...though the scope is a bit larger, I believe. Harlem to Euclid includes a few more shops and restaurants. The stretch from the library to Forest is heavily traveled for pedestrians (esp on the north side of the street) and the sidewalk isn't very wide. This would, I suppose, help fix that. Though I maintain issues like that should be separately dealt with full attention rather than lumped together. I think this is an attempt to unify the heart of the village.

On Marion  

Posted: July 11th, 2012 10:31 AM

So am I missing a point here? Yes it would be gorgeous if it was done in the style of Marion St. BUT... the stretch under discussion is the one between Home St and OP Ave. Let's look at this stretch of land. Other than the "vacant" lot that is going to be a ginormous high-rise soon, there are no vacant lots, lots of churches, a library, a park and a handful of apartment buildings. Why do we want to have that be a part of the two downtown areas? What kind of a "connector" would this stretch make?


Posted: July 11th, 2012 9:53 AM

Are there going to be drivers, shoppers, walkers, & others included in the planning process? If we have to pursue this idea, it should at least be a well-rounded group of corridor users who help shape what this looks like.

Yes indeed.  

Posted: July 11th, 2012 9:44 AM

It does sound like ANOTHER disaster,consistent with VMA public policy year after year. The Village of Oak Park is broke, what do they do, spend money we don't have on one of their endless studies. Yes, you can count on the special interest, nothing stops their agenda. Whenever there is a lull, the Board calls for a phoney town hall meeting or special study group, bogus beyond belief. They should just concentrate on keeping the Village clean, safe, and helping small business for now.

Marty McFly  

Posted: July 11th, 2012 9:41 AM

What do you need a committee for? Just tear it out and put in a pedestrian mall.


Posted: July 11th, 2012 8:51 AM

This sounds like a disaster waiting to happen. Formulating an idea without a budget or an idea of how much one should spend is, well, STUPID. It is like commissioning an architect to build a house without a budget or parameters. The Board has essentially given the commission, which is stacked with special interests, permission to say what they want. The Board will then sell the idea to the taxpayers as a necessity even though the special interests are the ones who will benefit from the project.

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