Albion: Tower won't hurt Austin Gardens

Developer makes first formal proposal to Oak Park Plan Commission


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By Timothy Inklebarger

Staff Reporter

Oak Park residents got their first official presentation on the controversial 18-story Albion high-rise building proposed for downtown at a meeting of the Oak Park Plan Commission on July 11.

A team of Albion representatives made the case that the mixed-use building – 265 apartments, 9,500 square feet of retail and an internal parking garage with 235 spaces – would not damage the adjacent Austin Gardens or create traffic congestion in the downtown area.

The building is zoned to allow eight stories, so Albion must receive aproval from the Oak Park Board of Trustees. The citizen-led Plan Commission will provide a recommendation to the board of trustees, but the commission's recommendation is not binding.

Albion's vice president of development, Andrew Yule, said the building was designed in an L-shaped configuration to reduce the amount of shade cast over Austin Gardens. The company's arborist, Mark Duntemann of the Oak Park-based Natural Path Urban Forestry Consultants, said that "97 percent of the park is not going to be affected by shade proposed by the project."

Trees in the southeast portion of the park would have a shadow cast over them during part of the growing season, but those still would receive "sufficient sunlight," Duntemann said. Most trees in the park would get nine hours of sunlight per day during the growing season – non-winter months – and oak trees in the park, which have been around since before the area was first settled, would not be affected at all, he said.

That runs counter to arguments made by opponents of the project, who say the shade could damage the park's ecosystem.

The village also hired a third-party consultant, James Kielbaso, forestry and professor of Michigan State University, to review Duntemann's findings. Kielbaso confirmed the Albion report, stating that all but about 11 trees in the southeast corner of the park would be unaffected by the shade, and those trees would not be damaged by the shading.

Kielbaso noted that apple-tree farmers require six to eight hours of sunlight for their trees to bear fruit, adding, "I don't think you're trying to grow apples."

"Any shading impact from Albion will be restricted to the southeast corner of Austin Gardens, and that to only a small degree," Kielbaso wrote in his report.

He said trees in the southeast portion of the park already were "in a bad condition" and suggested they be removed and replaced with "native, shade tolerant species as part of the Albion project."

Kielbaso was not the only independent consultant to review the project for the village. Rich Van Zeyl, and Floyd Anderson at Wright & Co., submitted a review of the proposal.

"We support the project, as we believe the design will be an interesting addition to the Lake Street corridor," Van Zeyl and Anderson wrote in their report. "The shifting massing of the tower will create a unique architectural feature, visible from around the village and the Green Line trains."

Albion also addressed criticism from opponents that the building would exacerbate the so-called wind tunnel that was created by its neighbor to the east – the 21-story Vantage luxury apartment building.

Yule argued that a wind study included in the planned development application by Canadian wind consulting firm Rowan Williams Davies & Irwin Inc. shows that the Albion tower would actually reduce the wind-tunnel effect.

"I will acknowledge that I feel wind on a windy day around the project," Yule said, adding that the RWDI study shows that westerly winds "are hitting the [Vantage building] and washing straight down to the street."

Albion would block those wind blasts from the street, Yule concluded.

Plan commissioners Douglas Gilbert and Greg Marsey said they needed more information from the consultant to better understand the findings of their report. Gilbert noted that the RWDI report suggested that the wind instead would travel down the north side of the building into the adjacent Austin Gardens.

Yule emphasized that Albion wants to be a good neighbor to the resident of Oak Park, telling commissioners that the company plans to contribute $170,000 for landscaping, parks and trees in Oak Park; $50,000 each to the Oak Park Housing Center, Housing Forward and The Oak Park Affordable Housing Fund; and $20,000 to the Oak Park River Forest Community Foundation.

The money for landscaping can go toward "whatever the village of Oak Park wants to do in landscaping initiatives," he said.

Albion also will establish a $200,000 escrow account for landscaping and trees in Austin Gardens, he said.

"In the unlikely event that something happens during construction that money's available to make sure it's drawn from immediately to repair or replace anything that would have been damaged during construction," he said.

Although the meeting, held in council chambers at Village Hall, was heavily attended, the commission largely heard from the developer and the village's independent consultants.

The commission plans to meet again on July 27 at which point residents and others will be given the opportunity to cross-examine Albion representatives about the proposal and provide testimony in support or opposition to the project.

If the commission is unable to complete its deliberations at that meeting, additional meetings are tentatively scheduled for Aug. 3rd and 10th.

* This story was updated to correct the name of the architural firm for which Floyd Anderson works and to clarify that all but about 11 trees would be unaffected by the building's shade.


Reader Comments

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Bruce Kline  

Posted: July 18th, 2017 7:24 PM

To Jim Coughlin: in regard to your earlier query which I could not answer. Robert Burk of UrbanStreet Group and Charles Smoot of North American properties presented a planned development for 1000 Lake Street to replace the two story "Lytton's building." They presented their plan at the November 17, 2014 OP Historic Preservation Commission Architectural Review Committee Meeting. Their plan called for an eight story structure, with retail on the first floor, 194 parking spaces extending from the basement through floors one and two, a private fitness club, and 140 apartments on floors three through eight. What ever happened to the proposal is not known. Acknowledgement and thanks to Chris Donovan for providing this information.

Kline Maureen  

Posted: July 18th, 2017 3:30 PM

Mike, Lake St. west of Forest is better than it's been in a while, but there are still vacancies on Lake (a big one at Harlem for one!) and several vacancies along Marion St. Plus, now that the DTOP code has been amended to allow offices on the ground floor rather than strictly retail, some vacancies have been taken up by realtor's offices and insurance offices and tutoring centers and the like. But I'm about to walk over there now to try to find an OP related baby gift, and I'll try to pay attention.

Mike Hanline  

Posted: July 18th, 2017 2:32 PM

"And yet the plague of vacant commercial space seems to have continued pretty much unabated..." Are you still referring to DTOP here? Because I've noticed a significant turnaround since I first moved here. 8 years ago DTOP looked like it was dying; today I think it looks better than ever (and I have a 40+ year history with Oak Park even though I'm a relative newcomer).

Michael O'Malley from Oak Park  

Posted: July 18th, 2017 1:49 PM

Mr. MacMillan, maybe you can pull back from characterizing anyone who disagrees with your laissez faire - build at any cost - positions as NIMBYS and closed minded luddites. I don't live anywhere near the proposed Albion project and I don't like it. I believe the long-term costs to the village far outweigh the promised benefits. We just got hit with an 8% property tax increase partly because of increased enrollment at the elementary schools. Where did that come from? The Vantage building with its awkward shade of tinted blue windows and excessive height is an eyesore. How's that? The Albion is not going to be any better. You want to make an argument for the Albion? Make it. Stop attacking.

Kline Maureen  

Posted: July 18th, 2017 12:54 PM

Tom, we have been hearing that same tune for at least 25 years, in DTOP and throughout the village.. What had been called 100 Forest Place (not sure what it's called now...) is one of the first that I recall. Or perhaps it was the apartment complex at Lake & Euclid on the site of what had been the original village hall. Then there's all the building on the former Tasty Dog/village parking site... Then Whiteco and the FFC building, and now Vantage and soon Emerson Place (or whatever they're calling the one to the west) Plus numerous other developments scattered around. And yet the plague of vacant commercial space seems to have continued pretty much unabated - as has the skyrocketing increase in property taxes. Therefore, many of us just don't buy your argument of increasing density as a means to resolve these issues. Meanwhile, our streets cannot accommodate the additional traffic and parking, and the developments themselves have no mechanism to accommodate deliveries - instead we have 18-wheeler beer delivery trucks and others blocking major intersections throughout the village. At the very least, provide MORE PARKING than is needed to meet the minimum standard and dedicated off-street space for deliveries, and adequate set-backs to allow some degree of open space.

Jim Coughlin  

Posted: July 18th, 2017 12:24 PM

Has the Plan Commission been asked to review any other proposals for the site? How about the recommendation of creating a park/plaza? Was that ever considered or presented as a viable use? Does the park district have a voting member of the Plan Commission?

Tom MacMillan from Oak Park  

Posted: July 18th, 2017 12:11 PM

DTOP is also an ecosystem. Having more people living in the limited space there is good for all the businesses there, which is good for all the people in DTOP too as it is thriving instead of dead space. The population density has to be near the Green line station so it can be walking distance, so using spaces like this one for a new building of this size makes perfect sense. What we have is a small amount of people to the NE of the proposed site doing a NIMBY argument vs the interests of everyone else in the Village. No amount of experts will ever convince that small cadre though, so the arguments continue until this thing gets built. Meanwhile, isn't it nice to have a new Coopers Hawk to enjoy in a space that the same small group argued against forever.

Tom Bassett-Dilley from Oak Park  

Posted: July 18th, 2017 10:25 AM

The concerns over the park are not overblown. Having designed the AGEEC building and analyzed the shade impacts on the SE garden and the solar array, we find significant impacts (this is being presented to the Plan Commission). Tom, you're wrong that the arborist said there was no impact on trees--both arborists and Albion's solar consultants admit there is an impact, but Albion is spinning it as "insignificant." And both arborists failed to look at the park as an ecosystem--it's not just trees. The burden is on them to prove there isn't an impact on everything else in that park (including, hello, people), and they haven't done that. Also not pointed out yet in presentations so far is the opposition of this building to the character of a pedestrian-oriented downtown. You don't put four stories of parking on Lake and Forest and call that contextual or supportive of a walking district. We have had planning experts--hired to work in the long-term interest of the Village--assert the 80' height limit and preservation of our downtown pedestrian character. I'm going to trust a design professional (and all the associated community input to their plan) over a developer looking to boost their ROI. We can add density to that site without destroying the character of Lake Street, but not with a building like this.

Jason Cohen  

Posted: July 18th, 2017 3:34 AM

I am not a big fan of this project but I tend to think the concerns over the park are overblown. I think the wind tunnel effect would be improved with a larger building on that side so I agree with that assessment. I don't love another giant building with no setback though. I don't see why 8 stories isn't acceptable. The real concern I have is that we are still waiting to see the impact of all the larger buildings in DTOP and until we see those all get built and know exactly what happens I would hate to see us commit to another one. What if traffic concerns are worse than anyone thought? What if these buildings don't fill up? What if there's an issue with schools in the area? What if property taxes aren't helped by these? What if the downtown support infrastructure like water and sewer and trash can't handle the additional load? I remember vividly all the talk about how traffic would be much better if we allow Marion street to be opened up and that has turned out to be false. I would like to see what actually happens when the current buildings are complete before allowing this to move forward.

Tom MacMillan from Oak Park  

Posted: July 18th, 2017 1:05 AM

Building ordinances set up years ago that are very outdated. Unless we are going to freeze everything like what the taxes were back when those rules were set. At today's property tax rates, a property needs more floors to make sense. Why is it our problem? - it always has been our problem and that is why the current building was a fail. We can be like Rockford or some other Illinois dying town with big rotting dead zone lots in our downtown, or we can have a multi-million dollar investment. Only in Oak Park would this even be a debate, but the debate has happened so lets get on with it.

Bruce Kline  

Posted: July 17th, 2017 10:48 PM

Jim: That's an excellent question. I don't know the answer, but I bet our Village Trustees know.

Jim Coughlin  

Posted: July 17th, 2017 10:23 PM

Bruce, is Albion the first and only developer to show interest in this site?

Bruce Kline  

Posted: July 17th, 2017 9:19 PM

Tom: the bottom line at least for me, is that building ordinances exist for a reason (I would hope). If not why have them? In this case, I agree, the present structure is an eye sore. But why does it follow that the solution to this eye sore is granting a variance of over 100% (from 8 stories to 18)? if Albion can not make money within our height ordinance, why is that our problem? That should be their problem. If they can't solve THEIR problem then we should seek a developer who who can deliver a property within our codes and specifications.

Tom MacMillan from Oak Park  

Posted: July 17th, 2017 8:19 PM

For advice on trees, I am going to go with the Big Ten professor and forestry expert's opinion instead of the local housewife who has one tree in her back yard.

Christine Vernon  

Posted: July 17th, 2017 10:22 AM

Tom, we all know better than to believe there is no impact when plants and trees are shaded. We all know better than to believe a sweeping generalization like that - "there will be no impact". Basic high school biology does that experiement, at least when I was in high school many years ago, where they have plants on the counter and plants in the cabinet under the counter, and the plants closed off under the counter are scrawny and yellow and don't turn green because they can't get their photosynthesis work done. The developers know that there will be an impact and that's why they made this statement quoted in the article - "trees in the southeast portion of the park already were "in a bad condition" and suggested they be removed and replaced with "native, shade tolerant species as part of the Albion project." The term 'shade tolerant species' shows that they know there is an impact.

Tom MacMillan from Oak Park  

Posted: July 17th, 2017 5:45 AM

Christine, an expert on the effects of a building on sunshine just studied this and reported that there is no impact. Read the article.

Christine Vernon  

Posted: July 16th, 2017 8:09 PM

Tom, You are vocal and passionate, do you speak for the majority of Oak Parkers? You are a developer's dream advocate who seems to have no respect for existing height ordinances in Downtown Oak Park or the established planning process! Your comments are curious. You call alternative opinions from yours "a never ending stream of fantastical what if ideas about this lot by people who do not own the space." Whoa! People who are taxpayers should not have opinions? You are some expert on sunlight being blocked and wind effect and the people who don't hold your opinions have "weird science stories" and "mythical and bogus" theories? Whoa again! You say "Clean up the begging on every corner". This is unrelated to this highrise project, but what exactly would you have people do to "clean up" this "begging up on every corner"? Maybe working as an advocate for the homeless and their seemingly increasing population is preferable to being a developer's advocate from the seriousness you feel about the situation. Just because the former Lytton's site is an eyesore, no one ought to rush an inferior plan through. You wrongly assume that people who oppose Albion oppose all highrises and all development. This simply isn't true. The people I know who oppose Albion are for protection of the park and many of them are for honoring the revision of the Crandall Arambula Plan that took eighteen months to create and the Village paid $225,000 to have done. Many of the 22 buildings that were recommended to be torn down are already gone and you see the high-rises taking their place. The Crandall A. planners recommended a park/plaza created to draw more people to Downtown Oak Park to create a transition for visitors from DTOP and the FLW Historic District, a plaza for shoppers and enhanced space for the more dense population being introduced by these high-rises. Many of us are for development and open space at the same time. There's a balance here and this park is part of the balance.

Alice Wellington  

Posted: July 16th, 2017 1:37 PM

True Oak Parkers enjoy paying exorbitant property taxes while doing the bulk of their shopping online and in the surrounding communities.

Tom MacMillan from Oak Park  

Posted: July 16th, 2017 1:27 PM

Bruce, a small but vocal group is not all Oak Parkers. Plenty of people welcome progress in the form of these high rises. There has been a never ending stream of fantastical what if ideas about this lot by people who do not own the space. Theories for projects with no economic realities. Then we had the weird science stories about the sunlight being blocked which were just disproved. The mythical and bogus wind effect was discussed. Meanwhile its an eyesore. If people are so worried about downtown they should clean up the begging on every corner because that is the most unsavory thing in DTOP.

Bruce Kline  

Posted: July 16th, 2017 1:08 PM

Tom, I agree that Christine does not speak for ALL Oak Parkers. But given the results of the last Village Board election (where Albion and development in general was a major issue) I bet Christine speaks for - if not a majority - then certainly a very large, passionate, and vocal segment of Oak Parkers..

Tom MacMillan from Oak Park  

Posted: July 16th, 2017 12:38 PM

@v Christine - you do not speak for all Oak Parkers.

Christine Vernon  

Posted: July 16th, 2017 9:25 AM

Tom, you overlook and dismiss the whole environmental issue and the fail of the Village Board to adhere to the Comprehensive Plan and ignore the recommendation of Crandall Arambula to make the former Lytton's site a stellar community focal point for shoppers, visitors seeing the Frank Lloyd Wright Historic District and residents of the most densely populated part of the Village. Think of Millenium Park and what a visual and social delight it is. We have one opportunity to bring this kind of feature, in miniature, to Downtown Oak Park, the time and opportunity is now and when it passes, it would a lost opportunity in favor of a building which could be located in another location if it is the building Oak Parkers want. Yes, Oak Park is open for business but SURPRISE, Oak Parkers don't want just any business anywhere! No monkey business and no ill-chosen business, this time they are speaking up against a high-rise on the Lytton's site and against another fast food drive-thru on Lyman and Madison. It is great to see people feel passionately about the quality of human life in Oak Park. Now, will the Board act in concert with citizen concerns for the good of the community, or will they act in defiance our of their own egos. Michigan experts might be fine but I prefer citizen resident experts. They pay the taxes and they are the boots on the ground who know what's going on each and every day observing patterns of land use, functionality of systems we have in place, and aesthetics.

Tom MacMillan from OakPark  

Posted: July 15th, 2017 10:52 AM

It will be awesome to get rid of the derelict eyesore in this lot now. It is fantastic that our downtown will draw the investment of tens of millions of dollars. Good to see that the independent expert from Michigan State confirms the shade theory was not anything to worry about, so we can stop pretending that is a thing to stop the project.

Christine Vernon  

Posted: July 14th, 2017 2:17 PM

Correction to my post below ~ the Stankus condominiums and townhouses are in the 200 north block of Kenilworth on the west side of the street.

Christine Vernon  

Posted: July 14th, 2017 2:15 PM

Fake ivy. What other evidence in the proposal shows that these developers have no understanding and respect for the value of the living things in a park. It is ironic to read that they would use fake landscaping. Mr. Stankus tried to do that. In his very solid and well-built condominium building in the 200 block south on Kenilworth. He wanted to use artificial bushes, like the kind we once saw in places like gas stations, branches made to resemble fir trees that look like Fuller brushes. This shows a developer with a lack of sensibility with regard to those sensibilities of the community he is proposing to be a part's another red flag.

Adrian Ayres Fisher  

Posted: July 14th, 2017 1:46 PM

Anyone with concerns--and that should be everyone--should email the Plan Commission and attend the July 27 meeting. I am reading the proposal closely. It is full of interesting little info nuggets. For example, the "green wall" facing the park will be a mix of real and fake (!) Boston ivy. No street level setbacks (another variance they're asking for) means the building will be a looming presence for any pedestrians. Also, what they slid past at the July 11 meeting is that on fine, bright December mornings the whole park will be in shade. Too bad for any humans wanting to take a walk. (This was on a slide at the presentation, but omitted from the written proposal.) I'm afraid the "compensating benefits," e.g. promised payoffs, are blinding people who should know better to this plan's meretricious nature.

Jim Coughlin  

Posted: July 14th, 2017 1:13 PM

Another public meeting of significant interest to the community that was not televised live on TV6 or taped for broadcast at later date. What exactly is the "mission" of our local cable access channel? Currently a majority of the TV6 programming is fluff and nonsense like how to make treats for dogs or where best to enjoy corned beef hash.There's so little content being offered that actually focuses on Oak Park government and local agencies that it seems TV6 is not of any real service to the community. How much public funding is provided to TV6 is unknown but we're sure not getting much bang for our dollar.

Christine Vernon  

Posted: July 14th, 2017 9:56 AM

I cringe at the mere mention of the Whiteco project, Bruce. It is the prime historical example of Oak Parkers being duped and thrown under the bus by an Oak Park Village Board. You wonder what the heck went on behind the scenes. Yes, it is possibly the most visually offensive architecture in Oak Park. Recently it was the temporary home of an executive who was being put up by the hiring company temporarily. It was described to me by that person as resembling a college dorm. This, the most highly subsidized project in Oak Park History, double digit millions. It has changed hands three times since 2008. Just plain weird. One of the teasers for residents was the promise that it would have a Trader Joe's. They never revealed that it would be a Trader Joe's with a headache of a parking lot, a hazardous situation on a bad day! Did you ever see the Trader Joe's on Ogden in Downers Grove (a little bit west of 83). It is a much larger store with many more offerings and limitless parking. Or, did you ever see the Trader Joe's at 25 N. La Grange Rd in LaGrange? Another larger store with very good parking. Both of those are communities much less dense in terms of population than ours, but maybe not as dense in management. Never forget Whiteco, it is the epitome of a prime example of the failure to perform in their elected duties and responsibilities by an Oak Park Village Board. No one involved in those negotiations and decisions to build that project should ever be allowed or trusted to be involved in Oak Park government again. There is not often a detailed record of a project like this one by Oak Parker Paul Hamer. People don' have the time to devote to that. We are fortunate to Paul's analysis. Whiteco, a perfect example of a project where public opinion, not in favor of building this project, was not respected, and Boards and Commissions did not listen:'s-cost-of-turning-keys-over-to-Whiteco:-$20M%3F/

Bruce Kline  

Posted: July 13th, 2017 7:14 PM

I agree Christine send these predators packing. I love how Albion wants to be our good neighbors and all. This bring back memories: the empty BS promises form Whiteco. Remember that? Yeah Whiteco too,was going to be our partners and responsible members of the community. So what did Whiteco do? Well they did a bait and switch resulting in a stellar example of Soviet Bloc architecture. And they thew in a crumbling garage to boot! Oh yes, they were our neighbors and partners... for what? Maybe five or six years until they sold out to make a handsome profit. These developers are full of you know what. Albion and their ridiculous spokesman and nonsensical professors - calling Professor Irwin Corey, come in please - are a joke

Christine Vernon  

Posted: July 13th, 2017 6:10 PM

This hearing reads like an SNL skit!! The project "would not damage the adjacent Austin Gardens or create traffic congestion in the downtown area." Just like is declared! Only "all but about 11 trees in the southeast corner of the park would be unaffected by the shade, and those trees would not be damaged by the shading". And that's OK! Just like that, it is declared. Then there is Kielbasa and his apple declaration. Then there's throw out the bad trees, shame them, and drive them out, replacing them with kind and "native, shade tolerant species". And - "We will give you $200,000" to make your pain go away Oak Parkers. and we will bribe other organizations for their support, too, the Housing Center the Community Foundation and who else, Oh yes! the homeless because they could never afford to live in any of these high-rises and we feel their pain. Of course Mr. Van Zeyl and Mr. Anderson are for the project. Whose friends are they? They think "the tower will create a unique architectural feature". A Canadian wind consulting firm?! Up there, out on the prairie, the wind is many times what it is here, it is like comparing apples to trees. Their study concluded "the Albion tower is going to reduce the wind-tunnel effect"! It is declared! He adds ""I will acknowledge that I feel wind on a windy day around the project" Yule speaking, adding that the study shows that westerly winds "are hitting the Vantage Building and washing straight down to the street." "Albion would block those wind blasts from the street", he concludes.You feel this Mr. Yule, but do you feel the tide of our pain? So we build this tower to solve the problem created by another tower and now are you sure we don't need another tower to solve another wind situation problem that might erupt as a result of Albion? Send these developers and their consultants packing. They have no understanding of the value of open space and honoring what exists in the most densely populated part of Oak Park.

Mike Hanline  

Posted: July 13th, 2017 5:29 PM

Did the Park District do any kind of an impact assessment or study of their own, or are they just guessing that the park would be negatively affected?

David Gulbransen  

Posted: July 13th, 2017 4:40 PM

"I don't think you're trying to grow apples." Hur, Hur. No, but maybe the Citizens of Oak Park want to continue the quiet enjoyment of a wooded park without doing so in the shadow of another giant high-rise. Bottom Line: The Park District is a *elected Board* and *taxing body* with the *mission* of: "In partnership with the community, we enrich lives by providing meaningful experiences through programs, parks, and facilities." We _vote_ for them to be the stewards of our parks. That should mean a whole lot to the Board of Trustees, as well. So, if the *very organization* whose sole mission is to provide us *meaningful experiences* through *parks* feels the park would be negatively impacted, well, the Board should listen to that and listen very closely. Period. James Kielbaso doesn't live here. He gets a paycheck to insult us with quips about growing apples. Well, truck on back to Michigan good professor. The people who *live* here and *enjoy* the park should have the loudest voice.

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