Affordable apartment plan gets mixed reception

Neighbors concerned about density, traffic; others argue Oak Park needs economic diversity

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By Timothy Inklebarger

Staff Reporter

Boston-based Community Builders Inc. held its second meeting last week, giving Oak Parkers new details on its plan to build a four-story, 37-unit affordable-rental building on an empty lot at the corner of South Oak Park Avenue and Van Buren Street.

The proposal got a mixed reaction at the meeting held July 12 at the Oak Park Public Library, Maze Branch, where about 40 residents turned out to ask questions and voice their concerns about the project.

The building as-proposed, includes 32 one-bedroom units, three studios and two 2-bedroom apartments, according to Kirk Albinson, a project manager with Community Builders. It also includes a 900-square-foot retail space at the northeast corner of the building.

"(W)e are focused on integrating quality materials into the design," Albinson said. "Authentic is the key word that we've gravitated toward in speaking with the village and various folks in the community in terms of Oak Park's rich architectural heritage. We want to uphold that."

Several attendees voiced their concern that the building would be too dense and bring unwanted traffic and parking problems to the area.

One building owner said he already has parking problems for his tenant in the area, and the Community Builders' plan for 23 dedicated parking spots for tenants is not enough.

"Parking is a huge problem (in the area)," he said, adding, "This is OK on paper, but once you fill the place up people will want parking."

Community Builders is working with contractors on a traffic and parking study that will be rolled out once the company submits its application to the village for review.

"We are confident that we're planning ample parking for folks that will have cars on the site," Albinson said.

He added that parking studies in similar communities show that transit-oriented developments – developments near public transportation such as the nearby CTA Blue Line – of similar size and density show that residents require 0.56 stalls per unit. Providing 23 parking spots works out to about 0.62 spots per unit for the proposal.

The proposal also creates five on-street parking spots for those visiting the commercial district, Albinson said.

Because of the size of the units, Community Builders does not expect the units to attract people with children and are, therefore, unlikely to put additional stress on local schools. Neighbors noted, however, that just a couple of new students could cost District 97's nearby Lincoln Elementary thousands of dollars in additional spending. "That school is bursting at the seams," one man said.

Milton Clark, a resident of the 800 block of South Grove, said he and other neighbors are opposing the project because it is too dense and will bring too many new residents to the area. He and others are calling for a development with fewer units, possibly made up of townhouses or condominiums.

"We think this is going to overload the immediate area and create too much density and traffic issues," Clark said.

Another neighbor, Joyce Ford Gradel, argued that Oak Park has a shortage of affordable housing, and Community Builders' proposal is vital to helping create more economic diversity in the village.

"I've lived in Oak Park for 40 years and we've talked about diversity over and over and over and we're pretty good with racial diversity, so if you're rich, we don't care what color you are," she said. "These will provide economic diversity, and we're talking about parking and cars; we need this and I'm thrilled …"

The comment prompted applause from several people attending the meeting.

The proposal targets residents earning up to $17 an hour. Those with an annual income of $35,600 or less would be eligible for units running $844 a month. Those earning up to $17,800 would be eligible for units running $368 a month.

Albison reminded residents that the development would contribute to Oak Park's property tax base despite the fact it is being built by a non-profit and will be partially funded by grants from the Illinois Housing Development Authority.

CONTACT: tim@oakpark.com

Reader Comments

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Ted Schuster  

Posted: July 21st, 2018 11:02 PM

The shortage of "affordable housing" in Oak Park are affordable houses, particularly with our taxes. So we can cheer on economic diversity but no one making $17K or $33K will ever be able to afford to actually buy a decent place here. So why not build some townhomes on this site that are below $400,000? Less density, more ownership, more affordable.

Neal Buer  

Posted: July 18th, 2018 10:02 AM

Sorry, but tenants will not park their cars behind 5/3rd during the day. The surrounding streets will be flooded with cars. Parking on Oak Park Avenue will be more difficult than it already is. Include the old Divine Consign building and include parking. I would ask the owners around Sugar Beet how parking changed when that building went online.

Dave Slade  

Posted: July 17th, 2018 11:58 AM

"Albison reminded residents that the development would contribute to Oak Park's property tax base despite the fact it is being built by a non-profit and will be partially funded by grants from the Illinois Housing Development Authority." I'm putting away about $900 a month for taxes on my estate in south OP. That is more than the rent on these apartments. Who is paying these taxes? I'm guessing we are, correct? And with all the new developments on Lake Street, when are we going to see some relief? When our day to sell comes, who is going to buy a 1,500 sq ft house with taxes of over $10K/year?

Galen Gockel from Oak Park  

Posted: July 17th, 2018 10:51 AM

It should be possible to estimate the potential number of cars in this development, by counting the cars owned by residents of the already-built "Sugar Beet" building on Madison Street. The demographics there seem to be similar to this proposal. Also, the parking lot behind Fifth/Third Bank is seldom filled...it could handle any increased parking demand.

Kevin Brubaker  

Posted: July 17th, 2018 8:35 AM

If Oak Park is serious about being both affordable and green, then it should do away with parking mandates altogether. And in a proposal like this, with rental apartments near the el, why not let the market decide? If the developer hasn't planned enough parking spaces, then he will suffer the economic consequence.

Tom MacMillan from Oak Park  

Posted: July 17th, 2018 8:11 AM

They pretend that this will be filled with young, childless people with no cars. Are we really making the same mistake over and over and over again? This space should have 6 units with 12 parking spots.

Jeff Schroeder from Oak Park  

Posted: July 17th, 2018 8:00 AM

Is this supposed to balance out the new higher cost housing on Lake Street? And when are we residents going to see some kind of tax break from all this new construction? Our property taxes just went up by nearly 20%.

Sarah Schriber  

Posted: July 16th, 2018 10:33 PM

I think this is a great idea. My questions is why have so many 1-bedrooms and so few 2-bedrooms?

Neal Buer  

Posted: July 16th, 2018 8:55 PM

23 parking spaces is not enough for 37 units.

Mark Ruehl  

Posted: July 16th, 2018 8:47 PM

Just not a very attractive building, and there should be commercial activity all along Oak Park Ave.

Christina Sellis Loranz  

Posted: July 16th, 2018 8:13 PM

So happy for this development, what a great addition to the neighborhood!

Jenna Brown Russell  

Posted: July 16th, 2018 7:28 PM

It is my understanding that an addition to Lincoln addition is already planned, budgeted, and scheduled. Let us hope they are including room for more than current enrollment. This area will be benefited by more retail, and especially more shoppers and diners. I do hope the parking in the Arts district doesn't become as in difficult as other successful neighborhoods, but that is an easier problem to fix than empty storefronts and open streets. Finally, I can't help noting that the architect least 'authentic' to Oak Park's historical style was Frank Lloyd Wright.

April Winter  

Posted: July 16th, 2018 7:06 PM

I've read all the loving, welcoming signs. Why have concerns? If children were going to be included in these units, there wouldn't be open arms to welcome them? Why is it that liberalism seems to diminish the closer the issue gets to the person affected?

Christine Vernon  

Posted: July 16th, 2018 6:45 PM

Nice to see a project like this for varied economic and space needs. The thing I don't like about so much development on Lake Street and this one, is that if we keep removing shops in favor of apartments, condos and townhouses, it is the shops and availability of the goods and services that make a place a convenient and desirable place to live. More and more, those seem to be going away. One great thing about those old apartment buildings, like the one that was where the Walgreens is now on the SW corner of Oak Park and Madison, is that they also housed many small affordable offices on the second floor, in addition to the pharmacy and other businesses on the first floor. These kinds of buildings are also going away and they serve a wonderful kind of diversity in a community. Not easy to get this whole development thing right but glad people are working on it. Density is a definitely issue, too. The neighborhood of Lincoln Square is phenomenal with Wells Park, their library, dining places and all kinds of other shops, Andersonville is too, but driving in those neighborhoods can be nerve-wracking.

Tom Gull  

Posted: July 16th, 2018 6:24 PM

Add in the former Divine Consign space with better retail space and add parking off the alley.

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