Schiess backs off density, will offer plan for Madison

Neighbors and Schiess met Tuesday after press time

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"Welcome to the Madison Street Narrows," said Ted Despotes, looking west along the corridor from the southwest corner of Madison and Oak Park Avenue.

The expansive 4-lane-plus median thoroughfare to the east squeezes in on Madison right where architect John Schiess plans to build a number of mixed-use developments, one of many considerations neighbors are urging him to consider.

At least 60 people squeezed into a village hall meeting room last week to address their concerns to village staff over a proposed development at 827 Madison St., and to learn about the village's Planned Development process, which evaluates development proposals that do not conform to zoning code.

Neighbors were testy: angst over not knowing what Schiess would design at 827 Madison, whether it would set the precedent for nearby developments (Schiess is working on a couple), and just how their concerns would be heard by the village and the developer, set the meeting on simmer.

It boiled over when village staff announced that residents on the 500 block of South Grove Avenue had petitioned for a cul-de-sac. Neighbors from other blocks felt the move would push more traffic onto their residential streets.

The clamor was sparked on an initial proposal by Schiess to build a 6-story, mixed-use building, with more than 80 one-bedroom condos sitting atop 6,000 square feet of retail, with parking below.

But at a meeting with neighbors last night after press time, Schiess was expected to offer a new proposal that cut the number of units to 30, and to meet a neighbors' call to develop a "master plan," or a look at how he might design buildings for other sites owned or controlled by Schiess' development partner Alex Troyanovsky. Schiess does not own a financial stake in buildings that he designs and shepherds through the planned development process.

The number of properties on Madison poised for development presents a "historic opportunity to improve the character and economic future of the neighborhood for generations to come," the neighbor wrote in a letter to Schiess and village staff and trustees. "Our goal is that the village and the architect, Mr. John Schiess, work with us to develop a more holistic plan for development."

Troyanovsky owns or controls the south side of Madison from the corner building west to Carpenter, and has a tentative agreement to buy the Comcast building and parking lot on the north side of the street.

Schiess would not disclose the details of his plan, but said it also addressed village-owned properties on Madison that stretch east from the Madison/Oak Park Avenue intersection. He added that from what he's heard from neighbors, they would prefer smaller retail spaces over big-box stores.

Ted Despotes, of the 500 block of South Oak Park Avenue, said he could not respond to Schiess' new proposal until after Tuesday night's meeting.

"My first reaction is, I have to look at it," Despotes said. "This plan?#34;like the last plan?#34;will be judged on the information we gave the trustees and what we already gave John" through the letter.

Neighbors say they want to see development on Madison, but that it should be pedestrian-friendly, meaning buildings would need to be set back from the street farther than they are now. And as indicated by the cul-de-sac controversy, traffic down narrow residential streets is also a concern.

Village Planner Craig Failor said he and other village staff members will urge the village board to make funding a village-led Madison Street master plan a priority next year, as this year's budget and priorities have already been set.

Schiess has softened other development proposals, including a recent redesign of the Bank One project that pleased neighbors long upset over a project he could have built "by right," i.e. without village approval.

That leads at least one Madison neighbor to believe the initial proposals Schiess offers are products of negotiating tactics, rather than genuine proposals.

"Either they're disingenuous or they're stupid," said Weeks Ringle, a resident of the 600 block of South Carpenter Avenue. She said massive projects rile neighbors, and waste their time organizing and working on fighting proposals that later are changed.

Schiess said that all of his proposals are genuine, and that doing otherwise would be too costly and time-consuming. "It would be extremely Machiavellian for us to do that," he said, adding that new designs are new solutions reached through dialogue with a project's neighbors.


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