Schiess drops Bank One project height, pleases neighbors

Regency Club now just over three stories, includes townhomes

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Architect John Schiess appeared to have overcome strong neighborhood opposition last week, after he presented substantial changes to his development proposal for the Bank One lot, including dropping the height of part of the mixed-use project to just over three stories.

The development, originally designed as two seven-story towers, still includes 84 units, but 28 are now townhomes, rather than condominiums. The retail space has also been scaled down to 2,000 square feet, and will be housed in an eight-story portion of the development set off from the Sanctuary that also includes parking and residential units. The building is now set to be constructed 20 feet away from the neighboring Sanctuary condominiums.

Last Wednesday's meeting followed a series of contentious meetings with the residents of the Sanctuary, which stands just east of the development site. Residents in the area were concerned about the number of units in the new building, the distance between the proposed project and the Sanctuary and whether the new building would fit in with the character of the neighborhood.

Although Schiess' original design was within all zoning requirements, he said it was important to him to listen to his neighbors' concerns before breaking ground.

"We think pretty highly about the kind of input they can bring to us," he said. "To get that kind of input from a neighborhood is invaluable."

At the meeting, Schiess explained his refined plans for the building, most of which will now be only a few feet higher than the three-story Sanctuary. The building will house 56 2,000-square-foot duplexes, 3,200-square-foot, townhomes as well as 200,000 square feet of retail space. The townhomes are expected to sell for $600,000-$650,000, and the condos will start at $550,000.

He has designed room for 122 parking spaces within the building. Forty-one of those spaces are for Bank One's use, five are for retail use and the rest are evenly distributed between the condominiums and townhomes, depending on whether they are a one or two bedroom residence. There are currently over 100 public parking spaces at the surface lot.

This design, Schiess explained, will allow him to recoup expenses more quickly in the long run because residents will be able to move into the townhomes as they are completed, rather than having to wait until the entire project is finished. Although it's too early to determine an end date for the project, Schiess estimated that townhomes could be completed by the fall of 2006.

The east property line of the Regency Club will now be 20 feet from the Sanctuary, providing more space than the originally proposed 15 feet. Schiess also said he plans to use masonry material on the facade of the building that complements the architecture in the area.

Schiess said he will use the bank's annex as a sales center and will design the annex to look like a full-scale model of one of the condominiums. Schiess is backed by developer Alex Troyanovsky.

Patti Schwab, president of the condo association, said she was pleased with the changes. "It's exactly what we thought would be appropriate for this location. We're really grateful to John Schiess for his creativity and his flexibility."

Donna Ogdon Chen, the executive director of the Downtown Oak Park Association, said she doesn't view the reduction in retail space as a loss.

"That is not our main strip as far as retail goes," she said. "I don't believe the reduction of retail space will be negative. The fact that he is adding some is good."

At the conclusion of the meeting, many neighbors expressed their approval of the plans. One woman called to Schiess, "Thanks for listening to your neighbors, John!"

Village manager Carl Swenson also reminded the group, "We had no legal ability to make them make these changes."

Revisions to the plan will, however, mean the project won't break ground this month, as previously planned. Schiess said that because of his willingness to cooperate with the village trustees, and to comply with the Sanctuary residents' concerns, the village is working to give him a quick re-approval process for a building permit.

"After this is built, the delay in time is not going to be perceived. The townhomes and duplexes are more in keeping with Marion Street and in 20 years, the neighbors will see the benefits of this process," he said.

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