By Dan Haley
The word of the night was "aggressive."
The Oak Park village board convened Monday evening – that would be July 22, remember, the date -- to consider and then quickly OK a draft of what staff called a "term sheet" and others might call "bullet points" that will form the basis for negotiations with a developer chosen to build on the Colt site in Downtown Oak Park.
Those negotiations are intended to wrap up by early September when staff said it aimed to be ready to present the board with a redevelopment agreement to be discussed and hopefully approved. Early September is five or six weeks away and the village board is planning to shut down for most of August. In the annals of Oak Park development history it has taken village board's more than six weeks to recommend the texture of bricks, the cladding on windows, the pitch of a roof line in the mostly pedestrian developments they have controlled. That there could be a deal to be signed in six weeks is mind-boggling, and I mean that in a good way.
"We are an aggressive board right now," said Anan Abu-Taleb, the village president. Trustee Bob Tucker echoed that. Trustee Adam Salzman said he was aggressive too, but a little scared by the speed. And Trustee Peter Barber, the newest member, seems built for speed on all issues. Perhaps most notable, village staff joined in the mutual aggression pact. "This is an aggressive timeline. And we look forward to that," said Loretta Daly, head of business services. And her head hardly spun around at all.
But while the village president told the two suits presenting the development that the board was out to prove to developers that "we are business friendly," that the board sought "a true partnership," and that "we will not slow you down," Abu-Taleb also laid out some markers. He made clear that the developer's intention to leave a village owned building on Westgate entirely out of the project was not going to fly. Along with other trustees he raised concerns about the limited amount of parking proposed for the project. And he forewarned the developers that public hearings would come and that Oak Park's "engaged citizens would turn out. They will make comments that will make the project better." That's a piece of wisdom I wasn't sure that Abu-Taleb had learned. His job is to keep the process from swamping the project.
Parking is going to be the rub here. And the discussion Monday was fascinating and candid. The developer, not completely implausibly, is saying that the 248 apartments on the site will be rented largely by mass transit and bike oriented tenants. It is, after all, 40 feet from the Metra and CTA Green Line. But with 200 surface parking spaces about to go bye-bye, 26,000 square feet of retail about to be added, and 248 new rentals sitting upstairs, the proposed 350 "shared" parking spaces in the proposal is going to have to go up.
Trustee Colette Lueck, who always gets points for candor, raised the essential point about Downtown parking though. The village's 1,200 space Holley Court parking garage always sits half empty. So, she asked, does the area have a parking shortage, or does it have a massive, hard-to-find, hard-to-navigate parking garage that the public refuses to use?
"Is Holley Court a mistake that people will never use or do you force people into Holley Court and hope it works?" Lueck said, and then added, "I never park in Holley Court. I don't like that garage."
So, aggressive timeline in place, but as always, the debate on parking will need to be had.