By Anna Lothson
Oak Park village government staff and the village board made it clear Monday they want the proposed redevelopment plans for the Colt site and surrounding parcels in downtown Oak Park to be an expeditious process on an aggressive timeline.
In unanimously approving a "term sheet" developed by staff and developers, the board completed Step 2 of what was described as a four part development process. And the intention is to waste no time checking off Step 3, a detailed development agreement.
That document will determine how, when and what opportunity exists for the vacant Oak Park parcels that are slated to be turned into another downtown residential and retail mecca.
The Colt site, formally referred to as the Lake Street/Westgate/North Boulevard site, has been a project of the village's economic development team since 2008 with Clark Street Developers, the identified preferred developer. The nation's financial meltdown put a kink in the plans, but five years later Oak Park now has a formal document to guide the process along.
The village board approved at its meeting Monday the term sheet agreement, a non-binding document that lays out a broad overview of what the project will entail. The next step, negotiating a development agreement, is expected to finish up in early September, and the board expects to approve a redevelopment agreement shortly after.
"We are very sensitive to time," Village Manager Cara Pavlicek said. "We've made a real commitment to moving forward."
Approving a term sheet doesn't have any financial implications for the village as details could always change, but moving forward with the process was necessary to lay a positive foundation, Pavlicek said. One element that will help this project move along is the ability for the village to likely tap into the Downtown Tax Increment Financing (TIF) district previously settled with the schools to pay for site prep for redevelopment.
"This is a very positive thing for the village," Pavlicek said.
The village-owned Colt site development includes the 1133 Westgate property and the surrounding village-owned properties to the west, south and north of the Westgate parcel. The redevelopment will call for a more transit-oriented, pedestrian friendly, mixed-use development that will contain roughly 26,000 square feet of ground floor retail, 248 luxury rental apartments, a 325-350 car parking structure, construction of the new Station Street and other streetscape improvements.
The north side of the project will be six stories, the south side of the project will be 11 floors. Those heights fall within existing zoning allowed for the area. The project is also anticipated to earn a LEED (Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design) Silver designation.
A rough timeline for the project has the board approving the redevelopment agreement in September, the planned urban development application submitted shortly after and the permits for the project submitted and approved by spring 2014. This could mean construction will begin summer 2014 and finish before by the end of 2015.
The board has spent many meetings hashing through the details of this proposal, and this reflected in the amount of time necessary to provide comments. Instead the focus of the discussion centered on how the village should keep this project on track to "set a tone" for its future.
Loretta Daly, the village's business services manager, confirmed the timeline is aggressive and will take a significant amount of staff time, but reiterated staff is excited about the project. She also highlighted that this project has the potential to reconnect areas of downtown that are currently isolated because of vacant lots.
"I know it's an aggressive timeline. But we're an aggressive board," President Anan Abu-Taleb said. "This is a good development; it's good for the community. If we need to approach things in a more aggressive way then I'm all for it."
Abut-Taleb strongly asked that 1118 Westgate, another village owned property, be incorporated into the deal because its exclusion could create an orphan property "stuck in the middle of nowhere." But the developers said that property needs more study to see if and how it could be used.
The developers, represented by Andy Stein from Clark Street Development and a representative from Jupiter Reality, assured trustees the proposal aligns with the vision of Oak Park's downtown master plan.
Parking, like every development discussion, was a key issue Monday evening since those who currently park on the vacant village-owned parking lot will have to go elsewhere. Determining how the 350, or so, proposed parking spots, will be shared between shoppers, renters and employees is one item the board stressed needed to be evaluated.
Trustee Colette Lueck spoke about the Holley Court garage that she said is not utilized enough, either because people don't know about it or don't like it. Lueck herself doesn't park there, she said, and she thinks the village needs to have a discussion about the future of that garage before it determines downtown parking needs.
Conversations wrapped up with Abu-Taleb promising the Clark Street developers that it will work in partnership with the group to allow this process to move swiftly. Still, he stressed wanting more attention toward the abandoned parcel at 1118 Westgate that the current development proposal ignores.
"We will not slow you down," Abu-Taleb said. "We are excited."
Pavlicek and Abu-Taleb both spoke about the opportunities for citizen involvement, which will come through many public hearings, Pavlicek said. She also assured the board would be provided regular updates, which the developer also promised to make "readily available."
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