Early Holley Ct. garage expansion shot down

?DTOP says project needed for holiday rush parking

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At the end of a five-hour meeting Monday, the Oak Park village board voted 5-2 against fast-tracking an expansion of the Holley Court garage, a move that would have added more than 300 spaces to downtown's parking supply by the start of the holiday shopping season.

The decision came after most board members berated Whiteco Residential President Tim Connelly over the company's decision to bring in a new architect to work on its planned 14-story apartment and retail complex slated for the village-owned parcel at Harlem Avenue and Ontario Street. The garage expansion was included as a component of Whiteco's overall development.

Perkins & Will, a Chicago-based architecture firm, has already designed the garage addition that would have been built had trustees voted to approve the guaranteed maximum price of the project, which totaled over $7 million.

However, some trustees argued Monday that Perkins & Will's design for the structure may ultimately not end up fitting in with the project's final look, due to the switch in architecture firms. Even after hiring a new architect, Whiteco is required to build a project that is in "substantial conformity" with the design presented to and approved by the Plan Commission. The term legally applies specifically to massing, setbacks and building materials.

Some board members, however, said they needed to see more detailed plans for how the building's design will be integrated with that of the garage. Many were also critical of the architect switch, due in part to the fact that the original project design was spearheaded by an Oak Park resident.

"I'm greatly concerned by the change in architect. When I read the statement 'substantial conformity,' I have to wonder what that means," said Trustee Greg Marsey.

"I have a hard time believing that we're going to have a garage that matches the final building," said Trustee Elizabeth Brady. "When we entered into this agreement it was a partnership. That agreement took a chink when we got that letter [notifying the village that Whiteco has switched architects]."

Trustee Geoff Baker said he viewed the company's move as a "bait and switch," while Trustee Robert Milstein told Connelly, "you no longer have credibly with this trustee."

Board members?#34;and some public speakers?#34;also raised several general concerns with the project, ranging from affordable housing and design to the village's financial subsidy of the development.

Connelly, however, defended Whiteco's decision, saying the company had always viewed the project "in phases." He said hiring a new architect for the second phase proved more cost effective.

During public comment, the Downtown Oak Park business organization (DTOP) pleaded with the board to move ahead with the expansion. The surface lot behind Bank One, at Lake and Marion streets, has already been closed, as construction is expected to begin there in the coming months.

DTOP board president Mike Fox said businesses have been "receiving complaints daily" about the lot closing, and that additional parking supply is needed. "Using the architect issues to put this on hold will have a huge negative impact on downtown," Fox said.

Mike Chen, village director of development services, told the board that even without the expansion it's possible that the garage will have enough spaces to meet increased demand. "In the worst case, I think there's still capacity, but it's not the greatest thing," he said.

However, some trustees argued that the village and DTOP should find more "creative solutions" to parking problems downtown.

"I think we should look at discouraging cars and traffic," said Trustee Geoff Baker. "I feel like I've been hearing the mantra that we need more parking a lot. It's starting to sound like a small child saying 'please, please, please.'"

Baker added that, "Christmas, to me, is not about shopping."

A final vote was preceded by several parliamentary exercises, including question-calling, motions and amended motions. At one point, Baker, saying in a raised voice that Village President David Pope had refused to recognize him, departed briefly into a corner of the meeting room.

At the end of the meeting, Trustee Ray Johnson and Pope voted in favor of proceeding with the garage.

"The question is how we build trust in this community, not build cynicism," Johnson said. "It's not helpful to spend time revisiting these issues."

"Unless we're going to kill this project, I don't understand why anyone would vote no," Pope said. "The timeframe of the project does matter. It's going to be of significant concern not just to the retail community, but to the residential community as well."

On Tuesday morning, DTOP director Donna Ogdon-Chen said she was disappointed by the board's decision.

"We've heard them talk about how they care about small ma and pa businesses. That's rhetoric; we need to see action. We need parking. Period," she said, adding, "I was very offended by the rude behavior by some of the trustees. I was offended my board president was mocked and ridiculed by elected trustees."

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