Madison neighbors say Schiess still not listening

Latest proposals don't allay their concerns

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A select group of neighbors of a proposed 827 Madison St. development met with architect John Schiess last week to hear revised proposals for how land on the trafficked corridor could be rebuilt.

Neighbors had been upset by an earlier proposal from Oak Park Development Group, which Schiess represents, to build a 6-story, 80-unit mixed-use retail and condo building on the site.

Although attendees said last Tuesday night's meeting was cordial and the architect patiently answered all questions, the proposals Schiess presented did little to quiet neighbors' concerns.

"John Schiess has not yet created a plan that would help renew Madison in [my] opinion," Lisa Z. Sigel wrote in an e-mail message to Wednesday Journal. "Neither of these plans have responded to neighbors' concerns about traffic, density, height, safety, architecture, or green space."

Sigel, of the 600 block of South Grove Avenue, is a member of the coordinating committee for the neighborhood group Neighbors for Madison Renewal, but said she could only speak for herself, as other residents won't see Schiess' proposals until an Aug. 2 meeting.

Schiess said what he presented Tuesday night was too preliminary to release renderings of. Neighbors at the meeting said he presented a scaled-back version of an earlier proposal?#34;a 6-story building resting on just one of the two properties originally included in the project?#34;and that he presented two other plans for the south and north sides of Madison going west from Oak Park Avenue.

One of the alternatives for the south side of Madison included a 6-story mixed-use building and a row of townhouses, neighbors said.

In a message to neighbors about the meeting, Linda Hill, of the 500 block of South Grove Avenue, writes that Schiess "gave an overview of ideas for a Master Plan" on the corridor, something neighbors have asked for.

Neighbors said Schiess discussed the possibility of adding the Bank One property on the northwest corner of Oak Park Avenue and Madison, but a representative for Alex Troyanovsky, the investor behind Oak Park Development Group, did not return phone calls seeking confirmation.

Although neighbors of the Madison proposed development have identified increased traffic on side streets as a major concern, they're also asking for more of something that is commonly regarded as a traffic-attracter: retail.

"It would be fair to say that the group was disappointed that Mr. Schiess focused primarily on residential housing and presented very few ideas for retail," Hill wrote.

Ted Despotes, another member of the coordinating committee present at the meeting, said the proposals did "nothing to advance retail and commercial on Madison." Despotes lives on the 500 block of South Oak Park Avenue.

"Why wouldn't we want the convenience to have more and better shopping on Madison Street?" Despotes said. "The critical piece to this is ... it has to have retail space, and it has to bring people there. If you can't get people there, you have no chance."

Despotes said retail would mean more traffic on side streets "only if it's badly designed." He pointed to the Taxman Corp. development on Madison in Forest Park as a good example of the retail not attracting drivers down side streets. The Forest Park building lacks visible parking, other than on-street spaces, he said.

"For good retail in today's society, you have to have good parking that's obvious and convenient," Despotes said.

The select group of neighbors at the Schiess meeting will relay the architect's plans and comments to all interested residents at a meeting planned for Aug. 2 at Fox Center. Those at the meeting made it clear that their opinions might not be shared by the neighborhood at large.

Once input has been gathered by the group, they will meet with Schiess again. Schiess expected that meeting to happen within a couple of weeks. He said he preferred meeting with a select group.

Schiess said he noticed a difference in neighbors at last week's meeting?#34;they were more relaxed and their minds more open than when he'd met with Madison neighbors before. He said working together will result in a better project.

"My personality works better with groups like that," Schiess said. "That, along with [neighbors'] genuine interest in making a positive impact on Madison is going to [result in] something really nice."

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