Especially over the last five years, we don't imagine it's been easy being the Village of Oak Park's development director. There's been a resurgence of economic growth downtown, most of which we find to be positive. Some of that, of course, has been driven by the private market. But perhaps more so than in other area communities, village government has been an extremely active player in development activities, especially downtown.
The village owns a great deal of property. It has issued RFPs and entered into negotiated agreements to develop critical publicly-owned parcels. The village board in recent years has made it a point of policy to ensure that development in Oak Park goes?#34;in theory?#34;the way the community wants it to.
This means the board has borne the brunt of public outrage over various projects and processes (and often on process they've deserved it).
Now-departing development director Mike Chen has also taken his fair share of bashing during his time at the village. During his term, he's landed a part in various community conspiracy theories. He's perhaps been shortchanged on credit for some successes, and over-blamed for some failures. After all, it's the village board that is supposed to be running the show.
However, with no disrespect to Chen, we would like to say that with every loss, there is an opportunity.
So, for the record here are some things we'd like to see happen with a new board, and a new, key staff member:
? The board needs to take greater ownership of publicly-initiated development projects. Too often, the development director has been the only village representative stuck at various community forums defending what is, in reality, supposed to be a board-backed project. Yes, he knows more than the board about parking counts and other routine specifics. But elected officials should be standing more publicly, and more frequently, behind their decisions along with staff.
? Village hall's development and planning departments should work more closely together. In fact, consideration should be given to merging them. Development and planning are two integral concepts. It seems that quite often, the village board has at best only vaguely connected its plans for the future with its immediate plans to build.
? We would also like to add briefly that the village would clearly benefit from a development director who has a deep understanding of and appreciation for historic preservation. Obviously, the village has a whole department and a citizen commission dedicated to the topic. But, more expertise on such a sensitive community issue wouldn't hurt.
ABA: As easy as ABC for D97
District 97 has quietly, and seemingly with little controversy, agreed to integrate Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) into its special education curriculum?#34;an interesting contrast to District 200, where this has become an unnecessarily contentious issue.
Yes, there's something to be said for the idea that educators and administrators know how to structure a curriculum better than parents who don't have the appropriate credentials. But it is also worthwhile?#34;even critical?#34;to make Special Ed parents partners in the process of educating their kids.
When it comes to ABA, it seems that Dist. 97 has done this effectively, and parents and school officials alike walked away happy.
Maybe it's time for the high school to look at how Dist. 97 pulled it off. It seems to further underscore that something is lacking in how Dist. 200 has handled this issue.
Bring back the sandwich sign
It appears there's strong sentiment at the village board table in favor of overturning Oak Park's ban on sandwich signs. We couldn't agree more. These signs, especially when tastefully decorated, can help bring an attractive, friendly, small-town feel to business districts. Of the village's many bans, overturning this one seems like a no-brainer.