Albion faces Plan Commission questions, makes changes

Panel continues deliberation on controversial tower

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By Timothy Inklebarger

Staff Reporter

The Oak Park Plan Commission, in its fourth meeting to discuss a proposed residential tower downtown, questioned the developer and its detractors on topics such as parking, shade, aesthetics and the project's potential impact on a nearby public park.

It was the first meeting that primarily focused on commissioners' questions and concerns. 

They did, however, hear new testimony from Scott Stewart, director of Lurie Garden and former manager of the Oak Park Conservatory, who told the commission that the building's shade would have a negative impact on Austin Gardens, a public park to the north.

Stewart said Albion's study showing that shade from the 18-story apartment building would affect only about 11 trees in the park in the southeast corner of the park gave an incomplete picture on how the shade — and the reduced temperatures that shade would bring — would affect mature trees, soil and other plant life.

"It's analogous to you as a human," he explained. "As you age, because of changes within the human body, you become more susceptible to disease and damage. The analogy holds true for plant life as well."

Further study is required to get an accurate picture of the impact, Stewart said, noting that with the existing studies, it is impossible to tell whether the impact of shade and wind would be marginal or significant.

The commission also discussed the impact the shade would have on the Austin Gardens Environmental Center, a freestanding building in the park that runs completely on solar energy.

Tom Bassett-Dilley, the architect who designed the building, has said the shade from the Albion building would reduce the amount of solar time experienced by the environmental center by 9.4 percent annually.

William McKenna, an Albion attorney, questioned Bassett-Dilley's methodology in projecting the shade impact, noting that both Albion and Bassett-Dilley used the same 3D modeling program, SketchUp, and coordinates to determine the shade cast by the building. 

McKenna said he requested the details of the study by Bassett-Dilley from the Park District of Oak Park, which has opposed the development project, but was denied.

Commissioner Douglas Gilbert suggested that both Albion and Bassett-Dilley compare their studies and return to the next meeting with an explanation of the discrepancies; otherwise the commission would have to make a decision based conflicting reports.

Commissioners also questioned Albion's design, which includes 243 parking spaces for 265 units. Albion Vice President Andrew Yule said the reduced number of parking spots planned was in anticipation of millennials occupying the building who do not own cars. Yule said Albion believes fewer people will own their own vehicles in the future and will rely increasingly on car-share services like Lyft and Uber.

Yule said he and Albion have spent the last several months working to address the concerns of residents and village officials, noting that his planners have reduced the footprint of the building to make the ground level space more inviting with planters and other features.

Albion also adjusted the project to improve the so-called greenway between the 1000 Lake Street site where Albion would be built and the neighboring building to the east.

He said he's worked with Camille Wilson White, executive director of the Oak Park Area Arts Council, to help design a more inviting pathway between the two buildings that tells visitors "it's a public area for you to engage in."

Yule said Albion also would work with the ground level commercial tenant — likely a restaurant — to make sure no outdoor dining occurs on days when Festival Theatre is holding performances in the park. Opponents have argued that loud diners would disrupt the performance. 

The Plan Commission will hold its fifth meeting on the Albion proposal on Aug. 22, but it is uncertain whether it will come to a conclusion on a recommendation to the Oak Park Board of Trustees.

Once the commission makes its recommendation, the board of trustees will hold its own series of meetings on the proposed building and make a final decision.

* This story was corrected to note that Tom Bassett-Dilley projects that shade from the Albion building would reduce the amount of solar time at the environmental center by 9.4 percent annually.


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Adrian Ayres Fisher  

Posted: August 18th, 2017 11:52 AM

And, the changes they claimed to be willing to make, supposedly after months of consultation to address residents' concerns (!), of course had nothing to do with the real concern. Two separate conversations were going on. The reality-focused Park District, Tom, and others saying "look what damage the height will do," and the increasingly flim-flam-appearing Albion folks saying, "we'll add a little landscaping around the sides." What?

Tom Bassett-Dilley  

Posted: August 16th, 2017 2:57 PM

Diana, agreed, Michael Koss' Viewpoint is excellent! A few clarifications on this article: I did not say the array would lose 8-14% of power from Albion--that was a figure the Park District developed, having looked at my shade study and monitored results from the array since the building has been making power. What I demonstrated from my model and calculations is that the array will lose 9.4% solar time annually, but worse, it will lose 10.4% during the season we generate power. And just as importantly to the function of the Environmental Center, the Garden (SE corner of the park) loses a whopping 37.5% of sun time due to Albion. It would not be able to provide the learning garden opportunities for camp and public programming. So when you look at how the size of the building exceeds what our downtown master plan determined as a maximum height to maintain the character of downtown--a top priority in public comment--and you put that together with harm to Austin Gardens and the mission of the Environmental Center, this is clearly not in line with what Planned Development allows. Finally, there does not seem to be a discrepancy between Albion's model and my model; the shadows we created look like the shadows on Albion's Forestry study. But their solar consultant used a different software (not SketchUp) and came to conclusions that I couldn't believe were correct, which is why I prepared this study. Their methodology isn't explained in their 1-page report.

Leonard Grossman  

Posted: August 16th, 2017 2:12 PM

There is no way Albion can tinker with the design adequately unless the existing height and setback requirements are met. Oh, and by the way, although damage estimates were provided by the Park District a couple of weeks ago but weren't mentioned in this article, the should not be considered as a possible trade off or negotiating position.

Diana Ostreko from Oak Park  

Posted: August 16th, 2017 10:59 AM

Having read almost all of the articles and postings of Oak Parkers, both in favor and not of Albion, I as a nearby resident of the park, hope this building does not become a reality. After just finishing a Wednesday Journal viewpoint by Michael Koss, architect and long time resident, his suggestion is the best idea I've heard. "A once in a generation opportunity to imagine a civic use for this property." He goes on to suggest the excellent idea to build a world-class art museum. BRILLIANT! Please read his entire piece from August 9, 2017 WJ paper and also Robert Kleps and Lorraine Owles comments.

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