OP village to fast-track Madison St. planning

?Plan, now a top priority, will be done by March

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By DREW CARTER

Oak Park trustees set in motion Thursday a process that will produce by March a master plan for development on the entire Madison Street corridor, from Austin Boulevard to Harlem Avenue.

At a study session Thursday night, the board directed village staff to create a Request for Qualifications (RFQ): a call to planning companies to throw their names into a hat to produce the Madison Street plan.

Village planner Craig Failor said this week that he hoped to have an RFQ to the board by late August, and that the citizen involvement portion of the process could begin in October. He said the Crandall Arambula downtown plan was completed in a similar timeframe.

Failor said the plan could cost anywhere from $50,000 to $150,000, and that he expected some of the costs to be borne by the Madison Tax Increment Financing (TIF) fund. TIFs divert a portion of property taxes to a fund that may be used to give developers incentives, improve infrastructure, or purchase land within the TIF district.

Trustee Robert Milstein said Monday getting a plan for Madison has become a top priority for the board, which has four new members since the April elections. Village staff members have said Madison has long been a priority for them, but that previous boards have had different priorities.

"We've ignored parts of Oak Park for a long period of time and that is wrong," Milstein said. "You can't just funnel all your money into one business district."

He said the recent election showed voters were calling for change.

"Well guess what? They have our attention," he said.

Lisa Z. Sigel, of the 600 block of South Grove Avenue, cheered the move to get a plan. She's a member of Neighbors for Madison Renewal, a group working to make Madison Street development proposals better in the eyes of residential neighbors, and has called for holistic development on the corridor.

"I think it's great to have a master plan. I think it's long overdue," Sigel said. "That's great news and I credit the neighborhood with being loud, friendly and determined."

On its website, the neighborhood group encourages interested people to consider the possibility of a moratorium on development for Madison. The online message cites a 120-day term. Village attorney Ray Heise said there are no legal limits on development moratoria, and that other communities have used the tool for various reasons.

Milstein said he has supported the idea of development moratoria since his election more than two years ago.

"The 'M' word was the equivalent of a four-letter word, yet ironically it's come back to the table again," he said.

"I think it's possible to see development?#34;whether it's rehab or new construction?#34;that is still responsive to some of those developers' needs and fits within zoning code without having to bring all [development] and all interest in the area to a screeching halt," said Village President David Pope.

Pope and Milstein agree that a moratorium will not likely be needed on Madison. They said any development proposals for Madison that appear before the master plan is unveiled will need to either meet zoning restrictions or go through the Planned Development process, where the village board can ensure the community's wishes are reflected in a building's design.

The new interest in Madison has, at least in part, been prompted by the Oak Park Development Group's interests in the corridor. Architect John Schiess, who represents the company's projects in public hearings, has said the company has considered developing both sides of Madison west of Oak Park Avenue.

One project for 827 Madison St., awaits meetings with neighbors to work out details of the project.

The previous village board looked to tackle two business district plans a year. This year, North Avenue was up. But because the village has fast-tracked the Madison plan, it will mean work on other plans will slow down, Failor said.

CONTACT: dcarter@wjinc.com

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