Aside from the fact that debate over fast-tracking the expansion of the Holley Court parking garage certainly wasn't deserving of a full five hours of meeting time, we find both the discussion and outcome of last week's village board meeting on the matter over-dramatized and disappointing.
First, we somewhat understand the board's concern over Whiteco's switch in architects. We don't doubt that the embattled developer's original decision to hire and tout an all-Oak Park team was at least in part a public relations maneuver.
But the outrage over the change seemed more than a little overblown, and on occasion unnecessarily hostile. (Some board actions, such as inexplicably refusing to split agenda items and storming away from the meeting, were even downright childish.)
The design of the project, as presented to the Plan Commission, is still going to be what's built. It seems highly unlikely that any qualified architect couldn't make the front of a parking garage (not known for their beauty to begin with) fit in with an adjacent building that's already designed.
Second, there are plenty of worthwhile debates to have over the future character and development of Downtown Oak Park. But as far as we're concerned, one that's clearly not worth having is whether downtown needs more parking. That's a given.
Convenient surface lot and street parking are already sparse. The closure of the Bank One lot is going to exacerbate the already irritating experience of circling cramped streets hunting for a space during peak shopping times.
Expanding the Holley Court garage seemed, to us, a relatively painless way of helping ease the parking crunch in time for the holiday season. As we've said before, the Holley Court garage isn't magical, and can't hold every car that pulls into downtown. The village does need to build a new garage elsewhere. However, the expansion seemed an obvious win-win, if temporary, band aid for a clear and present problem.
And regarding Trustee Geoff Baker's sentiments on the holidays not really being about shopping: The fact is that shopping?#34;-and driving to stores?#34;-is currently a big part of the holiday experience, and that's not going to change by November.
We have no doubt that downtown businesses will do their best to help keep parking as painless as possible in the coming months.
But we find it puzzling that this decision suddenly has become so needlessly complicated.
Time to move beyond Whiteco
Beyond the specific issue of the garage, we're also a bit concerned that the board may consider wasting a lot of energy trying to finagle its way out of the redevelopment agreement with Whiteco.
We agree to some extent with Bob Milstein that one of the reasons the New Leadership trustees were elected was due, in part, to disgruntlement over Whiteco?#34;especially the process that gave birth to the project. On the other hand, if that were completely true, we would have seen a Village Citizens Alliance sweep two years ago.
Politics aside, we think it's simply bad policy for new boards to waste time trying to un-do the work of previous boards who were also, at some point, elected. We're quite sure that even if it's possible to back out of this one, it's not going to be remotely easy?#34;and could well be extremely costly.
The village board has plenty on its plate that warrants immediate attention.