It is perplexing why the Oak Park village board unanimously approved a major change in the Lake and Forest redevelopment agreement with Lake Street Investors (Sertus).
Most members on the board had issues with the new design. There were some on the board who also had questions and concerns with Lake Street Investors' experience and financial capabilities in completing the project. After all, Lake Street Investors has no experience in apartment, retail or parking developments.
Sertus did say that they have experience, but the only experience they offered up was their Everleigh project in Des Plaines. Never mind that the Everleigh project in Des Plaines fell into foreclosure and was only saved when a "secret investor" bought the delinquent mortgage from the bank. The "secret investor" saved Sertus from foreclosure, but he did not save Sertus from over 40 liens placed against the Des Plaines project by contractors, vendors, and private individuals, which includes a $3.5 million lien placed by Epstein.
The prevailing excuse offered up by the board as to why the project is being redesigned is because no one could foresee the poor real estate conditions. The board and Sertus repeatedly claimed at the time that the original project was completely feasible and investors were very interested in the project. They ignored the numerous claims from Oak Parkers that said the project was not feasible.
The board and Sertus did not accurately understand the economics of the project and as a consequence, the project failed. Fortunately, Oak Park only has an un-maintained vacant lot, and not another empty or partially completed building, to show for their ineptitude in Planned Unit Developments.
It is even more perplexing why the board wants this project when the property tax revenues would be negligible, as stated by Trustee [Collette] Lueck. There is no logical reason why the board should approve this project when the developer's only experience in these types of developments is a failed project in Des Plaines, and Oak Park is giving the land to the developer to build a skyscraper, which is a subsidy despite the board's claims to the contrary.
The proposed project will also significantly reduce surrounding property values. The surrounding property owners will successfully appeal their property taxes, like Sertus does on their projects, which will ultimately lower property tax revenue even more.
The board has said they must move forward with the Plan Unit Development with Sertus because Sertus is the property owner and Oak Park owns the adjacent garage, which happens to be in better condition than the Holley Court garage.
The board must stop looking at this project narrow-mindedly. One viable option, which should be considered and involves absolutely no additional risk to Oak Park taxpayers, is to let Sertus build without zoning variances or taxpayer subsidies.
There is no legitimate reason why Oak Park should continue to partner with such an inexperienced developer like Sertus.