'Superblock' planning process flawed

Opinion

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Knock. Knock. Who's there? This is no joke. Apparently nobody! Or so it seems at the hearings at the Oak Park Public Library on the downtown "superblock" on Tuesday nights.

These hearings, a third of which are now over, but will continue for the next two months, will determine future redevelopment of downtown Oak Park. Not any real representation of resident Oak Parkers are in attendance.

If you look at the attendance list, you would find developers, their attorneys, architects, other downtown property owners, and past village officials representing certain growth and development philosophies and policies previously instituted which have continued momentum and can still be implemented today. Property owners stand to benefit from sales and redevelopment and former officials seem invested in seeing their past decisions honored and respected as having continued credibility.

Also in attendance are local political party representatives from both sides. But understandably, given the extraordinary time commitment involved, there are very few private citizens attending these meetings and what has been accomplished in this one month's series of meetings is a mystery.

August 16, without any prior discussion or statement of purpose, a curious survey was circulated to this clique in attendance.

No plan for the area has been presented yet in a month's worth of meetings.

In the beginning, the suggestion was made that an outside professional urban planner be used to facilitate these meetings but it was not adopted. I had no opinion on this until after I attended three poorly organized, poorly focused meetings, with fluctuating agendas. No question, there needed to be some kind of objective professional facilitator.

Do you know what a put-call is? Do you know what the Crandall Arambula Plan, which calls for the demolition of 22 buildings in downtown Oak Park, is?

Do you know what is being referred to when the designation "superblock" is used? Do you know what a TIF is? Do you know why the village thought it necessary to buy property in downtown Oak Park and what the plan was in doing so?

There is no shame in not knowing the answers to these questions, and they were not spelled out well or at all as background for discussion at these meetings.

There were no qualified consultants in attendance to answer questions, no planner, no retail expert, no traffic consultant.

The put-call was explained, not by village staff, but by Tim Hague who was a representative of Taxman Corporation. At one meeting, Village President David Pope, took the floor and said he was speaking as "citizen David."

The Steering Committee found it necessary to tell attendees how to behave at these meetings by handing out sheets with a "Code of Conduct" directing attendees, among other things to "be agreeable," giving participants the feeling they have just arrived in Pleasantville, or Stepford.

There seemed to be several competing and colliding schools of thought on the future of downtown, some extreme. The idea is peddled that residents will never accept any change. This before any options have been discussed or presented.

One woman got up and said that she would like to see the entire downtown leveled. It would be interested to see how this would be fused with that primary desire of Oak Parkers polled by Crandall Arambula who expressed a desire to "keep that small town feel in downtown Oak Park."

There seems to be a mindset if we just keep throwing money at downtown Oak Park and try one thing after another, it will someday magically have the vitality we would all like to see.

Mike Fox said publicly that Fox & Associates is in a position to allow storefronts and/or offices to be vacant for a time. He did not seem to realize that this way of operating both contributes to the appearance of blight and, at the same time, an agenda that buildings should be razed and redeveloped.

No one seems to be minding our store, though. Seven years ago, Taxman was given millions in subsidy to construct The Gap and TGI Fridays. Under discussion now is whether to tear those structures down and build newer, taller structures even though those businesses are doing fine.

What kind of taxpayer subsidy would be expected now and is it wise or necessary to tear down perfectly good buildings?

To paraphrase a well-known quote?#34;all that has to happen for special interests to dictate and control public policy is for good citizens to absolve themselves of any responsibility to participate in government.

It feels certain to me now that there is some predetermined, undisclosed agenda and outcome. The outcome will be determined by the people with a vested interest who will be the last ones standing, highly motivated to endure these poorly organized, poorly conducted exhausting meetings.

Christine Vernon
Oak Park

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