In close vote, Plan Commission rejects Albion

Final decision falls to village board

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By Thomas Vogel

Staff Reporter

The Oak Park Plan Commission turned down the Albion high rise application in a split vote at its Aug. 29 meeting. The proposal, for an 18-story high rise apartment building at the corner of Lake Street and Forest Avenue, will now go to the full Oak Park village board for a final vote.

The plan commission vote, a 5-4 split, is the latest development in the months-long process for the controversial 265-unit proposal. The plan also included a few hundred parking spaces and 9,500 square feet of commercial space on the first floor. The commission's decision is only a recommendation; the village board could still decide to move forward with the project. It is expected that the issue will go to the village board in September.

This was the commission's sixth meeting on the development. As at those previous meetings, the proposal has attracted opposition from some residents and commissioners concerned about the building's impact on Austin Gardens, which sits just north of the site, and its design, which some, including a few commission members, said did not mesh well with the neighborhood.

"We're disappointed in the Plan Commission's vote, but we continue to believe our project is the best use for the site and will move Oak Park forward," Andrew Yule, vice president of development at Albion Residential wrote in a statement to Wednesday Journal. "We appreciated the opportunity to present facts and data during several Plan Commission meetings as well as a public process to respond in good faith to concerns and suggestions."

Yule added Albion's proposed development had the support of "the Economic Development Corporation, the Business and Civic Council, Downtown Oak Park and other business districts, business owners, residents, and neighbors."

Yule, at the Aug. 29 meeting, stressed Albion has worked well and kept open communication with village staff, and pointed to the recently opened Vantage building as evidence that there is demand for new housing in "transit-oriented" places like Oak Park.

"We have not asked for a single TIF [Tax Incremental Financing District], tax abatement or any type of financial assistance to make this project possible," Yule said.

Mark Burkland, attorney for the Park District of Oak Park, voiced his opposition to the development, mentioning the shade study conducted by Albion.

"The shade study does not include even the basic scientific study," Burkland said. "No analysis of plant ages, other than a visual review of 11 trees [in Austin Gardens]."

There were other issues voiced, too.

 Commissioner Lawrence Brozek, at the Aug. 29 meeting, asked if some of the building's amenities, like its fitness room, as well as mechanical and electrical components and parking spaces, could be moved to the basement, in an effort to reduce the height of the building.

Commissioner Chair David Mann also suggested reducing the building's height by four stories.

"Once again, it is rentable square footage; could you make those units smaller and bring it in a little bit? You could," said Albion President Jason Koehn, at the meeting, in response to that suggestion. "But it's going to be a smaller unit and size is the primary determination of how much rent we can charge for each unit." 

Koehn added that the building hasn't "gotten any less expensive during the process" adding Albion couldn't lose any more of the rentable space from the existing proposal.

 "I'm generally supportive of the project," Commissioner Paul May said. "I do think it's important that any potential impacts to the park district, that there would be an instrument in place to resolve those but aside from that I am supportive."

"Based on all that I've heard and seen here, I appreciate the design," Mann said. "I think it's gotten a lot better. I just think this is in the wrong place."

Commissioners Douglas Gilbert, David Mann, Greg Marsey, Jeremy Burton and JoBeth Halpin voted against the proposal. Commissioners Glenn Brewer, Paul May, Kristin Nordman and Lawrence Brozek voted in favor.

 

Reader Comments

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Tom MacMillan from Oak Park  

Posted: August 31st, 2017 9:13 PM

Enjoy the derelict empty building everyone. Its going to be there for a long long time.

Alice Wellington  

Posted: August 31st, 2017 4:26 PM

Martin A. Berg - as a developer, how would you make this building profitable within the current 8 story high zoning? Are $700K condos like in the District House the only way?

Ken Stucken  

Posted: August 31st, 2017 3:48 PM

If Dwyer was actually from Oak Park.... fixed it for you!

Ken Stucken  

Posted: August 31st, 2017 1:55 PM

You can never have enough dog parks Hemline.

Mike Hanline  

Posted: August 31st, 2017 1:09 PM

Sorry, Bill. Ken can't reply right now--it's only 2:10am in Perth.

Kline Maureen  

Posted: August 31st, 2017 12:22 PM

To those arguing in favor of building Albion because it will lead to a more vibrant downtown, there are plenty of examples of high density in neighborhoods and communities that are totally lacking in any vibrancy or sense of community. It takes much more than just shoving a large number of people into apartment buildings in a tight location to give a neighborhood a feeling of vibrancy.

Bill Dwyer  

Posted: August 31st, 2017 11:34 AM

If Stucken was actually from Oak Park, as opposed to, oh, I don't know, Australia?, he'd know there's already a dog park just five blocks away on Lake Street at Ridgeland Commons.

Peggy Stewart Wilson  

Posted: August 31st, 2017 11:29 AM

Needs & Wants So many do not want it built then why does OP REALLY need it now and in that particular location!

Brian Chang  

Posted: August 31st, 2017 11:00 AM

@Jim Schwartz: The higher-income people are coming to Oak Park already. Its a testament to how desirable the community has become. If they don't move into Vantage or the Emerson, they will be outbidding other potential residents for older, existing housing.

Ken Stucken  

Posted: August 31st, 2017 10:15 AM

This would be a good place for a dog park, or maybe homeless shelter.

Martin A. Berg from Oak Park  

Posted: August 31st, 2017 9:59 AM

Having worked in neighborhood commercial and residential development for 35 years, I think Commissioner Mann hit it on the head that this project "is in the wrong place." It's too high and Lake Street is getting much too dense, particularly for such a narrow street. And I'm getting weary of the developer mentality that such projects be built because we CAN, instead of asking whether we SHOULD.

Jim Schwartz from Oak Park  

Posted: August 31st, 2017 8:45 AM

There are already three new high-rise luxury buildings that will affect the affordability of housing in downtown Oak Park -- Vantage with 270 apartments, Oak Park Station with 271 apartments, and the site at South Blvd. and Harlem with 250 apartments. An average Oak Park resident can not afford to live in these buildings, and Albion will be the same. Our Village has held itself up as a model of inclusiveness for people of all income levels, races, and backgrounds (although admittedly an imperfect model). How many luxury buildings do we need to add before we permanently change the Village's character? I hope that the Board of Trustees follows the lead of the Plan Commission and votes no on Albion.

Elizabeth Winans from Oak park  

Posted: August 31st, 2017 8:10 AM

How about putting the proposed Community Center at that location? It will bring more people to the downtown area, access and views of Austin Gardens, stays in the zoning height requirement, and it's not too far from the high school campus for the swimmers. Solves all our problems...

Charlie Meyerson  

Posted: August 30th, 2017 10:04 PM

If one high-rise can dispel "what makes Oak Park a special village," we're in deeper trouble than I thought.

Kiersten DeBrower from Kmissy@yahoo.com  

Posted: August 30th, 2017 9:58 PM

I don't know a single Oak Park citizen that's not on the planning commission or a village trustee that supports Albion. It'll cause a wind tunnel and kill half of Austin Gardens. What happened to protecting our green spaces? When did it become acceptable to kill a park for a building that Oak Parkers don't want or need? Listen to your constituents. No to Albion.

Dot Lambshead Roche from Oak Park  

Posted: August 30th, 2017 9:52 PM

No to Albion - do build a new one in accordance with current zoning for that spot.

Marty Bernstein  

Posted: August 30th, 2017 9:49 PM

and the proposed Albion building.

Judy Humowiecki from Oak Park   

Posted: August 30th, 2017 9:42 PM

The comments made by previous writers have expressed very well a number of convincing arguments for why the Albion building is undesirable. I am concerned that "development" voices have become so loud that the Village Board may not hear the strong Community opinion that this is not the right building or use for this site. By the time the mayor Is out of office, we will have lost what makes Oak Park a special village: listening to the voices of its citizens and making decisions accordingly. Meanwhile we will have a building that doesn't work for the space but will be around for years. Unmanageable traffic on Lake and on Harlem? You bet!

Marty Bernstein  

Posted: August 30th, 2017 9:41 PM

Another issue is delivery vehicles for both Vantage a

Sally Noble from Oak Park  

Posted: August 30th, 2017 8:17 PM

I am not opposed to a new building there--just not another high rise in an area that is rapidly getting way too congested. I also would like to preserve the calm beauty of Austin Garden. A building more suited to the quickly disappearing ambiance of Oak Park will be fine. Don't forget that we also have the foundation of another high rise on Harlem and South. I personally think that all of this building is destroying any sense that we are a "village"--at least in this corner of Oak Park. We may cheer at the additional tax dollars and consumer business, but I don't think we really have a feeling yet for how so many new residents will affect the car and pedestrian traffic, especially since the roads are laid out in rather awkward configurations in these blocks.

Maribeth Dunkley from oak park   

Posted: August 30th, 2017 7:40 PM

I fervently hope the Oak Park Village Board follows the Plan Commission vote and denies Albions request. I live at 930 Ontario and feel another high rise on across from the Vantage building will not only add to the wind tunnel on Forest but will harm the park. Visually this combination is not an asset to that part of Oak Park.

Sarge Kins from Oak Park  

Posted: August 30th, 2017 7:19 PM

You know that the Village Board is going to approve it despite the Park District and citizens objections. They don't care that we don't want that monstrosity built. With Abu-Taleb as the head cheer leader, it's going to be built. He's turning into Oak Park's version of trump. So though I appreciate the Oak Park Plan Commission in voting it down, it was futile. Whatever Abu-Taleb wants, Abu-Taleb gets. He is determined to make Oak Park into Chicago and to destroy the quaintness of our Village. What a shame.

Theresa Guarino Lipo  

Posted: August 30th, 2017 6:32 PM

@Bob Larson. An over used red herring. No opponents to this want to see that building saved. I'm in favor of developing the site as are most opponents. Just not at 10 stories above our existing zoning!!

Bruce Hodes  

Posted: August 30th, 2017 6:31 PM

Thank god. Great decision thank you

Galen Garapolo from Oak Park  

Posted: August 30th, 2017 6:05 PM

My congratulations to the Plan Commissioners for making a thorough analysis of the Albion proposal. A lot of pressure was mounted from one sided sources that only saw "development" not quality. I voiced my opinion that this proposal was not in keeping with the Comprehensive Plan and was a mediocre architectural attempt at best. Louis J. Garapolo, FAIA.

Bob Larson  

Posted: August 30th, 2017 6:03 PM

Thank God we saved that empty, ugly white building that no one wants to buy or rent!

Bob Larson  

Posted: August 30th, 2017 6:02 PM

T

Susan M. Bending-Wienke Roberts  

Posted: August 30th, 2017 5:40 PM

A thank you to the plan commission for the many long hours they put in to make this informed decision.

Leonard Grossman  

Posted: August 30th, 2017 5:37 PM

The article refers to opposition by "some residents" which is accurate but I think understates the amount and intensity of the opposition. Further, objections include traffic increases, population density, burden to village infrastructure and other factors in addition to those mentioned. The commissioners are to be commended for their hard work and ultimately wise decision. It is hoped that the trustees will follow suit.

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