Albion needs super-majority vote

Decision unlikely to reach Oak Park Village Board until October

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By THOMAS VOGEL and DAN HALEY

Staff Reporter and Publisher

With a narrow Oak Park Plan Commission vote last week, the future, if any, of the Albion high-rise proposal for downtown Oak Park now likely rests with the full Oak Park Village Board. 

By a 5-4 margin, the Plan Commission, at its Aug. 29 meeting, denied the Albion proposal for Lake Street at Forest Avenue. This week, the commission is expected to meet to put its vote into writing, in the form of recommendations that will be forwarded to the village board for final action. Under state and local law, it will take a super-majority 5-2 vote by the village board to override the commission's recommendation.

Cara Pavlicek, Oak Park village manager, said on Sept. 1 that the Plan Commission recommendation will likely reach the village board agenda in October. She said the commission will need time to put its recommendation in writing, and the village board will need time to study it as well as the initial 500-plus page Albion development application. That, she believes, pushes the board debate into next month.

Pavlicek said the village board has 60 days to consider any recommendation from the Plan Commission.

The narrow rejection of the $80 million, 18-story apartment and retail project puts each village trustee and Mayor Anan Abu-Taleb on the spot in ultimately declaring their vote. The three trustees elected in April — Deno Andrews, Simone Boutet and Dan Moroney — each campaigned in part against the Albion proposal. But in separate interviews, Sept. 1, each said they were withholding judgment until they had read and considered the Plan Commission recommendation.

"It's no mystery what I thought of the proposal," said Andrews, "but nothing is a slam dunk for me. The project has changed since I ran. And I wear a different hat now. I have to consider all the facts."

Moroney expressed surprise at the commission vote, saying he has watched most of the six commission meetings on cable TV. He made plain that the building currently on the northwest corner of Lake and Forest, a vacant two-story retail building, is "an atrocious gateway to the Wright district and downtown Oak Park. It is completely inadequate." Moroney also was critical of Albion detractors, some of whom have suggested the site be turned into a public park.

He said he wants to explore what might be in the middle between Albion's 18 stories and a park, noting that John Lynch, executive director of the Oak Park Economic Development Corporation, has told him it is either Albion or nothing. "I'm curious if that is a true claim. A lot of my vote will depend on that. No development will ever be perfect."

Moroney, like trustees Andrews and Boutet, said he has been swamped with anti-Albion emails from residents. "I said in the campaign that it is easy to identify a problem, harder to identify the solution and even harder to get from Point A to Point B. I've had hundreds and hundreds of emails telling us to vote no. But none have suggested how to get from Point A to Point B. That is a major flaw of the 'No' campaign."

Boutet said she would wait to see the Plan Commission recommendation. "I have a duty to read what they say," she said, noting both the number of people opposed to the project as well as the close vote at the commission.

Abu-Taleb, interviewed Sept. 4, praised the Plan Commission. 

"The work they did, the questions, weighing the benefits and all the stakeholders," he said, they have served the village well. I'm really grateful for their work."

Abu-Taleb, a strong proponent of the Albion project and economic development in Oak Park generally, called this "an ongoing process with the decision at the village board. I feel obligated, if the process is going to have integrity, to reserve my comments until it comes to the board. The village board has to have our own debate."

But he reiterated his arguments that economic development is critical to the village's vitality and to allow some chance to mitigate rising taxes. 

The Aug. 29 meeting marked the sixth time the commission has met to discuss the Albion development. Again, as at those previous meetings, the proposal 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, pointed to the recently opened Vantage building as evidence that there is demand for new housing in "transit-oriented" places like Oak Park and said Albion has not asked for any financial assistance from the village. 

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

There were other issues voiced, too. 

Plan 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. 

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

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

 "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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Comment Policy

Leonard Grossman  

Posted: September 13th, 2017 8:56 PM

.State law does not require a super majority. That is why clarification of language applicable to Planned Developments was necessary. At the time this article was published that requirement was in question.

Jim Coughlin  

Posted: September 11th, 2017 3:15 AM

Abu-Taleb's dismissive attitude and boorish behavior towards Trustee Boutet has not gone unnoticed by her fellow board members. It has been reported that some have expressed their concerns to him privately. There have also been several instances when a couple of trustees have chided Abu-Taleb publicly for attempting to limit Boutet's active participation in board proceedings. Boards don't always "play nice together" but what we are witnessing at meetings in totally unacceptable. Knock it off!

Bruce Kline  

Posted: September 7th, 2017 8:41 PM

I wholeheartedly agree with you Mr. Grossman, particularly in your praise of Trustee Boutet. Trustee Boutet has taken her fiduciary responsibilities seriously, and the temptation to be part of the "family" - as the Mayor referred to the Board as a "family" - has not dissuaded her from her primary obligation to the larger "family" she serves: the citizens of Oak Park. On the other hand I get the impression that Trustees Moroney and Andrews have been captivated by the Mayor's siren song of obligation to family... namely obligation to the other trustees rather than obligation to the citizens who elected them. Very sad indeed.

Leonard Grossman  

Posted: September 7th, 2017 6:46 PM

The outburst of petulance by the President who Would be Mayor at the mid point of the meeting was shameful. On the other hand, kudos to Trustee Boutet for her clarity of thinking, her sharp and discerning analysis, and for standIng up under the brutal fire of TPWBM.. We need more public servants like her.

Jim Coughlin  

Posted: September 6th, 2017 10:57 PM

Abu-Taleb is so very tired! Anyone who has witnessed Village Board proceedings is familiar with the Village President's incessant whining about how exhausted he is and why public comment and trustee discussion at the Village board meetings needs to be limited. He rarely encourages citizens and any of the trustees to expand on a concern, share vital information or offer an opinion. Agenda items are routinely rushed to a vote just to accommodate the demands of Abu-Taleb so that he adjourn before 10pm. The community should not expect a substantive airing of the pros and cons on the merits of the proposed tower. That is going to take far too much time for our sleep deprived board president

Jim Coughlin  

Posted: September 6th, 2017 12:00 AM

Abu-Taleb didn't withhold comment about the tower when he said anyone who opposes the project "is not in their right mind". The Village President booted a potential "No" vote off the Plan Commission and replaced him with a lackey he knew would not offer any opposition, so it's hard to believe that he's interested in any debate. Moroney and Andrews need to stand firm and honor their promise to voters.

Bruce Kline  

Posted: September 5th, 2017 11:09 PM

Tonite (9/5) the Village Board reiterated that a supermajority of trustees is needed to over ride a Plan Commission negative vote. Kudos to Trustee Boutet who identified the misleading, confusing, obfuscating language in the PUD ordinance suggesting otherwise. Now we arrive at the height of irony. Trustee Andrews and Moroney are making noises to suggest they might consider walking back on their campaign promises - a sort of a political regression to the mean - by suggesting that they may consider a vote in favor of the Albion project. Why? Because "no" is always by definition bad and doing something is better than doing nothing.I would like to suggest to Trustee Andrews and Moroney a medical axion - related to therapy - that might be relevant to Oak Park development in regard to Albion: "first do no harm." I urge all the trustees to consider this as they decide how to vote.

David Gulbransen  

Posted: September 5th, 2017 10:02 PM

I would also hope, and urge, the Board not to discount the vote of the Plan Commission. It is the result of study and input from the citizens of Oak Park, the *majority* of whom clearly oppose this development. I don't think any of us could put it better than David Mann when he said, "I just think this is in the wrong place." We can look to other developments on the plot in question--which respect the architectural heritage of our Village and our parks. It's the wrong building *for that space* at this time, and the vote of the Commission reflects that--I hope that the vote of the Board does as well.

David Gulbransen  

Posted: September 5th, 2017 9:59 PM

The comments by Moroney and Andrews are actually pretty disturbing. I mean, Moroney *really* thinks it may be true that it's Albion or *nothing*??? That's complete and utter B.S. No development is *every* all or all nothing. It might be the only option at the _moment_ but that doesn't mean that waiting a year or two or three isn't a better option than capitulating to Albion and being stuck with a bad design for *decades* and lose a beloved park in the process. I also find Andrews's comments disturbing as well. Firstly, the plan hasn't changed so radically as to require *that* big of a reevaluation, But more troubling is his statement that "I wear a different hat now. I have to consider all facts." The fact that Mr. Andrews needs to consider is that he wears the hat which the promises he made on the campaign trail got him elected to. The hat he wears is representing the voters of Oak Park, who made it clear when the voted for him what they felt about the Albion proposal. Becoming elected does not mean you turn your back on the electorate who put you there. It means you live up to the promises you made to them while on the campaign trail.

Tom MacMillan from Oak Park  

Posted: September 5th, 2017 8:05 PM

Good to see there is still hope that the madness can be over come and there is still a chance that the derelict wreak of a former business in that spot can be replaced.

Jim Bowman from 60640  

Posted: September 5th, 2017 6:48 PM

Ellen E., I bet that's exactly what he thinks. It surely is what he's saying. It's his business to know that.

Al Rossell  

Posted: September 5th, 2017 5:19 PM

All or nothing? get real. A lesser height is doable, the only real problem to that is the owner has priced the land for 18 stories. if he priced it for the permitted 8 stories there would be plenty of takers. The landowner gets a windfall and we get the BS

Al Rossell  

Posted: September 5th, 2017 5:19 PM

All or nothing? get real. A lesser height is doable, the only real problem to that is the owner has priced the land for 18 stories. if he priced it for the permitted 8 stories there would be plenty of takers. The landowner gets a windfall and we get the BS

Leonard Grossman  

Posted: September 5th, 2017 5:04 PM

There has been some discussion of the fact that an agenda item for tonight's Council Meeting includes a revised procedure that might eliminate the 2/3 supermajority now required to override the recommendation of the Plan Commission. It is reassuring that a number of trustees appear to have offered assurance that any change would not be applied in the Albion review. It would be nice to know if there has been a legal opinion to back up that assurance?

Ellen Edwards from Oak Park  

Posted: September 5th, 2017 4:48 PM

I find John Lynch's comment - "it's Albion or nothing" - ridiculous. Does he think no other developer would be interested in putting a good-looking, responsibly designed building in that spot? Come on, get real.

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