It’s “Groundhog Day” in Oak Park.
Or as Yogi Berra was famous for saying: “It’s deja vu all over again.”
After a protracted and divisive process culminating in the village agreement with Whiteco to develop an apartment and retail complex at Harlem and Ontario, it appears the new village board is heading back down that path by flirting with the idea of reversing what had been settled village policy on this issue, the Whiteco agreement.
This would be a terrible mistake. It would have a lasting negative effect on our ability to draw new investment to Oak Park, to support the economically, racially and culturally diverse lifestyle that draws us all to this community.
The Business and Civic Council of Oak Park endorsed the Whiteco project earlier this year as a needed stimulant to the Downtown economy, a welcome addition to the village tax base and a means of diversifying Oak Park’s housing stock by adding new, mid- to up-scale rental units.
All of that?#34;and more?#34;is now in jeopardy as village trustees weigh whether to back out of the mixed-use development agreement approved by the previous village board in March.
Other observers have noted the potential financial cost to taxpayers if Whiteco sues for damages, which could run in the millions. But there is a far greater threat lurking. Oak Park’s reputation as a place to do business would be further damaged among those considering investment in Oak Park, whether small, independent businesses or national chains companies.
And the negative impact on small businesses of the decision to postpone expansion of the Holley Court garage?#34;one component of the Whiteco project?#34;was well-documented by the owners of The Book Table in last week’s Viewpoints section of the Journal (“In rejecting garage expansion, village board is spitting on small business”).
The Whiteco mess has already given the village a black eye. While our organization supported the Whiteco decision, we were dismayed at the process that produced it. Yet to reopen the matter now would merely compound what has been an arduous and flawed process. It’s a recipe guaranteed to elicit a lawsuit from Whiteco?#34;at great cost to the overburdened residential taxpayers of the Village of Oak Park and its taxpayers?#34;and scare off other potential investors in our community.
The new village board needs to move on. The Whiteco issue is one where it can show leadership by doing nothing.
We urge the board instead to turn its attention to generating positive momentum in the ongoing revitalization of our Downtown and the neighborhood business districts.
Board of Directors, The Business and Civic Council of Oak Park; Donna Carroll, president, Dominican University; John Eckenroad, president, Oak Park Development Corporation; Mike Fox, vice president, R.P. Fox and Associates; Willis Johnson, president, Tivoli Enterprises (Lake Theatre); Martin Noll, president, Community Bank; Frank Pelligrini, president, Prairie Title Co.; Bill Planek, president, Greenplan Management; Bill Strong, managing director, Jasculca/Terman and Associates