In casting her vote on a proposed townhouse development last week, Plan Commissioner Penny Wallingford said she wanted the commission to look at townhouse developments because now the village “has enough of them.”
She said that the asking prices on the units being approved by the commission?#34;part of the final phase of a project that would complete the square at Madison Square?#34;would near $550,000, for “essentially the same product” that architect John Schiess originally designed for sale at less that $400,000. The increase in unit retail cost should have translated into fewer units or more compensating benefits, she said.
Her comments sparked a non-agenda conversation about studying the effects of approved projects throughout the village.
Commission chair Colette Lueck agreed that the commission ought to review townhouse developments, estimating they’ve made up “90 percent of what we’ve approved.”
But later, other commissioners and Schiess argued that too often misconceptions exist about developing property in Oak Park.
Schiess, who with his development partner Alex Troyanovsky, has become the most visible housing developer in Oak Park, said land costs on the final phase of Madison Square doubled in two years over costs on the first two phases. Previously, he said, Troyanovsky paid $60,000 on land per townhouse, whereas the most recent deal cost $1.2 million for the 10-unit project, or $120,000 per unit.
“If this were [developer] Alex [Troyanovsky]’s only project in Oak Park, he wouldn’t do it,” Schiess said, adding that Troyanovsky had committed to early buyers in the project that he would finish the square.
Despite the perception among some, “I don’t think people are making an egregious amount of money” developing in Oak Park, commissioner Charles Bassett said.
Schiess later said that developers typically make between 10 percent and 15 percent on a project, and that although that’s better than what investors can currently make on the stock market, real estate deals carry more risk. He admitted, “There’s good money being made, no doubt about it. Otherwise these people wouldn’t keep coming back.
“But there’s a blind spot in the community about what it takes to bring the developers here,” Schiess said.
Plan Commissioners called for a study of real estate data that could inform discussions on new projects, and to review the village’s Request for Qualifications for a consultant to prepare a master plan for the Madison Street corridor.
Bassett said one of the studies the RFQ asks the consultant to base its study on, the 2001 Tracy Cross Study of residential development in Oak Park, no longer reflects the current market.
Village Planner Craig Failor will forward the request to redo the study to the village board. While no responses to the RFQ had been received last week, consultants’ due date is Sept. 26.
The village board will also decide whether to approve the Plan Commission’s desire to study development effects over the past five years, including how townhouses have worked out for their owners and their neighbors?#34;business and residential.
“I think it’s a great idea,” Failor said after the meeting. “It’s a good way to determine how the planned developments the commission’s approved have affected the community.”
Commissioners hoped a study could analyze projects’ profitability, and discover how many developers have shown interest in the village.
The study could help commissioners decide what “compensating benefits”?#34;such as green space or affordable housing?#34;might be appropriate for proposed developments in the future.
The study would go beyond townhouses, looking at how other approved projects have fared, too.
Commissioners said the study would provide a factual basis to ground testimony at public hearings. During public comment, residents often use anecdotal evidence to support arguments that a project doesn’t need to be as big as it is to be profitable, or other claims, commissioners said.
One example of a hoped-for study target would be The Ridgeland at South Boulevard and Ridgeland, where residents argued for, and got, first-floor retail. Lueck pointed out that those retail spaces have not slow to fill, and that the one type of business that people didn’t want?#34;a convenience store?#34;ultimately became the anchor store at the site.
Village President David Pope said the idea might work in with the board’s broader plan for a community-wide planning process that would produce visions on 15 to 20 aspects of life, and work groups to help effect those visions.