People in leadership positions around the country are losing the support of their constituents. Oak Park is now mirroring that experience. The board of trustees is about to make a critical mistake. This mistake involves the downtown superblock, from Lake to North Boulevard and Harlem to Marion. After two previous studies, the board put together a Steering Committee comprised of chairs of village Committees, and two ex-officio trustees. The charge was to study the above area and make recommendations to the board while including citizen involvement. I was one of those citizens.

We sat every Tuesday night for almost three months discussing Westgate, Lake and Marion. Among the Steering Committee and the populous were many preservationists in great favor of keeping the Tudor-style buildings on Westgate; the facades of which were considered historic. Most of the discussion focused on the Colt building, a very, very important building to the preservationists. Well, it turns out as a result of many conversations with community residents, they have either never heard of Westgate or view it as a driveway to Old Navy and the Gap. More surprisingly, they have never heard of the Colt building at all. But they do know Marion Street, and many don’t want it opened up to traffic.

So here’s the deal. The Steering Committee put forth a comprehensive plan, supported by the ex-offico trustees. And guess what? The board of trustees said, “Well, you did a good job, but you really didn’t understand what we wanted you to do.” Translation: You didn’t present what we wanted you to decide. So after much time and expenditure by an array of experts, they decided in their infinite wisdom that they would approve part of the plan.

Well, do you remember when you were a kid and you would play pick up sticks? You waited, hoping that you could find the right stick that wouldn’t move any of the others when you pulled in out, but invariably when you pulled out your chosen stick, your structure fell apart. Well, that’s what will happen if the board gets its way. You cannot do part of the plan without the whole plan falling apart. Even 80 percent of the plan makes the whole plan fall apart. It would be better to leave everything alone.

But let me go back to my discussion of the Tudor facades because they nicely parallel our board of trustees. A faade is something that looks good on the outside but is lacking on the inside. The Tudor buildings have a nice facade but inside they are functionally obsolete. Continuing with this metaphor, the board also has a nice faade. It was voted in on a platform of community participation and open government. But guess what? Just like the faade of the Tutor buildings, you can’t tell a book or a building or a board by its cover. The board of trustees did not get the answer they wanted from the committee, so they are about to decide to leave its residents, store owners and developers out to dry. Why? Because they want to put $13 million into the Colt building.

This is 13 million dollars that we, the residents of Oak Park will pay for. Their naivet will forever change the nature of our beloved community because many will be forced to leave due to swelling tax rates, thereby changing the fabric of Oak Park as a mixed income and mixed race community.

A faade is a faade and that is all it is. Seeing beneath the faade of the board of trustees has been a very disappointing experience. Come on, trustees, swallow your pride and do what is best for our community. Let’s decide on a vibrant downtown with quaint shops, parking, and retail dollars that can be spent on decreasing taxes and increasing support for important things like affordable housing.

Marge Epstein
Oak Park

Join the discussion on social media!