Consultants last week gave Oak Park a final draft of the Madison Street master plan, capping a six-month process of gathering public input and evaluating traffic, retail and parking needs along the corridor.

Highlights of the comprehensive plan”which includes everything from zoning recommendations to a survey of historic properties”are suggestions for up to $45 million in redevelopment of three village-owned sites and an implementation strategy to keep the plan from just gathering dust.

Scott Harrington, who led the Madison, Wis.-based consulting team of Vandewalle & Associates, complimented the village on its property purchases along the corridor, especially the corner site at Madison Street and Oak Park Avenue.

“If there’s a ground zero, that’s it,” he said, adding that what the village builds on its own sites will show developers what the village wants to see all along Madison Street.

“Good developers want that direction,” Harrington said.

The plan shows two options for the corner site, both of which involve a two-story “urban big box” commercial space with four more stories of residential units and a parking garage to be shared with the Oak Park Arms, where its surface lot now lies.

The first option calls for renovating the Car-X Auto Service building at 700 Madison St. into a retail use. The E.E. Roberts-designed building from 1922 was originally Oak Park Buick Sales, and had a twin sister building to the west that was demolished. At an estimated $19.5 million in construction costs, the project would put 52,500 square feet of retail, 40 residential units, and 237 parking spaces at the site.

The second option, which calls for demolition of the Car-X building, would add $5.3 million in cost, 1,500 square feet of retail space, 18 more residences and 19 more parking spaces.

Harrington said Car-X would like to stay on Madison, but would want to move into a new building. Rumor has swirled for years around a relocation of the business to the former Shepherd Volvo site, 260 Madison St. Vandewalle & Assoc. seemed to have that in mind when making redevelopment suggestions for that site, which both call for preserving the facade while constructing two buildings for auto-oriented businesses.

Across the street at Highland and Madison is the third site, where the consultants call for two mixed-use buildings with a combined 10,000 square feet of commercial space, and up to 93 parking spaces and 62 residences in a $14.4-$18.6 million project.

Neighbors for Madison Renewal, which prompted the planning process when it formed last summer with concerns over a development planned for the south side of Madison from Oak Park to Carpenter avenues, suggested in a memo that “we could hinge Madison renewal on making Madison into Rejuvenation Row.”

The plan recommends a focus on “furniture and home furnishings,” and cites an array of nine categories of shops to target, from furniture (Walter E. Smithe, which has typical store sizes of 15,000 square feet) to closet organization (California Closets, with typical store sizes of 800 square feet). The consultants ruled out a large electronics store because Circuit City and Best Buy both have locations nearby that serve Oak Park, and ruled out the home stores Linens ‘N Things and Bed, Bath & Beyond for the same reason.

Colette Lueck, chair of the Village of Oak Park Plan Commission, which joined the village board at its study session last Thursday night, said Madison needs a unifying theme, and a better one than its current “languishing motor row” concept.

Harrington said clearly defining that concept was beyond the scope of the plan and should be addressed by the community in putting the plan into action.

To do just that, the plan calls for the creation of an implementation coalition, which would oversee continued work on improving Madison. The group would include representatives of village staff, business associations, the Oak Park Development Corp., banks, housing organizations and neighborhood associations.

“A group like this could accomplish a lot more than they could [individually] by themselves,” Harrington said.

Consultants were “amazed” by the resources available in Oak Park”involvement of citizens, existence of OPDC and housing organizations, etc.”which need only to be marshaled into a cohesive group to be more effective, Harrington said. The group would not replace citizen input.

Harrington said creation of the Implementation Coalition would be the first step after approving the plan. Then the group should develop a board-approved work plan, he said.

Charles Bassett, a member of the plan commission, recommended the board also look at historic preservation as soon as possible.

“If you’re going to do anything first, protect the properties you want to protect,” Bassett said. “The hardest thing for us to do is create zoning because it takes so long.”

Trustee Martha Brock suggested the board look at ways the village might use $400,000 in new funding from a Whiteco Residential agreement to build affordable housing into a revamped Madison Street.

The board offered little criticism of the plan and praised the consultants and a steering committee, composed of residents and business owners, for their work. Trustee Robert Milstein said the plan was “excellent” and “well-written,” and that it was better than the Greater Downtown Master Plan completed by Portland, Ore.-based Crandall Arambula.

Ted Despotes, a member of Neighbors for Madison Renewal and resident of the 500 block of South Oak Park Ave., also praised the planning process.

“The process was good. It involved a lot of the community,” Despotes said. “We were pleased with the turnout at the meetings”there were a lot of different faces at each meeting.”

The village board approved fast-tracking the Madison study last year after Despotes and other neighbors railed against a proposed development designed by architect John Schiess that would run west from the Sear’s Pharmacy building on the southwest corner of Madison and Oak Park Avenue to Carpenter.

Despotes said Thursday night that although the master plan will not likely change what Schiess has planned for the site, the process delivered what residents primarily wanted: a cohesive plan for the corridor.


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