To the Village of Oak Park: Please consider the following when you make decisions about downtown Oak Park planning:
1. Utilize the 3D model prepared by Solomon Cordwell Buenz as a primary planning tool for setting building heights and density. It would be prudent to reflect proposed zoning changes to building heights in the model so that the public can visualize what downtown Oak Park will ultimately look like and can evaluate if this is in keeping with the small-town historic character they voted for. The strict interpretation that some trustees have articulated about former trustee Galen Gockel’s intention for how to use the 3D model does not reflect the best use of the model as a planning tool.
2. If the goal is that only buildings designated as “significant” or “structures of merit” per the HPC survey be saved and restored for adaptive reuse, these should be identified as such on the model and all others replaced with generic 80-foot-tall buildings in order to understand the impact of the new and the relative scale between the old and the new. Most similar historic towns (Elmhurst, LaGrange, Naperville, Hinsdale, Lake Forest?#34;you may argue with some of my choices), have height limits of approx. 45 feet, which guarantees that the overall scale of the historic street will be maintained. This is critical in the final outcome of downtown Oak Park.
Arlington Heights is a good example of how allowing excessive heights and density in their historic downtown has created something that is neither historic nor attractive. Massive new developments have been going up for the past five years, undermining not only the historic character but significantly disrupting the many small businesses. Parts of the area look like a ghost town at night. It is really a planning nightmare. The historic buildings now look like shacks because the context around them has changed. I’m concerned this is the direction downtown Oak Park seems to be headed for. It is evident with the new RSC building (even with a setback. which is only 15 feet higher than the proposed 80-foot height.
Illinois State Historic Preservation has already stated in a letter that a critical mass of historic buildings needs to be retained in order for the area to receive historic designation and eligibility for tax benefits. You should bring them back to determine what this critical mass is. The “close collaboration” of this agency and others should have started by now. The ordinance passed nearly 15 months ago.
3. There were many interconnected pieces to the Crandall Arambula (CA. Master Plan. Making decisions about one piece, i.e. heights, without considering the impact on the other pieces will not produce a well-planned downtown Oak Park. There are still no final design guidelines and no design commission, as provided for, to review the designs of proposed projects. Some trustees have publicly stated that the proposed development for the Pancake House/CertifiedLand site will not require review of the proposed design. This is incorrect for a few reasons: there are supposed to be design guidelines and a design commission and any development here that includes the village parking garage includes village property and must be subject to the participatory planning process.
4. Hire Doug Farr, the Madison Street firm, Solomon Cordwell, or some excellent outside planning firm to review the CA Master Plan and make recommendations for implementation. The village is at a disadvantage now that CA is gone and our planning department is in need of outside expertise.
5. No TIF dollars have ever been allocated for assisting existing property owners of historic buildings. The millions and millions have gone to outside developers for new, out-of-character projects?#34;The Shops and Whiteco. The Madison Street TIF does provide for $3 million to be allocated for historic preservation, but no program was ever set up to make this happen. Make the necessary changes in the TIF allocations to provide funds for historic preservation and institute a program for owners to participate in.
Tomorrow I’m leaving for Boulder for a few days and will bring back information for you from their Planning & Development Services Dept. (a unified department. on how they have maintained their historic character while sensitively incorporating new developments. You can also check out their excellent website for this info at www.ci.boulder.co.us. They have a review process for demolition permit applications for non-landmarked buildings over 50 years old.
You have an opportunity to create a legacy that we will all be proud of if you take the leadership you were given in the last election to chart a new course for downtown Oak Park and preserve its historic character.
It is critical that the upgrading our downtown Oak Park streetscapes, its links to the Avenue/Lake and South Marion commercial districts be started as soon as possible, all as intended by the CA Master Plan.