The developers are at it again. They are close to completely ruining the southeast corner of Oak Park Avenue and South Boulevard. They want to gut the core of the historic buildings in our only successful retail district and go way up with condos. In the process they probably want us to give them an alley or two. If you have ever seen one of these new “historic shell” buildings, then you would know how completely butt-ugly they are. From parking to setbacks to design, the developers will say they are being “historically sensitive” but in fact they are not.

We are rapidly becoming the victims of our own success. Now that the hard work has been done, the developer-wolves are knocking down what we all have worked so long to create. It took uncounted hours, personal sacrifice and in some instances personal bravery to get where we are today and certainly the people who led us here did not have as a vision “auslander” money men profiting by their sacrifice. And for what? A 5-percent commission or a 10-percent developers fee? Heck, in our storied past we have even had village leaders sell us out for nothing and leave town. Before the first shovelfull of earth has been turned on the incredibly irrational Whiteco project all those responsible have vanished.

Then there are the people who in the past wouldn’t let us be sold out. There are many people in town who know the stories and the individuals better than I, so feel free to add to my list, but, from my perspective, here are a few individuals who asked for nothing, but made a great contribution:

  • If Bobbie Larson, Aggie Stempniak, Sherlyn Reid and others hadn’t worked so hard to maintain a welcoming and integrated community … the developers wouldn’t be here.
  • If Hasbrouck and Sprague hadn’t done their building survey that helped create the two greatest historic districts in the Midwest … the developers wouldn’t be here.
  • If Diane Davis, Bill Dougal and others on Forest Avenue hadn’t created that first Wright housewalk those many years ago to help a neighbor devastated by fire … the developers wouldn’t be here.
  • If John Thorpe and others hadn’t brought everyone together to purchase and restore the Home and Studio … the developers wouldn’t be here.
  • If Elsie Jacobsen didn’t mobilize people all over our village to save the Oak Park Conservatory … the developers wouldn’t be here.
  • If Virginia Cassin hadn’t thought that Ernest Hemingway’s local legacy was worth preserving … the developers wouldn’t be here.
  • If Mike Kelly and Marty Noll hadn’t kept local community banking alive through the difficult times of major bank consolidation …the developers wouldn’t be here.
  • If Frank Muriello and his investment group hadn’t jump-started vintage commercial redevelopment by rehabbing the southwest corner of Marion and South Boulevard … the developers wouldn’t be here.
  • If Galen Gockel and others hadn’t created the junior high schools … the developers wouldn’t be here.
  • If Doug Freerksen, Mike Fleege and Paul Wicklow hadn’t created the field of restoration contracting … the developers wouldn’t be here.
  • If you hadn’t invested your hard-earned treasure in your home … the developers wouldn’t be here.

The list of Oak Parkers who have made this community great is a long one. And the finest contributions seem to come from those people outside the mainstream-those who don’t have any political aspirations, no personal agenda, no personal profit in mind, those who just see an opportunity to make a contribution and then do it.

Then there is the other side.

The other side is comprised of those who come to capitalize on the good work of others. They are visionless except to the lure of the deal. They care about nothing except what ends up in their pockets. My personal experience from being a neighbor to three different developers is that they will happily step on anyone who gets in their way.

Are they doing great buildings to equal the ones that brought them here? Are they being generous to our local charities? Will you see their names on the roll call of the OPRF United Way, the Oak Park Regional Housing Center or Hephzibah?


They despise historic preservation, they view with disdain the single-family people who are trying to hold onto the community that drew them here. For the developers, it’s get in, get out and don’t worry about the corpse. Their goal is density because in density lies great profits. And with condo density they can take their profits now and leave us to pay the costs that density brings.

Other communities have successfully resisted this trend. Their zoning laws protect their citizens and when developers come knocking with dense zoning variance requests they tell them to get lost.

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