We learned recently that a prominent Oak Park developer was fined for violations of village permits. (“Schiess fined $188K for condo changes,” Aug. 9.) We appreciate the attempt by trustees to apply pressure to the developer by fining him. We are glad to see that trustees are finally beginning to levy fines for noncompliance. However, it’s a case of too little too late for this project: The building has been built and neighborhood character has been lost. Only by stricter code enforcement and compliance with planned development requirements can we prevent developers from ignoring village-approved plans and permits.
Greatly contributing to the blatant disregard for village regulations is the Planned Unit Development (PUD) process. PUD removes the requirements for developers to follow well-thought-out, community-approved zoning codes. PUDs give authority to the trustees-who are not usually experts in planning, development, and code enforcement-the right to decide what is best for our village. Trustees need to stop granting variances to village regulations, perhaps revising or rescinding the PUD until a new comprehensive plan is adopted.
It is equally important for village staff to monitor and enforce existing variance agreements. PUD variances may be granted in return for “compensating benefits” (e.g. adding landscaping). However, those benefits may never be realized. There seems to be no routine village monitoring and enforcement process for such benefits, and no fines have been levied against developers for ignoring them.
Examples include the Ridgeland/South Blvd. development. There were to be landscaping and building-material improvements in return for its PUD. The final product did not include those building material changes, nor is the landscaping what was agreed to. Other examples are at 833 and 606 Woodbine. Is the Village of Oak Park (VOP) checking Schiess’ and Troyanovsky’s other projects: Marion/Ontario, Roosevelt Rd./Clarence, Oak Park Ave./South Blvd., Oak Park Ave./Madison., Marion St./Lake St? These are high-profile properties that need to be monitored for compliance both before and as they are being built. Once they are built, they will have a permanent impact on the character of Oak Park, so preventing developer shortcuts must have high priority.
Contributing to this problem is the blatant disregard some developers seem to have for maintaining their properties. Allowing buildings to be vacant or rundown for years, developers then use the condition of these buildings as a reason to tear them down. Where are our code inspectors? Homeowners get notices for peeling paint or missing numbers on garages, yet developers may do as they please. Routine, enforceable property inspections must apply equally to developers to prevent loss of OP’s historic character.
We also need to prevent further loss of long-term businesses and residents. We have seen some developers demand large “incentives” from Oak Park that increase our heavy tax burden and leave a substantially diminished neighborhood in their wake, squeezing out existing businesses and residents who cannot afford radically increased rents and taxes. It is very clear who benefits from this system. The VMA still tries to convince us that we need this kind of development, that it is in our “best interests” and that our taxes will go down. Far from going down, our taxes are soaring, and we are losing neighbors and businesses to other communities that are both preserving their historic charm and enhancing quality of life for their residents.
Trustees are duty-bound to place a high priority on the needs of residents, especially those in neighborhoods near developments. The VCA supports positive development. We appreciate the risks and efforts taken by developers to build assets that improve quality of life for residents. However, we, the people who live here, need to take back our historic heritage as a community whose highest priority is quality of life for its diverse residents. We urge trustees and village staff to help by strict control, monitoring, and enforcing of approved developments.
Frank Vozak, Julie Samuels,
Terrie Rymer, Ray Muccianti,
Bernell Loeb, Jean Heyes, Judy Erickson,
Jo Ellen Davey-Cohen, Tom Broderick, Tom Ard
Village Citizens Alliance