The property owners of Downtown Oak Park are justifiably outraged about the current preservation planning process for the central business district. They have attended two public “information meetings” where just the sketchiest information about the so-called “benefits” of preservation was provided by the Historic Preservation Commission (HPC).

These property owners voiced their numerous concerns about the establishment of a downtown historic district, ranging from fears of whacking through additional bureaucratic red tape before property improvements can be implemented, to additional rehabilitation costs, to how to accommodate the need for commercial properties to constantly change to meet current retail standards. They are legitimately and rightfully worried that their investments remain economically viable.

These questions and examples were generally met with placating assurances that their concerns were “heard.” These property and business owners were not left in a confident state of mind, to say the least. Then, to top off the meetings, Oak Park’s favorite grenade-hurlers got in a few cheap shots about why they don’t shop in the downtown-as if a preservation ordinance would help change their attitudes!

I, for one, am still awaiting the research that the HPC hopefully has completed-such as a survey of like-communities and their preservation/economic development solutions.

An economic impact study would be meaningful, such as a study of DTOP property values, with projections of future values with and without a historic district. It would also be helpful to have some suggested flexible building codes, financial incentives, technical assistance incentives and voluntary design guidelines. I’d like to see real-life examples of where preservation and redevelopment work successfully, hand-in-hand.

A survey of the DTOP “historically significant” property owners was conducted a few years ago with no response. There were no follow-up efforts made to reach out to them again. As a former Main Street manager, I can say with confidence that historic districts are not typically “imposed” upon downtown stakeholders without their participation and consent. The Village of Oak Park has never designated a home with landmark status over an owner’s objections. Wouldn’t the same courtesy allowed to residential taxpayers be extended to commercial taxpayers?

I would like to make the following recommendations to the Historic Preservation Commission and the Village Board of Trustees:

1) Provide for designation of a local historic district, but only with a majority of owners’ approval.

2) Allow for the designation of individual local landmarks and National Register Properties, but only with owner involvement and ultimate approval.

The property owners of Downtown Oak Park have done an exemplary job of maintaining and preserving our noblest buildings without any designation process whatsoever. If the HPC deems that such formalities and additional layers of government intervention are necessary, it is only right that they proceed with the affected property owners’ participation and consent.

Pat Zubak
Executive director, Downtown Oak Park business association

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