I read with interest your article in this week’s Wednesday Journal titled, “Holy Hole!” [News, June 20]. As a neighbor, I am delighted to finally see some public comment about this scandalous building project. I have visited village hall twice to inquire about the permitting of this development and have viewed the “approved” plans.

What is not stated in the article is that the “underground” basketball court is in actuality a full 6 feet, 2 inches above grade. Adding four feet of landfill around the foundation to make it appear only two feet above the ground does not change this fact. Has anyone talked about drainage or a promise to the neighbors that our backyards will not become a flood plain when it rains? Not to mention that this 6-foot-high platform is, to those of us who must view it daily, an eyesore.

An underground gymnasium may be one man’s fantasy, but there are statutes that protect such egocentric developments in the historic district of Oak Park. If one reads the “Building Permits for Historic Properties” pamphlet, available at the village offices, you can read the criteria for the Certificate of Advisory Review which outlines guidelines for compliance with the conditions requiring a Certificate of Appropriateness. Given that this property lies within the Frank Lloyd Wright Prairie School of Architecture Historic District, the guidelines of approval includes (but are not limited to) changes “with limited effect on the historic character of the property.” This historic property, one of the most beautiful homes in Oak Park, never envisioned such an intrusion on its historical integrity.

If you ask the village officials, they state that historic preservation only relates to what can be seen from the street. Therefore preservation of a homeowner’s property values is based solely on curb appeal – it matters not what lurks in our backyards. In fact the statutes state the advisory review process shall take place if “Changes are visible from the public right of way.” Given how many people have commented in the Journal article about the novelty of this construction, I am convinced that these changes are fully in view of the “public right of way!”

We share the bafflement of other Oak Parkers who have had much smaller, less invasive projects turned down by the village because of zoning violations. I believe that the Village of Oak Park is behaving inconsistently in their approval of this design. I also believe that if it truly were Mr. Ballard’s goal to open “Ballard’s Total Fitness” in his home with an underground basketball court, then he should have kept on digging an additional six plus feet, making it truly underground, invisible to the eye – covered with a lovely layer of green grass.

There is nothing holy about this hole – the only holiness in this is that the Village of Oak Park Zoning and Historic Preservation Commission wholly failed the residents of this neighborhood.

Martha Gilmer
Oak Park

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