1. Turmoil in the housing market: Sluggish home sales and tighter lending sent ripples throughout the village all year.
Single-family home prices dropped 8 percent in the first half of 2008 in Oak Park. In the same period, condo prices dropped 17 percent. Altogether, home sales in Oak Park dropped 34 percent this year.
That’s from 876 units sold in 2007 to 576 at the end of this year, according to Midwest Real Estate Data. The average sale price dropped from $384,000 last year to $379,000 this year. The median price dropped from $341,000 to $328,000. The total volume of home sales dropped from $337.03 million last year to $218.57 million this year.
Various residential and mixed-use developments were delayed across the village.
All this means decreased revenues for the Village of Oak Park. The village pulled in $2.36 million in real estate transfer tax dollars this year, compared with $3.44 million last year, according to Chief Financial Officer Craig Lesner. This year’s transfer tax revenues are 36 percent lower than officials estimated coming into this year.
To help weather that shortfall, Oak Park decided to cut $1 million out of its budget in the fourth quarter of this year, along with $2.5 million next year. The 2009 cuts were partly to build a rainy day balance for other economic hardships.
To address the near standstill in condo sales, a group of local real estate agents and lenders got creative this summer. They began a move to get local condo associations to purge a boilerplate clause from their bylaws-one often seen as discriminatory by federal lenders- in hopes of making more condo shoppers eligible for government loans.
2. Developer picked for Colt superblock: Our top story in 2006 and No. 3 in 2007, the Colt building and its downtown neighbors continued to make headlines in 2008. After several months of discussions, trustees picked a developer in July to redo the village-owned Colt “superblock”-81,000 square feet of land sandwiched between Lake and North Boulevard just east of Harlem.
Virginia-based AvalonBay Communities was the chosen one. They have plans to build a 12- to 14-story building that would include about 200 apartments, thousands of square feet of retail space and 500 parking spaces.
AvalonBay was picked from a field of seven developers that showed interest in the village-owned piece of land, the bulk of which Oak Park acquired for $7.5 million in 2006. According to early estimates, the project requires $21.95 million in village contributions, much of which would go to infrastructure improvements, such as adding a new north-south street.
The village board in October committed to knock down the Colt, along with its neighbor at 1121-23 Lake, in January. That demolition will cost the village $1.43 million. Oak Park has yet to work out a deal with AvalonBay.
3. Yikes! Those parking meters: Village hall lit off a firestorm this summer when parking meters in Oak Park’s main shopping areas were bumped up to $1.50 an hour and meter enforcement times were stretched to 8 p.m.
The changes approved in July and put in play in August were intended to push cars into public garages, increase turnover of high-demand spaces on the street and bring in more money. The strategy appeared to be working. But the reaction was immediate and negative. In September, trustees voted to bump meters back down to $1 an hour in the downtown and Avenue areas. Enforcement was also scaled back to the original end time of 6 p.m.
4. Village stops salting side streets: Oak Park’s salt supply was depleted last winter. The village says the salt industry is charging almost three times what it used to for salt, so village crews are salting only main streets and intersections during snowstorms.
Oak Park is making exceptions for ice storms and urging drivers to drive slower than usual, follow farther behind other vehicles and allow more time for trips.
The village’s management of its salt supply made national TV a few times.
5. NRA files suit against Oak Park: In June, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down Washington, D.C.’s, handgun ban. The national and state rifle associations then filed lawsuits against various communities, including Oak Park, to effect similar results. Morton Grove, Wilmette and Winnetka all ended up repealing their gun bans.
Meanwhile, Oak Park decided to fight the ruling.In mid-December, the U.S. District Court threw out the NRA’s lawsuit against Oak Park. The gun group appealed the ruling, and the case will next proceed to the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals. It’s possible the case will reach the Supreme Court eventually if the court is willing to take it.
6. Retail steady: In 2008, about 40 businesses opened in Oak Park, according to village estimates. That compares with about 40 closings. Among the openings were such national chains as Trader Joe’s and Five Guys Burgers and Fries, the regional restaurant chain of Sushi House and two indie eateries in the Oak Park Arts District: Eastgate Café and Briejo restaurant.
Several businesses made notable expansions or remodelings in 2008, including The Book Table, Marion Street Cheese Market and Papaspiros Greek Taverna. Others-such as Volvo of Oak Park and Pan’s Food Center-are working toward getting bigger in 2009.
7. David Pope runs for 2nd term: Village President David Pope announced in November that he’ll run for a second term. But four years after running as an independent, Pope plans to join the Village Manager Association, which dominated the 2007 village election.
Pope ran with the VMA as trustee in 2003, but broke from the group in 2005 after doubts about how the organization was being run and an unfair selection process, he ran for president as an independent.
Current board members John Hedges and Colette Lueck, as well as new faces Glen Brewer and Teresa Powell, will also run on the VMA ticket. The New Leadership Party and Village Citizens Alliance have yet to announce candidates.
8. Circle Theatre almost comes to Oak Park: Circle Theatre, a mainstay in Forest Park, almost jumped village lines and moved into Oak Park. In January, village officials announced that they were working on a deal to dish out $212,000 to the theater to help it move to the Oak Park Arts District. But no deal on a lease was reached with Chris Kleronomos, owner of 217 Harrison. So Circle is staying at 7300 W. Madison in Forest Park. The lease there is up in 2010.
9. Los Cazadores fights with village over building: An ongoing battle between the Village of Oak Park and Los Cazadores restaurant culminated in early December. That’s when supporters of the Garcia family, owners of the Mexican restaurant, filed into a board meeting hoping to avert the sale of the building that houses Los Cazadores.
Oak Park bought the building from the Garcias in 2002, intending to make it part of a larger development downtown. When those plans didn’t pan out, the village put it back up for sale and sold it to the highest bidder for $540,000. The Garcias claim they were pressured into selling in 2002 and were assured they’d have the first chance to buy the property back. But village officials say the family approached them looking to sell, and Oak Park never guaranteed the Garcias the right of first refusal.
Now the Garcias are attempting to build a lawsuit against the village. The restaurant plans to stay open until April, around when officials hope to close the sale of 1113 Lake to a Chicago-based developer.
10. Obama dominates in primaries and general election: President-elect Barack Obama ruled in both the February primaries and the November general election in Oak Park. The U.S. senator from Illinois captured 84.2 percent of the 28,886 votes here, according to the Cook County Clerk’s office. Sen. John McCain tallied 14.69 percent of votes.
Obama also dominated in February’s primaries, sweeping every precinct and outpacing rival Hillary Clinton nearly 4-to-1 (13,187 votes to Clinton’s 3,433).