Like many of us, I lack the time to attend all commission and village board meetings regarding the proposed Lake and Forest project, or to scour the relevant proposals, contracts and ordinances. I therefore must rely on the local press. Those who opine in the Journal are less than reliable because they are often agenda-driven and overwrought with emotion.

So it would be nice to rely on the Journal itself to supply a thorough and objective analysis. I have never seen it. Instead, the Journal’s editorialists [Let’s go. Let’s build at Forest and Lake, Our Views, Feb. 3] engage in ad hominem criticism of those who question the proposal, as if the actions of a few organizers are representative of all of those who wonder what the justifications are for a substantial public subsidy, numerous ordinance variances, and a design that many residents believe will detract from the character of the village.

The Journal derides the “lame picketing” of certain organizers, but produces a lame justification for the project: It won’t destroy downtown Oak Park. Whew! That’s a relief! And without analysis, the Journal assures us that there is no “money grab” by the developer, and that fears of a parking shortage are overblown. Well, that should close the discussion, shouldn’t it? Geez, Wednesday Journal, why didn’t you tell us this sooner? You could have saved us all a lot of angst.

Village Manager Barwin purports to “set the record straight” [Setting the record straight on Lake and Forest, Viewpoints, Feb. 3] by bending it:

He asserts a variation of Jon Hale’s argument that the $9.8 million to the developer to rebuild the parking garage would be well-spent because the village needs a new parking garage. Maybe so, but it seems to me that paying $9.8 million for 300 spaces is nevertheless a bad bargain. Moreover, if, as some argue, the current garage is under-utilized, then what urgent need is there for a new garage other than the needs of the developer?

Barwin says that the project will “produce substantial new property and sales tax dollars and create jobs.” That’s a potential reason for going forward with the project, but not necessarily a reason for subsidizing it. A subsidy would reduce the net value of the tax revenues. And forgive me for being skeptical about the project’s potential contribution to economic development. We have as precedent the Colt fiasco, the Oak Park and South Boulevard fiasco and the Marion Street project.

Barwin answers the criticism about gifting the land upon which the garage sits (appraised at $4.25 million) to the developer by stating that the village will own the land and the garage upon completion of the project – that the village is simply “allowing the developer to include the $4.25 million appraised value of the land … in its financial valuations of the overall project.” Huh? What does that mean? This is setting the record straight?

With regard to the $500,000 subsidy to the hotel operator, Barwin argues that “no property tax dollars have been offered.” Well, so what? The $500,000 will still come from public funds, right? Right. Barwin explains that the village has agreed to rebate a portion of the hotel taxes to the hotel operator. Well, that’s a subsidy. It is money that would otherwise go into the village treasury. Barwin sophistically argues that it is really the hotel patrons, not Oak Park taxpayers, who are funding the subsidy because the patrons will pay the hotel tax, a portion of which will be rebated to the hotel. But the hotel tax is revenue that lawfully belongs to the village, a part of which the village says it will give back to the hotel operator. That’s a public subsidy. But Barwin misses another significant point. The developer’s demand for the hotel subsidy reflects the developer’s uncertainty that building a hotel will be economically viable. Barwin himself acknowledges that there is uncertainty that this project will ever even get off the ground, even if approved by the village board.

“Let’s go” indeed.

Daniel Hurtado is a lawyer and a 20-year resident of Oak Park.

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