First reported 7/23/2010 2:29 p.m.

Some neighbors are starting to rally against a 51-unit apartment building for low-income renters that’s being pitched for Madison Street in Oak Park.

Chicago-based Interfaith Housing Development Corp. is looking to purchase the empty Comcast building at 820 W. Madison, strip off the unsightly façade, add two stories and turn the structure into a four-story apartment building. They’re partnering with the Oak Park Housing Authority and Catholic Charities to make the project a reality.

But neighbors are raising concerns about how the development would affect the surrounding area. Douglas McMeyer believes the building, as proposed, would be too dense, would diminish property values and wouldn’t contain a diverse enough population (it would be just for single individuals who earn $26,400 or less annually).

McMeyer, 33, claims he has a growing list of 100 people who are opposed to the project. He declined to provide the list to Wednesday Journal without first asking the people on it for permission.

“To my knowledge, there is not a single resident of the 400 block of Grove who is OK with this thing,” he said.

Bob Haisman, 65, of the 600 block of S. Grove, however, said he is OK with the proposed development. He had concerns but was calmed after touring three of Interfaith’s buildings in the city.

“It fits Oak Park’s values,” he said. “It fits what we say we want to be. Is it the easiest population in the world to deal with? I’m not sure. But I think the organizations involved have a clear path to screening residents and making sure that folks who need a break are going to get a break.”

Perry Vietti, chief operating officer for Interfaith and an Oak Park resident, said the area where the project is being proposed is already dense – with apartment buildings and condos all around. He insists that his organization is not targeting some of the “negative elements” that some neighbors have feared, such as, ex convicts or sex offenders – just low-income singles.

Dave Heidorn of the 500 block of S. Grove is also opposed to the project. In a recent letter to village trustees, he pointed out that he believes Oak Park has done its fair share in helping the less fortunate.

“I want to live in a diverse community with a heart,” he wrote. “But what exactly is Oak Park’s fair share of economic diversity? At what point does a project like this tip the balance and make living here too difficult a decision, thus defeating the purpose for which we all moved to Oak Park?”

Ed Solan, executive director of the Oak Park Housing Authority, said the apartments will be targeted at people who live or work in the village but can’t afford to get a place on their own. The housing authority has a waiting list of 1,000 people looking to get into low-income housing, 200 whom are people living or working here.

Interfaith plans to submit its application for the development to the village in October, with a plan commission hearing on it possibly happening in November. Interfaith will need relief from local zoning codes, as the proposed development is taller and denser than allowed by zoning, with fewer parking spots than required (the nonprofit also plans to buy a 31-space parking lot across the street on Grove).

CONTACT: mstempniak@wjinc.com

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