Multimillion-dollar, mixed-use, mid-rise housing developments, a historically cold winter and a reboot on economic development in the village are among the stories that dominated the headlines in 2014.

There was also a major shift this year with the closure of a large grocery store in the village coupled with plans for new ones in 2015. Other hot topics over the last 12 months included housing discrimination and ups and downs with renewable energy.

Winter to end all winters

Oak Parkers, along with much of the country, were slammed by historic cold and record snowfall this winter, with the polar vortex inaugurating a grueling winter, beginning the first week of January. The arctic blast sent tem peratures plunging to -16 degrees, bringing mail service nearly to a halt for several days in the village. Months of temperatures below zero and below freezing, plus a near all-time record snowfall of 82 inches for the winter of 2013-2014 maxed out the Village Public Works Department, causing employees to work overtime clearing streets and resulting in more than a dozen water main breaks in the first two months of the year. 

Economic development reboot

The beginning of the year also marked an overhaul of the village’s economic development efforts with the restructuring of the Oak Park Development Corporation, which changed its name to the Oak Park Economic Development Corporation. The organization’s budget more than doubled to $721,500, president Sara Faust resigned and former village trustee John Hedges was named executive director of the rebranded organization. OPEDC established a new board of directors as well. The change coincided with multiple business- and housing-related department changes within village hall.

The change came after months of criticism that the organization was not achieving its goal of drumming up new business in the village. Following approval of the reorganization, Village President Anan Abu-Taleb said, “We are going to fund you properly and also hold you accountable for an extraordinary outcome for our community.”

New housing

It was a banner year for major real estate deals in Oak Park’s downtown area, with the launch of the long-awaited Lake and Forest project, a 20-story, mixed-use, rental apartment building being developed by Golub and Company. The project broke ground in the fall and construction is expected to be completed in the summer of 2016.

The Oak Park Economic Development Corporation also recommended Lincoln Properties to develop an 11-story, mixed-use apartment development at the corner of Harlem Avenue and South Boulevard. The proposed development will include 250 luxury units and about 10,000 square feet of ground-floor retail. 

Village trustees also approved a development agreement for a $73.5 million mixed-use rental and retail development near Lake and Harlem by Clark Street Developers on the former Colt building site. The deal will include a $12.5 million contribution from the village in payments, land conveyances and tax rebates. 

Another potential multi-story building could be planned for the northeast corner of Lake and Forest, across the street from the Golub project. Village leaders have begun informal talks with UrbanStreet Group LLC, which purchased the two-story building at 1000 Lake St. and the adjacent seven-story building at 1010 Lake St. in August for $6.95 million. Urban Street has declined to say publicly what it plans for the two buildings.

Grocery store reshuffle

Grocery stores made headlines this year, starting in late 2013 with the closure of the Dominick’s at 259 Lake St. Chicago-area grocery chain Pete’s Fresh Market stepped in to purchase the building, and was subsequently promised a $1.5 million incentive payment from the village. The store is expected to open sometime in 2015.

The Village Board of Trustees also approved a request for up to $250,000 to help Sugar Beet food cooperative at 820 Madison St. The store is expected to open in early 2015, according to Sugar Beet co-founder Cheryl Munoz.

The closure of North Avenue Fresh Market, 6209 North Ave., was a short vacancy, with the store expected to reopen soon under the ownership of Chicago grocery store owner Thomas Casaccio, who owns Fresh Market at 800 N. Kedzie Ave. 

Brown energy 

Village trustees faced some tough scrutiny this year after scrapping its renewable green energy program and making Constellation its new energy provider. The change from green energy to so-called “brown energy,” which relies on fossil fuels, prompted outrage from many eco-friendly residents in Oak Park. Residents now must “opt in” to the program if they want to use a green energy provider.

Addressing housing discrimination

A study performed in 2013 and commissioned by the village revealed that several rental housing providers in Oak Park had discriminated against black applicants and those with hearing impairments. The HOPE Fair Housing Center has since backed off on some of the administrative complaints filed with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, but the original report prompted the creation of a special committee to provide recommendations to the village board on how to prevent housing discrimination in Oak Park. Those recommendations are expected in early 2015.

Out with the old …

Longtime village trustee Ray Johnson resigned in March, due to a move to New York City following a promotion with his company, HSBC Bank. Johnson served 11 years on the board of trustees and was replaced by Oak Park attorney Andrea Ott. 

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