On Saturday afternoon before the big snows came to Oak Park, Bob Tucker, one of three incumbent village trustees running unopposed for reelection in April, said he wouldn’t miss tromping through the drifts and up steps to front doors, which would have been the usual plan for a Sunday afternoon during a contested race.
On the other hand Tucker, Adam Salzman and Andrea Ott, the Village Manager Association-backed incumbents, don’t want voters to think they are being taken for granted either.
So the trio will take part in at least two forums where they hope citizens will talk to the incumbents about the issues most important to them. Meanwhile they laid out a range of their key topics: from economic development beyond Downtown Oak Park, to investing heavily in Oak Park’s century-plus infrastructure, to collaborating beyond Oak Park’s borders on sustainability.
Specifically citing Madison Street, North Avenue, Roosevelt Road and the Harrison Street Arts District, the incumbents said it was now possible and overdue to turn village government resources to the many neighborhood shopping districts.
On Madison Street, Salzman said he wants to focus development efforts on three hubs where village government controls key parcels: Madison and Oak Park Avenue, Madison and Home, and Madison and Lombard. All agreed they would be disappointed if “there weren’t buildings in the ground” at those locations within two years.
Over the years, multiple government-funded plans for Madison were crafted, spelling out preferred types of development at specific locations. Salzman said he has come to see such planning documents as “guidelines but not prescriptive plans.” He wants to see what the marketplace wants to build on Madison more than he expects the village government to dictate.
“The more you try to impose on the marketplace, the more frustrated you get,” he said.
Tucker pointed out the opportunities at Madison and Home where the village now controls the current District 97 administrative building site and with the adjacent Robinson’s Ribs property also on the market.
Ott talked up current discussions for the village to collaborate with Forest Park to fund a new entity focused on long-term sustainability issues. Other communities and local taxing bodies would also be asked to take part. She hopes the new entity can push for local policy changes that will spread Oak Park’s longtime fervor for environmental issues.
With climate change leading to ever more intense storms, Salzman said, he was unsure of a vote he made early in his first term after severe flooding hit northeast Oak Park. Rather than look at an extremely expensive comprehensive solution to obsolete sewers, Salzman backed a one-off plan to offer individual homeowners grants for a home-by-home solution.
“Our infrastructure is a century or more old. We need long-term planning. In retrospect that may have been a Band-Aid. We need something more comprehensive,” he said.
Tucker talked about fair housing and affordable housing issues in Oak Park and the wake-up call last year’s first-in-a-generation testing program had created. This is “always paramount in Oak Park. It took an event [like last year’s] to jar people. We need concrete steps to move forward and not let this get stale,” said Tucker.
The three also talked about a desire to foster broader contacts and communication between Oak Park and the Austin neighborhood on the West Side. “There are numerous divides,” said Salzman, even as he called some of the divides “artificial boundaries.” They talked about the challenges of “two very different government structures,” but were hopeful of “grassroots” connections, which are growing. “We can do a lot more. We have to diligently go at it,” Salzman said.