Dan Haley

As Oak Park busts out a skyline, it is worth noting that each of the four current or proposed projects plus two major existing projects are luxury apartments and not condos.

So why when River Forest finally stirs to action to develop a key village-owned parcel at Lake and Park did the village board last week choose a condo and plus-size retail project over the upscale apartment project recommended by its brand new Economic Development Commission? 

Here are a few reasons I suspect: Fear, politics, sentiment.

Ever notice that River Forest is largely a village of single family homes? While half the housing units in Oak Park are in some configuration of multifamily, River Forest has only a few pockets of multifamily and mainly along the borders of North Avenue and Harlem Avenue.

 There was a village plan unveiled a decade ago that accidentally/on purpose indicated that the townhomes along the western portion of North Avenue might just someday disappear. The village did a lot of double-talking to assuage those residents that the bulldozers were not arriving imminently, but it did send the message that 3,500-square-foot homes were more valued than a string of 1,200-square-foot townhomes. 

And home ownership in the form of a condominium is more valued than renting an apartment, even when the apartment is stainless/granite/bamboo ready and comes with a monthly rental north of many of our mortgages. Renting suggests impermanence, the whiff of subsidy, crazy youth or lots of babies.

The politics are interesting. Village President Cathy Adduci had the bright idea at her election of tapping the deep knowledge of locals who pay for their fine homes by being masters of economic development. She formed the first Economic Development Commission (EDC) with a charge to both lure more development (and lower current taxes) and to be smart about it.

Lake and Park, a site across from village hall and controlled by the village, was an early test case for the EDC. It sent out the usual missives to developers, reviewed the three it liked most and recommended one to the village board. 

The 80 apartment unit/smidge of ground-floor retail project provoked upset among immediate neighbors who deemed it too dense. That led the recently reworked and more discordant village board to see its chance to play to the opposition and simultaneously undercut Adduci’s hand-crafted EDC.

By the time the final vote came, there was no one left advocating the EDC’s choice. Instead with a range of enthusiasm and worry, all trustees supported the proposal from hometown boy Tim Hague. 

His plan for upscale condos and a surprisingly vast – 13,000 square feet – offering of ground-floor retail on the west end of Lake Street won the day.

Risks remain. Who’s buying condos these days? If more people were in that market Oak Park would not be fully tilted at luxury apartments. Who wants to rent a hunk of retail blocks from any companion retail and across the street from a school? 

And to make this work, Hague has to add more property to the site that he will need to negotiate a purchase on. He faces a deadline of March 2016. 

Of course, he has been facing a whole string of deadlines for his other River Forest favored project at Lake and Lathrop. Admittedly there are mitigating factors there – see last week’s column – but come on already with the extensions.

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Dan Haley

Dan was one of the three founders of Wednesday Journal in 1980. He’s still here as its four flags – Wednesday Journal, Austin Weekly News, Forest Park Review and Riverside-Brookfield Landmark – make...