The Oak Park Plan Commission voted 7-0 last Thursday evening to recommend approval of Highland Place, a mixed-use, affordable-housing building proposed for 231-307 Madison Street. The developers, a partnership between two nonprofit developers, Mercy Housing Lakefront and Chicago Neighborhood Initiatives, plan to build a 5-story building on the south side of Madison between Harvey and Highland. 

David Mann, chair of the Plan Commission, did not participate in the vote or any part of the process because he is a principal/director of Booth Hansen, the architectural firm that is designing the building.

The Oak Park Village Board is expected to vote on approving the planned development in January. Approval is considered likely. The developers are seeking allowances to increase the height of the building to 55 feet, five feet higher than permitted in the village code. They are also seeking an allowance to reduce the open space on the site to 2.5 percent from the 25 percent required by village code.

The building will have about 10,500 square feet of retail space on the ground floor and 55 apartments on the four higher floors. The project is being funded, in part, through the sale of federal low-income housing tax credits, so renters are subject to income restrictions. Those with incomes above approximately $32,000 to $53,000, depending on the size of the apartment, will not be allowed to rent an apartment there. The apartments will be a mix of studios, one-bedroom, two-bedroom, and three-bedroom units. Rents are expected to range from about $750 for a studio apartment to about $1,100 for the three-bedroom apartment.

“We’re very pleased that the dialogue that we’ve had has gotten us to this point,” said Mark Angelini, president of Marcy Housing Lakefront and an Oak Park resident. “We’re very excited about coming into Oak Park, becoming a stakeholder here.”

The Plan Commission attached a number of conditions to its recommendation, the most significant being that the managers of the building must meet with neighborhood residents 6-12 months after the building reaches 75 percent occupancy to discuss traffic and parking issues.

Some residents of the area expressed concerns about the problems with parking and congestion that the additional residents would bring to the neighborhood. But the developers garnered praise from Plan Commission members for their efforts to work with neighbors.

The building will be on land currently owned by the Schuler family. The developers have reached an agreement with the Schulers to buy the land but will not close on the purchase until the village board approves the project and financing is in place. Currently there are two village-operated parking lots on the property.

Finding new parking spots for those displaced when those two parking lots disappear will be a challenge. There are just a few parking spots available in nearby village lots.

“There are some parking spaces available for rent but very few 24-hour spaces, which are the most preferred,” said Plan Commission member Doug Gilbert, who recommended the village review its nearby lots and convert more parking spaces to 24-hour spaces.

The building will have 75 surface parking spaces. The developers said that if after the building is leased they have unused parking spaces, they would consider renting those spaces to neighborhood residents. 

The Plan Commission also wanted the Mercy Housing Lakefront to give preference to those who live or work in Oak Park, but the developers said they must abide by federal fair housing laws and cannot discriminate against those who do not live or work in Oak Park.

“We can’t turn away a qualified applicant who doesn’t live in Oak Park, but we can focus marketing on Oak Park,” said lawyer Steven Rouse, who represents the developers. Rouse is a former Plan Commission member and a former chairman of the Oak Park Zoning Board of Appeals.

Angelini said that, assuming the village board gives final approval in January, construction would probably begin in the third quarter of 2016 after financing is in place. He expected the first tenants could move in during the third quarter of 2017.

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