The Oak Park Board of Trustees was in for a rude awakening when construction crews began excavating two village-owned parking lots that will soon serve as the foundation of Oak Park’s next big mixed-use development.
The apartment and retail building known as Elevate Oak Park is currently under construction near the corner of Lake and Harlem, but when workers began digging at the site earlier this year they discovered submerged leaking petroleum tanks that contaminated much of the development site.
That pushed the environmental cleanup cost of the site up to $3 million, and now the village is hoping to use funds from the Downtown Tax Increment Finance District to cover the unexpected cost.
The only catch is a legal settlement reached between the village and Oak Park’s two school boards in 2011 prevents the village from tapping the TIF funds without buy-in from the D200 and D97 school boards.
Trustees urged school board members to consider approving use of the TIF funds.
Oak Park Mayor Anan Abu-Taleb said he and other trustees have had an open dialogue with members of both school boards to persuade them to help the village invest in the downtown business district.
He said the D200 board has said it will discuss the issue at its meeting on Sept. 22 and the D97 board will take up the issue on Sept. 27.
“Their boards will have the same opportunity we have today to vote and, hopefully, approve this amendment,” he said, adding that the amendment to the TIF “serves the community as a whole.”
“Hopefully, we can have an approval of both the D200 and the D97 boards by the end of the month,” he said.
Other trustees echoed Abu-Taleb’s request that the school boards buy in on cleanup project.
Trustee Colette Lueck thanked Abu-Taleb and Trustee Bob Tucker for working with the school boards on tapping the TIF.
“I’m appreciative of the boards to engage with the village to have this dialogue and this framework,” she said.
Trustee Peter Barber also thanked the two school boards for considering the TIF amendment. “It does make a great statement about how all the [taxing] bodies can work together,” Barber said.
Trustees have reasoned that the new development – a 271-unit apartment building with a parking garage and ground-level retail – will help the village and the school districts as a new source of tax revenue.
The Downtown TIF annually generates approximately $8.3 million in tax revenue.