Oak Park residents packed the 19th Century Club Monday night for their first glimpse of a new 18-story luxury apartment building planned for the northwest corner of Lake Street and Forest Avenue – directly across the street from the 21-story Vantage apartment building completed last year.
Roughly 200 residents turned out for the open house put on by Albion Residential, a developer which revealed in January that it plans to demolish the existing two-story brick building at 1000 Lake St. to make room for the project.
Many expressed disappointment at the open house format that did not involve a group presentation and question-and-answer session. Instead, residents were left to discuss various aspects of the proposal – including layout, shadow studies and traffic – individually with representatives of the development team.
The site is zoned to allow for construction of an eight-story building, so Albion must ultimately receive approval from the Oak Park village board for a project of that height.
Andrew Yule, Albion’s vice president of development, said Albion is working to acquire the property under the condition that the village approves the project. He said the building would include 265 apartments and 243 parking spaces.
Yule said Albion aims to submit a planned development application to the village, which would first be reviewed by the village’s Plan Commission. They hope to break ground on the project sometime in the fourth quarter of 2017.
Judy Eckberg, a board member of the 19th Century Club who attended the meeting, said “many people here thought this would be a presentation, that we would sit down and be able to hear about it.”
“There’s a lot of disappointment about that,” she said.
Eckberg questioned whether another high-rise building is appropriate for downtown.
“Do we need another tall building; we already have two here,” she said.
Eckberg also voiced concern that construction of another tall building would worsen the “wind tunnel” created by the erection of the Vantage building adjacent to the 19th Century Club.
“When the wind blows, you can hardly open our front door,” she said. “It was not like that before.”
She also questioned developer’s assertion that the positioning of the building would reduce the shadow cast over Austin Gardens, a public park directly north of the property.
“I don’t know how you won’t have a shadow when it’s 18 stories,” she said.
Oak Park resident Frank Pond, a former village employee, was said he was open to hearing more about the proposal before making a judgment, but added that he is generally supportive of tall buildings in downtown Oak Park.
“I’d like to give the developer the opportunity to present their ideas,” he said, adding that he hopes Albion will work with residents on their concerns and return with a proposal “that is acceptable.”
“I tend to be afraid that many of the people who are against the development don’t want any development,” he said.
He noted that the village’s 2005 Downtown Master Plan slates the parcel of land for park use.
“I believe that a municipality’s downtown is where development should occur, and although we are right on the fringes of the historic district, I still think this is our downtown where high rises are going to be built … whether they are eight stories or 18 stories, they belong in the downtown.”
Oak Park architect Brian Hammersley, a local architect, said he, too, was disappointed with the format of the meeting.
“I was expecting that there would be a public presentation, where people could actually get a sense of what they had planned and interface in a public forum,” he said. “The fact that this is an open house is disappointing.”
Hammersley said he would have preferred a public conversation about the effect the project would have on Austin Gardens “to get people’s opinions.”
“There are hundreds of people here but no one got to talk,” he said.
Monica Sheehan, who successfully advocated for a referendum to prevent construction of a multi-million pool construction project at Oak Park and River Forest High School, echoed the sentiment that the format was low on information.
“People were disappointed that developers did not hold a session whereby people could ask questions in a group,” she said.
Sheehan said she’ believes developers for the project “don’t want to answer questions.”
“Why wouldn’t they actually hold a presentation and have a Q&A session, so that you don’t have to answer the same questions over and over?” she asked. “I think there’s a reason why they didn’t do that.”
Yule said the purpose of the open house format was to get feedback from residents.
* This story was updated to correct an inaccurate address given for the proposed project at 1000 Lake St.