Having lived across the street from Austin Gardens for the past 18 years, naturally I was curious to see developer Albion’s proposal for 1000 Lake St., revealed to the public on Jan. 30 at the 19th Century Club. Because our zoning ordinance allows an 80-foot-tall structure at that location, nothing taller than 80 feet is permitted to be built unless it receives permission from our village board.
What I saw was an 18-story high-rise fully maxing out the site footprint, almost lot line to lot line, except for a “Greenway Path” connecting Lake Street to the park, which was narrow enough that I couldn’t see it on the rendering until it was pointed out. The sheer bulk of the building, with its extra wide presence on Lake Street, dwarfed the adjacent, 8-story 1010 Lake building and the street level presence of the new 21-story Vantage building just to the east.
Of course, aside from the standard traffic concerns, the biggest impact of this building on this site would be on Austin Gardens. As far as the park is concerned, there could not be a worse location for a tall building. Austin Gardens is a unique jewel in Oak Park. There is nothing like it and it belongs to everyone.
This past year, the park district has done a wonderful job enhancing the park, planting native species, creating a nature center and programming to showcase sustainability and bring children and people of all ages to experience nature more intimately. A building this size would rob the entire southeast quadrant of Austin Gardens of much of its sunlight. Particularly vulnerable would be the white pine trees in the southeast corner, and all of the thoughtful plantings done by the park district. Such a building would dwarf even the tall oak trees, spoil the tranquility offered by the natural character of the park, and the attendant darkness would diminish people’s experience of the park as well as hurt the vegetation.
We all want to manage the finances of the village realistically and wisely. We all want to increase density in a responsible way in order to help businesses thrive and create an (even more) vibrant and diverse Oak Park. But we’ve got to ask, at what point do the efforts for density begin to destroy the very qualities that make people want to live here?