The developer of a proposed 18-story luxury apartment building in downtown Oak Park has a new ally for the project.
The executive board of Downtown Oak Park (DTOP), a nonprofit association that promotes business development on and around Lake Street, has sent a letter to the Oak Park Plan Commission in support of the mixed-use building proposed by Albion Residential at the corner of Lake Street and Forest Avenue.
The proposal has made headlines over the last few months with many residents opposing the tower, in part, because of the potential impact to Austin Gardens, a public park adjacent to the two-story building that now stands at 1000 Lake St.
“We are pleased to recommend the development for this location,” DTOP’s letter states. “This underutilized corner is appropriate for commercial reinvestment and we are encouraged with what the project sets forth.”
The two-story building at that corner – built as a Lytton’s department store in 1956 – has been vacant for the last couple of years. That building would be razed to make room for the Albion project.
The letter also states that Albion would bring a “signature building” to the prominent location and the residents of the roughly 300 new apartment units “will bring more vitality that will certainly increase retail sales and dining opportunities.”
Max Austin-Williams, executive director of DTOP, said in a telephone interview that the building would help fill out the retail storefronts along Lake Street, better connecting downtown to the Hemingway District.
The letter, signed by DTOP board President Frank Heitzman, of Heitzman Architects, noted that the DTOP board has met with Albion representatives and discussed the project in detail. It praised the group for including DTOP in the conversation and that the developer has made efforts “to work with the Park District of Oak Park” on the project.
The park district board formally rejected the proposal earlier this year. Park District board President Paul Aeschleman could not immediately be reached for comment.
The park district board is not the only group to oppose the project. Residents have been gathering signatures for a petition encouraging the Oak Park Board of Trustees to reject the necessary zoning changes for the project to move forward. Albion can only build an eight-story building under the existing zoning ordinance.
Residents also held a rally in late March at Austin Gardens to show their support of the park and opposition to the project.
Austin-Williams did not speak in detail on the opposition to the project but said his board had thoroughly reviewed the various issues – shadows cast by the project and a potential “wind tunnel” that the building could bring, among others – and concluded that the building would not substantially impact the health of the park.
Andrew Yule, Albion vice president of development, praised the DTOP endorsement in an email, writing, “We’re very glad the DTOP board and its members support our project and recognize the assets and opportunities it will bring to Oak Park. We have worked hard to listen to all stakeholders, including business owners who know from firsthand experience residential growth is driving a vibrant, walkable downtown Oak Park. We look forward to contributing to that success.”