The Oak Park Plan Commission continued its deliberations this week on a proposal for an 18-story mixed-use residential building on Lake Street in downtown Oak Park.
The proposed building by Albion Residential, which would be just west of the 21-story Vantage apartment building at 150 Forest Ave., has faced fierce opposition from some residents, primarily because of its potential impact on Austin Gardens, a public park immediately north of the Albion site.
Among other things, opponents have argued that the building would worsen the so-called wind-tunnel effect created by the Vantage tower, which was built last year.
Albion issued a wind study as part of its planned development application, arguing earlier in July that its proposed building would reduce the increased winds that roll down the side of Vantage, blasting pedestrians on the sidewalks below.
Hanqing Wu, technical director and principle of Canadian-based wind and microclimate consulting firm RWDI, appeared before the commission Thursday, explaining that the proposed building would shelter Forest Avenue from westerly winds.
Those same winds coming from the west, the most common type experienced in the Chicago area, would, however, increase wind activity in the southeast corner of the park.
He noted that wind conditions would remain unchanged for most of the park.
Winds from the south and southwest would increase winds between the two towers, due to the “channeling effect” that occurs when winds blow between two such structures. Those southerly winds would not affect the park, Wu said.
Northerly winds might increase wind speeds along Forest Avenue, but “any wind impact would be limited to the southeast corner of the park,” Wu noted in a slideshow presentation.
The stepped design of the Albion building – the northern portion of the building has an open-air pool and patio area – also would help reduce wind speed felt by those on the ground, Wu said.
“Wind speed in the podium area will be high,” Wu said of the winter months, but should be less abrasive during the warm summer months. Landscaping, guardrails and other features on the building also could help reduce wind on the podium patio area as well as on the ground, according to Wu.
“To mitigate (the wind at the street level) you can (install) a canopy around the building to protect the sidewalk to direct wind into the middle of the street,” he said.
Wu modeled his findings on wind patterns taken from O’Hare and Midway airports, and said conducting a study more specific to the area around Lake and Forest would take about six to seven weeks.
The commission also began public testimony at the meeting, but only had time to hear comments from the project’s supporters – that’s because dozens of residents turned out to testify against the proposal.
Plan Commission Chairman David Mann said that at 5 minutes apiece, opponents’ testimony would take several hours. The plan commission will meet next on Aug. 3 to continue hearing testimony.
Supporters were few, but they made passionate pleas for continuing the success of residential and commercial real estate downtown.
John Lynch, executive director of the Oak Park Economic Development Corporation, a public-private entity tasked with attracting and retaining business development in Oak Park, said large residential developments like Vantage, The Emerson – a 271-unit mixed-use development being built near Harlem and Lake – and others in the works have helped attract more development and businesses to the village.
He said Albion explored a 6-story and a 12-story building at the site, but found “it costs more to build those kinds of buildings than they’re worth.”
“Do not get sucked into the trap of saying, ‘Let’s send this away and bring back a 6-story building,'” he said.
He added, “We have this proposal or we have the eyesore that we have there today,” referring to the currently vacant two-story commercial building on the site.
David King, president of Oak Park-based commercial real estate firm David King & Associates, said he’s been leasing commercial real estate in Oak Park for 34 years and has never seen the town as commercially vibrant as it is now.
“The last year and a half has been mind-boggling,” he said, referencing the number of businesses opening in Oak Park.
He said much of that buzz is driven by residential real estate projects coming online.
“I’m asking you to keep the demand going,” he said.
Former Oak Park Trustee Colette Lueck also testified in favor of the Albion project. She said the building and other residential development downtown is increasing the population of Oak Park at a time when the state and the region is rapidly losing population.
She added that the developer’s project will bring in about $1 million a year in tax revenue and is not asking for any public subsidy to build the project.
“It is remarkable that there is no (village) incentive and (they’re bringing in) $1 million in revenue,” she said.
“We’re never going to develop our way out of tax increases, but a million dollars is not a bad thing to have,” she said.