Oak Park residents got their first chance to speak out against the proposed 18-story building by Albion Residential at an Oak Park Plan Commission meeting last Thursday night at village hall.
Residents, the Park District of Oak Park, representatives from Oak Park Festival Theatre and others urged the plan commission to reject the proposal, arguing that it would damage the adjacent Austin Gardens, increase traffic downtown and hurt the aesthetics of the area.
Opponents have sat through two meetings since the plan commission first began hearings on the proposal, which entailed tree, wind and traffic experts from Albion – mainly stating that the project will have little impact on the surrounding area – and testimony from proponents of the tower.
After at least one more meeting this week, the plan commission will send a nonbinding recommendation to the Oak Park Board of Trustees for consideration. That board will ultimately determine whether to allow the project.
Dozens of residents had signed up to testify against the proposal over the last few weeks of plan commission meetings.
Jan Arnold, executive director of the park district, told the commission last Thursday that the tower will negatively impact Austin Gardens in a number of ways – damaged trees, turf, plant life and increased winds – and that the village should reject the proposal.
She said the average amount of park space for municipalities across the country is five to 10 acres per 1,000 residents “which would equate to between 260 and 520 acres of park space for a community our size.”
“We have 82 acres of green space,” she said. “That is why we give so much attention to every square foot of park space.”
Much of the opposition to the project has come from concerns over the shade the building will cast over the park, largely during the winter. Albion has argued that based on computer generated shadow studies the park will largely be unaffected during the growing season.
Arnold contradicted Albion’s shade study, which states only 11 trees would be negatively affected in the southeast corner of the park, noting that the park district’s GIS database shows 35 trees are located within the shaded area.
“These trees will receive fewer than six hours of sunlight during the growing season, which will impact their health,” she said.
She quoted Dr. Gary Watson, lead scientist in arboriculture at Morton Arboretum, stating, “mature trees get accustomed to a certain amount of sunlight, and when that amount of sunlight is decreased the trees are susceptible to secondary diseases which could lead to possible death.”
Victor Guarino, a park district board member, told the commission that increased winds rolling off the side of the recently constructed Vantage apartment building across the street from the proposed project have already damaged trees in the park, leading to the loss of four trees so far.
“The trees are snapping due to wind pressure on the canopies,” Guarino said. “Park district records indicate that we did not have any tree or wind damage to trees in Austin Gardens from 2014 to 2015 (prior to Vantage).”
The Austin Gardens Environmental Center, a freestanding structure built last year in the southeast corner of Austin Gardens, also would be negatively affected by the high-rise building, Arnold said.
The park district’s building is powered by solar panels, and additional shade “will eliminate the net-zero consumption status of this building, a goal that we are proud to be producing in a community that highly values energy conservation and sustainability.”
Two of the most vocal opponents of the tower project – Joshua Klayman and Laura Stamp – told the commission that the development would not pay off in the long-run and would damage the quality of life in the village.
Klayman said he and others have gathered more than 3,000 signatures from Oak Parkers in a petition against the project.
The tower is projected to bring in an estimated $1 million a year in revenue to the village, but Klayman said that money will be spent on services by the village.
“This is a common pitch from developers, but it does not hold up to scrutiny,” he said. “To talk about increased revenues is to book only half of the numbers because added residents and businesses cost the village and the school districts in extra services required.”
He noted that the nearby District House condos being built are projected to bring in $720,000 to the village but with far fewer units will require far fewer services from the village.
“This project is like a bad payday loan – it promises you quick money up front, you end up paying and paying forever and the company makes off with a huge profit,” he said.
Klayman also said that the although the building has been sold to the commission and public as a unique design to compliment the architecture of Oak Park, Hartshorne Plunkard Architecture has sold an almost identical design to JDL Development at 640 N. Wells St. in the River North neighborhood of Chicago.
“This building is merely a copy,” he said.
Ray Hartshorne, a partner with Hartshorne Plunkard Architecture defended his design in an email response to questions, noting that “our Wells project and 1000 Lake are distinct and different designs.”
“Wells Street is a much taller, all glass, and symmetrical building, whereas our design for Oak Park utilizes multiple materials and treatments to express movement and the energy of downtown,” Hartshorne wrote. “Further, the intentionally asymmetrical design and setbacks of 1000 Lake are used to minimize the visual and environmental impact on Forest Avenue and Austin Gardens.”
Stamp, who established the advocacy group Austin Guards after the building was first proposed, said Austin Gardens is considered “the jewel of Oak Park by many residents.” Allowing the building to be built along with other developments in and around downtown will have a cumulative negative affect.
“Each new development takes away part of the quality of life in downtown Oak Park,” she said. “It’s the cumulative effect of all the development that’s negatively impacting downtown Oak Park, but each development is evaluated individually and in solitude.”
The commission also heard from Leonard Grossman, vice president of Festival Theatre, which holds performances in Austin Gardens each summer. Grossman said he’s not only concerned about the wind and the shade the tower will create, but the noise.
The park already is getting noise from the outdoor dining area at Cooper’s Hawk Winery in the Vantage building, and now it will get additional noise from the proposed patio seating that will be associated with a restaurant planned for the Albion building.
The building also plans a deck on the fifth level on north side of the building that will include an open-air pool that will generate noise with which the theater will have to compete.
“Once we give this away, we don’t get it back,” he said.
The Plan Commission will meet again to discuss the project on Aug. 10.
* This article was updated to include additional comments from Joshua Klayman and a response from Ray Hartshorne. New images also were included.