An open letter to our village board members and President Abu-Taleb:

I’m writing as a concerned longtime Oak Park resident and taxpayer to voice my fervent opposition to any high-rise development at 835 Lake St. 

I applaud you, President Abu-Taleb, for publicly declaring your opposition to a 28-story tower. But your statement leaves me with two serious concerns.

First, Unity Temple — by which I assume you mean both the congregation and the Unity Temple Restoration Foundation (UTRF) — is not the only or even the most important stakeholder here. As you well know, these organizations are mere caretakers for a world heritage treasure that belongs to everyone, everywhere. And since UT’s site and the surrounding area, notably the recently restored Scoville Park and award-winning Main Library, constitute the very heart of Oak Park, the entire community and the many visitors who enjoy it are equally important stakeholders in the redevelopment of 835 Lake.

While the subject of stakeholders is on the table, please remember that each of you was elected to protect and promote the interests of our entire community, not subsets or individual entities within our community. In this case, every resident is surely concerned. Every resident has a right to expect you to consider any proposal for redevelopment in Oak Park, especially this one, in light of its impact on all of Oak Park and all its residents. 

Second, if 28 stories is too tall, what about 20 or 14? The cynic in me smells a 28-story straw dog. What are your criteria for too tall? Do they consider the height of typical structures within the Hemingway District? What about the 45-foot zoning limit for this lot? Do zoning limits exist only to be drastically revised whenever a developer insists they cannot build economically with anything less than several times that limit? 

At the Nov. 26 meeting, in answer to the question “Why 28 stories?” Michael Glazier’s response was “because that’s the only way we can get to 256 units” — a number presented as a deal-breaker. 

Oak Parkers deserve confidence that the board’s decisions on proposals and on height variances are based on firm criteria that reflect the community’s interests and values, not the interest of securing commitments from developers.  

No one can argue that a drive-up bank facility and parking lot are the best uses for 835 Lake, and as a resident of District House, I am no enemy of contemporary architecture, streetscape in-fill, or change. 

I take my cue from Mr. Rogers’ “Won’t you be my neighbor?” A neighbor doesn’t disrupt and bully. A neighbor gets along with others and contributes positively to the existing community. We welcome neighbors like that.

I look to members of the village board, elected to serve the community, to ensure that the redevelopment of 835 Lake and any other site in our village fits into the unique architectural fabric that defines this place, rather than undermining it. 

Please demonstrate that, after all, you have our community’s interests foremost, and not those of developers. Don’t let the Hemingway District become another Downtown Oak Park.

Wendy Greenhouse is an Oak Park resident.

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