Well, first off I’m not going to use the term NIMBY in writing about the plaintiffs in a December lawsuit filed against the village of Oak Park by neighbors of the upcoming affordable apartment building going up at Oak Park Avenue and Van Buren Street. Experience tells me that the use of the term NIMBY sets crazy people off but good. And I don’t want to upset anyone. 

So instead I will refer to these neighbors as “overly concerned and highly wrought.”

While I am not an expert in matters of what constitutes adequate light and air supplies, I am confident in saying that, despite their protestations in this highly amusing lawsuit, even after this four-story building is constructed their “adjacent and contiguous” homes across the alley will still see the light-generating sun rise each morning and that air will continue to circulate around, above, next to, and if the windows are open, through their homes. This week that air will be very cold. In July the air will likely be hot and heavy with humidity.

Damned affordable housing!

From this lawsuit I guess the neighbors prefer the current fenced off gravel lot and they were likely wild about the decades-long occupancy of the BP gas station. Who doesn’t enjoy a good gas station?

However, the neighbors don’t own the parcel in question and, surprise, it was more or less inevitable that someday a use higher and better than gravel was going to be discovered. That is going to be a handsome mixed-use building with some commercial space on the first floor and apartments upstairs. Not particularly radical.

Now the neighbors also object in their lawsuit that the building is three-feet taller than current zoning allows — 45 feet vs. 42 feet. In this they have compatriots in the Unity Temple battle to block a 28-story building on a site zoned for eight stories. These folks ought to have coffee. The litigious neighbors also object to the number of apartments — too high — approved by the village board and the number of parking spaces — too low — approved by the village board.

It is possible, just saying, that the core of this lawsuit isn’t about the extra 3 feet, about a four-story building blocking the sun or the wind but rather about the affordable nature of this property tax-paying project.

Community Builders Inc., a highly regarded nonprofit out of Boston, is the developer here. The project, approved unanimously by the village board in October and later granted a $500,000 grant from the village’s affordable housing fund, will include 37 apartments. The future tenants will be working people earning modest hourly wages – up to $17 per hour.

Now no one will admit that it is the affordable aspect of this project that offends the overly concerned and highly wrought among us. Instead we are left to contend with balderdash about air flow and vague suggestions that the project will lower property values.

Oak Park is a progressive community until it becomes inconvenient and then we get laughable lawsuits. We all watched the same thing play out a few years back on Madison Street at Grove when nonprofit housing groups proposed turning the ugliest building in town into affordable apartments. Today that abandoned Comcast wreck is the handsome, fully occupied, Sugar Beet-hosting Grove Apartments. Despite all the histrionics from neighbors back then, never is heard a discouraging word about that terrific project. 

This suit will go away. The building will go up. We’ll all have 37 new neighbors. And, yes, the sun will shine, the air will circulate, and we will hopefully be done with petty and closed-minded neighbors.

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Dan Haley

Dan was one of the three founders of Wednesday Journal in 1980. He’s still here as its four flags – Wednesday Journal, Austin Weekly News, Forest Park Review and Riverside-Brookfield Landmark – make...