The proposed 5-story apartment complex for 435 Madison St. will go to the Oak Park village board for its vote without a positive recommendation from the plan commission. The commission voted in opposition March 5 notably concerned about the size of the proposed project.

Michigan Avenue Real Estate Group (MAREG) first presented the proposal Jan. 9; the project’s hearing was extended to address concerns from the public and commission.

The building’s redesign did not alter the height or size of the building. Chairman David Mann believed MAREG could have explored more options to address the size than what was presented the second time around. “I think this commission is looking for more,” Mann said.

MAREG used optical illusions to make the building look like four stories, instead of five – a change that did little to please neighbors.

“You guys have kind of tried to dance us by putting some doodads on it, trying to make it appear to be smaller,” said Jim Polaski during public testimony. “I’m a fat guy – that’s like telling me to wear dark clothes and don’t use horizontal stripes.”

Polaski implored the developers to make the neighbors happy by blending the design to fit in with the architecture in the neighborhood. 

 “Let’s stop putting lipstick on a pig,” Polaski said.

MAREG admitted during the meeting that it had yet to build a five-story structure, which neighbor Justin Brown called “interesting.”

“This five-story building, which we’re all pretty surprised to see and we’re shocked at this massing being inserted into this residential neighborhood, is an anomaly,” Brown said.

He also stated that the developer had a history of “radically dialing back its plans in response to community input.” According to Brown, MAREG increased the green space at their Monroe Aberdeen Place development from 2,500 square feet to nearly 13,000 – a change made directly because of community input. 

Brown said the plan commission and community told the developer back in January that the building’s mass was too great and did not fit in the spot.

MAREG hadn’t “responded seriously to the community or the concerns of the commission,” Brown said.

Neighbor Anna Johnson did not think the building would contribute positively to the goal of revitalizing Madison Street; a section of the goal includes adding exciting architecture to the street.

“This design is certainly more creative than the last, but I was disappointed to discover this week that it too was a recycled design,” she stated. “It was stated that it was made especially for Oak Park, but you can find on the architect’s website there is almost the exact same design being proposed right now for West Town.”

Johnson also said the plan commission already gave the developer the opportunity to redesign the building and address neighbor concerns but “they chose not to.”

The commission agreed that MAREG’s multiple zoning relief requests paled in comparison to the compensation benefits of the project. Such requests include doubling the allotted number of units to 48, an increased height from 50 feet to 63 and substantially reduced setback.

The revised plan added solar panels to heat common areas in the building, had the vehicle entrance moved from Gunderson Avenue to Madison Street for pedestrian safety but did not set the parking further back as a pedestrian safety measure, as the community wanted. MAREG also redid the traffic study to reflect the entrance and exit location changes.

Tim Kelly, a contractor who spoke in favor of the project in January, reiterated his support, making him the only public person who backed MAREG’S plans.

With its size and proximity to the Gunderson Historic District, the plan commission agreed the building’s mass decidedly made it unfit for the neighborhood, delighting the neighbors who spoke out against it.

MAREG President and CEO Tom Meador said the cost of land, price of tenant rent, and management expenses made scaling the height down not viable financially.

“There’s really nothing more with respect to the building that we can do,” Meador told the commission. “We would like to move forward with or without your support.”

Oak Park’s village board will make the final decision at an as yet undetermined date.

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