Sometimes the development process in Oak Park will confound even the most rational observers. Allowing that, generally, these processes have gotten speedier and more development-friendly in recent years under Mayor Anan Abu-Taleb, which you may like or hate, we come to the current mish-mash over the Drechsler Brown & Williams Funeral Home at 203 S. Marion St.
This one is balled up in both directions. We have the Historic Preservation Commission unanimously opposing issuing a permit to demolish the structure. We get their arguments. It’s old, it’s handsome, it “contributes” to its Ridgeland-Oak Park Historic District setting.
It is also an old house converted into a funeral home in a moment when the funeral home industry is folding in on itself. When Charlie and Lynne Williams finally close Dreschler Brown, it will be the last funeral home in the village. A half century ago there were nearly a dozen.
The vague suggestions that the property could be turned into office space are the fantasy of historic preservationists. It is not a rational plan for an obsolete building in a prime development location.
That said, it is ridiculous that Focus Development, which has the property under contract, has been allowed to get this far without coughing up a detailed plan for just what they want to build.
What do we know? An apartment building, maybe with a smidge of retail and coming in at 12 stories or less. Not nearly good enough. We guarantee that Focus knows exactly what it plans to build, how much it will cost, what the margins are, based on the land price, has architectural drawings at some stage of completion and that people at the Oak Park Economic Development Corporation and, hopefully, village hall know this.
We know they have an architect. It’s David Mann, the former chair of Oak Park’s Plan Commission. David, give us a peek. Is it six stories or 11? What does the massing look like on what, with the large parking lot attached, is a big parcel by Oak Park standards? Is it better looking than the omni-present hulking structure at Harlem and South? Please God.
Drechsler Brown is going to be demolished. It has no use. The village board, still tilted toward development, will approve demolition. But the board better be clear that there can be no demolition until everyone has seen and has time to respond to whatever Focus has planned for this important corner in our village.