The proposal to build an 84-unit, six-story apartment complex at 835 Lake St., just 250 feet away from Unity Temple, is sailing smoothly through the Oak Park development process. Following a positive recommendation from the Historic Preservation Commission, the Plan Commission gave the project its endorsement during its Oct. 27 meeting.

As proposed, the 74-foot tall Lake Street complex would sit east of Unity Temple on the empty U.S. Bank drive-thru lot across from Scoville Park and the Oak Park Library’s main branch.

“We were very aware of the prominence of the site,” said Tom Meador, president of Michigan Avenue Real Estate Group (MAREG), the company behind the proposal.

As such, MAREG conducted shadow studies, as well as massing and sightline studies, to ensure the building does not obscure Unity Temple. The developer received a letter from the  Unity Temple Restoration Foundation not in opposition of the project.

Further studies were also conducted to guarantee the building would not cast shadows on Scoville Park, impeding plant growth.

The building’s first story will be reserved for parking, with 78 covered spaces on the ground floor. An additional 10 parking spaces will be reserved for tenants in an adjacent parking lot. Building amenities include an ATM kiosk, glass-railing terraces, bike parking, package storage and a fitness center. To make the structure greener, MAREG intends to install solar panels on the roof.

In lieu of providing affordable units, MAREG has elected to pay $900,000 plus an additional $100,000 to the Oak Park Affordable Housing Fund.

MAREG is the same company that received approval in August to build the controversial 5-story, 42-unit apartment building at 435 to 451 Madison St.

While the Plan Commission criticized MAREG’s Madison Street complex as being too big and too high, commissioners deemed the Lake Street building’s massing and height appropriate. MAREG was also lauded this time around for its effective communication with neighbors and willingness to address their concerns.

“We had a pretty robust outreach program to accumulate input from anybody and everybody who was relevant to our development,” said Meador.

In public comment, Bob Moser, on behalf of the neighboring Cortland Condominium Association, expressed gratitude for MAREG’s openness to communicate.

“I really am happy to have a developer that is willing to talk to us and make some of the changes,” said Moser.

Through a series of letters, MAREG and the condominium association discussed their concerns and negotiated modifications, according to Moser. Moser said many of the changes made were “really standout.”

While the association was still concerned about not having a security gate and fence between the buildings, Moser said the project had the association’s support.

“It’s fine with us,” said Moser.

Moser also said that, while most people who live nearby would prefer not to have a building on that plot at all, they appreciated MAREG’s plans to build a six-story building as opposed to the 28-story structure as was proposed by Golub & Company last year.

Not all were as pleased with the proposal or MAREG as Moser.

Paul Price, a researcher for Laborers’ International Union of North America, sent in a lengthy letter with multiple attachments in opposition to the building. In the letter, Price recounted MAREG’s history with labor union protests and disputes. 

Resident John Conlon submitted a letter against the development, as well. In his letter, Conlon said the building was incongruent with the rest of the area’s residential development.

According to Conlon’s letter, the building was “too big and too dense.”

He believed it would overshadow its neighbors and “add an unacceptable amount of car traffic.”

“If built, it would reduce the quality of the neighborhood,” Conlon’s letter concluded.

Conlon’s traffic claim was not supported by Village Engineer Bill McKenna, who said earlier in the meeting that the building caused the village no concern from a traffic perspective. McKenna also submitted a letter in favor of the development, as did Police Chief LaDon Reynolds and Fire Chief Tom Ebsen.

While the Plan Commission found the proposed complex’s height and massing proper, some commissioners worried that the proposed building’s façade would look out of context compared to the two redbrick buildings flanking it.

Commissioner Jeff Foster, an architect, disagreed.

“It seems to me, from an architectural perspective, this building does fit in the context of Lake Street, if you think about it larger than two adjacent buildings.” said Foster.

Foster went on to point out the varying materials, color palettes and architectural styles used on other Lake Street buildings.

Commissioner Jeff Clark, also an architect, agreed with Foster that the commission shouldn’t focus entirely on the two adjacent buildings.

“That being said, I would hate for this commission to become a taste committee,” said Clark.

Clark added he wouldn’t mind seeing some different material options. He stated he supported recommending the village board allow construction of the building with the condition that MAREG provide alternative façade options.

Commissioner Paul May wanted MAREG to return to the commission with revised architectural designs.

“For timing and what I would call legal and process reasons, that’s really not an option for us and I would prefer to go forward with whatever vote you decide,” said Meador.

Ultimately, the plan commission voted 5-2 to recommend the village board approve the project for construction with the condition that MAREG install a security fence between the condominium building and the new structure. May and Acting Chair Lawrence Brozek cast the dissenting votes.

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