Oak Park’s village board granted Michigan Avenue Real Estate Group (MAREG) permission to build a six-story apartment complex across from Scoville Park and the Oak Park Public Library’s main branch. The 84-unit building will sit on the former U.S. Bank drive-thru lot at 835 Lake St., just east of Unity Temple.  

The proposal came before the village board Nov. 16, having previously gotten positive endorsements from Oak Park’s Historic Preservation Commission and Plan Commission. 

Trustee Susan Buchanan mischaracterized the Plan Commission’s stance on the building’s design and massing. Buchanan stated she attended the project’s Plan Commission hearing but left before it concluded. 

“One thing I thought was pretty dramatic in the Plan Commission is that people really did not like the architecture,” said Buchanan. “There was really vehement opposition to it.”

In fact, the majority of the commission approved of the building’s design. Only two commissioners had unfavorable views of the architecture. Commissioner Paul May wanted MAREG to revise the design. He and Commissioner Lawrence Brozek were the only two members of the commission to vote against the project. 

Buchanan also told the board certain Plan Commission members found the building’s massing too large as well, when in actuality, the commission found the massing appropriate.

Plan Commission Chair Iris Sims corrected Buchanan on the commission’s design opinions, saying the Plan Commission recommended approval of the project in a 5-2 vote. 

“It’s disingenuous to say that there were people or that this was unanimous or that architecture was a big thing,” Sims said.

Sims told Buchanan that it was not the role of the Plan Commission to act as “taste police.”

Trustee Simone Boutet viewed the project favorably and was pleased that in building it, MAREG had committed to providing the village of Oak Park with $1 million for its affordable housing fund. 

In lieu of setting aside units to be let at an affordable rate, MAREG is giving the village $900,000 to satisfy the village’s inclusionary housing ordinance. It’s giving an extra $100,000 toward the affordable housing fund as an added benefit.

Trustee Arti Walker-Peddakotla told the board she would be voting against the development for the same reasons she voted against the last MAREG development, which is slated to be built on Madison Street and Gunderson Avenue.

Walker-Peddakotla was still concerned about MAREG’s history of labor union disputes, despite MAREG saying they had been remediated. 

She also believed MAREG should make units available for affordable housing instead of paying into the fund. MAREG’s Lake Street proposal she felt was a perfect opportunity for integrated affordable housing.

“The biggest concern that I have is that we keep on having these buildings without integrated affordable housing,” said Walker-Peddakotla. “I hope we do something useful with the million dollars and actually build an integrated affordable housing building.”

  Walker-Peddakotla held true to her word and voted against the project, while the rest of the board, including Buchanan, voted in favor of it. The proposed development was approved 6-1.

The board voted to concur with two other recommendations made by the Plan Commission related to zoning during the Nov. 16 meeting. 

As part of its consent agenda, the board adopted the recommended amendment to the zoning ordinance to allow certain non-retail business to occupy the front 50 feet of ground-level space of buildings located in downtown Oak Park and the Hemingway District.

As traditional brick-and-mortar retailers have been increasingly supplanted by e-commerce websites with the rise of online shopping, it has been difficult for buildings in those districts to maintain a retail presence.

With the adoption of the amendment, the zoning has been broadened to allow art and fitness studios, health clubs, business service centers and recreation activities to occupy that prime ground-level downtown real estate. Business service centers include UPS, FedEx and similar outlets, bowling alleys and ax throwing ranges fall into the category of recreation.

The village board also accepted the changes made to the zoning ordinance dictating the timeline of the development process. The changes include the elimination of a requirement that building permits must be submitted within nine months from when the village board approved the development project. The other approved changes are an extension of the timeline to begin construction from 18 months to 36 months from the date of village approval and the elimination of the requirement that construction must be completed within 36 months. The timeframe for completion, under the amended ordinance, will be established by the developer in the planned development application.  

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