The Oak Park Historic Preservation Commission declared the proposed 159-unit apartment complex slotted for the Drechsler, Brown & Williams funeral home site too large for the area in a preliminary review held Nov. 24.
“It just feels overwhelming to me,” Commissioner Monique Chase said of the proposed 84-foot-10-inch-tall, seven-story structure, which includes 123 parking spots.
The preliminary hearing was requested by applicant Focus Development to gather the commission’s feedback ahead of the project’s required advisory review on its construction plans for 203 S. Marion St. in the Ridgeland-Oak Park Historic District.
While a few commissioners expressed an appreciation of the use of brick in the building’s façade, the commission was generous in giving more constructive feedback as well.
“I think it’s too tall,” said Commissioner Jennifer Bridge.
Commissioner Sandra Carr liked the design’s U-shaped courtyard, believing it effectively broke up the building’s mass, but said the building was still too tall “by like two stories.”
“Zoning height is 60 feet and I think that’s appropriate for this location,” Carr told Focus representatives.
If Focus was set on keeping the building at eight stories, Carr suggested they look into stacking the first four floors and stepping back on floors five and six, then stepping back further on the top floor.
“So that the façade that’s on Marion Street feels more like a four-story at least,” she said.
Chase thought the building did not have enough green space around its edges.
“It makes it feel almost claustrophobic,” Chase said.
Commissioner Lou Garapolo believed the U-shaped courtyard was effective from the top but, despite its setback, gave no relief at the street level. He also felt that the renderings of the building really showed “that this proposal is out of scale with what we’re seeing in the area.”
While he thought using bricks on the façade served as a unifying factor among the buildings in the area, Commissioner David Sokol was concerned about the proposed structure’s scale as well.
Commissioner Noel Weidner felt the building made the area feel claustrophobic as well. “You go one block west and try to go north and you’re at a dead end,” said Weidner of the recently constructed 1133 South Blvd. apartment building. “It’s like a giant wall there already and then you add this there to that little area of Oak Park and you’re like in a canyon.”
Chair Rebecca Houze liked the brick and the incorporation of plantings but agreed the building felt massive. She thought the design lacked the unique details evocative of different architectural styles that the other buildings in the area have.
“It doesn’t really pick up on any of that, kind of, delicacy that I see in some of other buildings in the area that give it visual interest,” said Houze.
Oak Park’s Historic Preservation Urban Planner Susie Trexler agreed to summarize the commission’s recommendations for Focus in a written letter.
Only a preliminary review, the Historic Preservation Commission will make its official determination on the proposal during the as yet unscheduled advisory review. After that, the proposal will head to the Plan Commission.
Story has been updated to reflect changes to the design made by the developer.