My propensity to miss every turn in the real estate market was confirmed on the final day of last September. That morning, my wife and I closed on the purchase of a condo in an attractive corner of Oak Park. In the afternoon, the local paper arrived with an unpleasant local news story. A development company had plans to erect a 9-story apartment building on the site of the Drechsler Funeral Home — immediately across the alley from our new residence!
Some might question my credentials for taking a position against this proposed project. My ownership of a residence within shouting distance of the potential “skyscraper” means that I have a vested interest that might cloud my judgment. And I have lived in Oak Park so long (40 of my 72-year life) that I am often guilty of believing that life in our village was better yesterday than today.
But I know from personal experience what draws people to Oak Park and what ties them down once they get here. I also feel a responsibility not to erode the quality of life that I inherited from my Oak Park predecessors.
My primary reason for opposing a large apartment building at the corner of Pleasant and Marion is that it will put one more chink in the Oak Park culture. Locals prize the human-sized buildings, multiple neighborhood business districts, tree-lined sidewalks, numerous widely scattered parks and independent retail establishments. As Julie Andrews would sing, “These are a few of my favorite things.” They make Oak Park lovable.
One more high-rise will probably not be the straw that breaks the camel’s back, but none of us know for sure how long the camel will survive if the trend is not curbed.
My interest in this subject is also truly personal. My wife, despite suffering an incurable debilitating disorder, is an avid walker who named our new puppy “Austin” in honor of her favorite park destination in the village. It was a deep disappointment when Austin Gardens was put in the shadows of recently erected high-rise apartment buildings. Now we have moved across from Mills Park, where the sunsets may be obscured by another building reaching to the heavens.
I am sure that a data-informed discussion about the effect of the proposed project upon economic development and tax revenues is being fully aired by the local Plan Commission. As it should. I also encourage the trustees to remain alert to the poetry, spirit and history of a distinctive village that they have an opportunity to promote and preserve. Not to do so would be a tragedy and a misuse of the trust that we place in them
After 40 years in Oak Park, Dale Sorenson recently moved onto the block where a tall apartment building is proposed.