The plan commission OK’d an apartment project on Marion Street. Goes next to Oak Park’s village board. (Rendering by Focus Development)

The proposal to build a seven-story apartment complex at 203 S. Marion St., the grounds of Drechsler Brown & Williams funeral home, snagged the Oak Park Plan Commission’s approval March 4. 

While some commissioners still had reservations over the design, the commission voted 6 to 3 to send a positive recommendation to the village board, which will pass the final judgement on whether to allow construction. 

“We do want to promote development in the village,” said Commissioner Nick Bridge, one of the three commissioners to vote against the project.

Bridge felt that the 84-foot-10-inch apartment building proposed by development group Focus would look better in Chicago’s West Loop, rather than Oak Park.

“As a commissioner my primary responsibility is to protect my fellow citizens from development that does not fit, development that is in the wrong place,” said Bridge. In this case, I reluctantly state that the size, the bulk, the lack of setbacks render it objectionable to me.”

If granted construction approval by the village board, Focus will pay $1.58 million into the village of Oak Park’s affordable housing fund. As proposed, the building will have 158 units and a swimming pool but no specifically affordable units.

Commissioner Jeff Clark, who also voted against the project, said he would have supported the project if the building had one floor of underground parking. Focus previously told the Plan Commission that building underground parking would be too costly.

 “I don’t agree that a project of this nature can’t have underground parking,” said Clark.

 Clark did not feel that the Focus proposal was the best use for the property, believing the village could find a better project for the site.

“This is the premier development site in Oak Park remaining,” said Clark. “This site would attract other developers and, I believe, quickly.”

Commissioner Tom Gallagher agreed that the site could attract other developers, including developers that would not prioritize quality.

“I just don’t think we’re going to get as quality a product from the next guy as we’re potentially going to get from Focus,” said Gallagher. “For that reason alone, I will support this project.”

The third commissioner to vote against the project, Commissioner Lawrence Brozek felt the proposed building is incompatible to the area. Brozek told the Plan Commission the building would have a “detrimental” effect on the area and the village. The project’s compensating benefits, Brozek called, “de minimis in nature.” 

Compensating benefits include Focus rebuilding the alley adjacent to the property and paying the village $60,000 to repave the remainder of the alley from the development property south to Randolph Street.

“To me, it’s not a total win,” said Commissioner Jeff Foster, of the project.

Foster wanted to see Focus to add more design elements to the building’s façade to  enhance its residential character, but otherwise found the proposal decent and voted to approve it.

 “I think this project might be OK for this site,” Foster said.

Commissioner Jon Hale thought the building would strengthen the surrounding commercial district. Hale felt it important to allow more people to live in and near greater downtown Oak Park in a walkable, urban environment.

“I’ve been a little bit dismayed frankly to hear several comments refer to the folks who would live in this development as transient residents, as though it’s a class of residents that we don’t really want here,” said Hale, who voted yes on the project. 

Like Hale, Commissioner Paul May stated he would have liked to have seen Focus do more to increase the building’s visual appeal. 

“It still feels a little bit corporate to me,” May said.

Chair Iris Sims said the design doesn’t excite her but still thought the design of quality.

Concerned with the building’s height, Commissioner Paul Beckwith was disappointed Focus couldn’t remove two floors. 

Noting the economic situation faced by the village of Oak Park, and the positive impact the Focus building could have on it, Beckwith voted in favor of the project.

“I had to do what’s best in my view for the greater good of Oak Park.”

The Plan Commission’s recommendation includes the condition that Focus work with the village’s architectural design consultant on façade enhancements for the street sides of the development.

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