On April 13, Oak Park Residence Corporation held a community meeting via Zoom for neighbors of its proposed development at Van Buren and Austin in Oak Park. The proposal calls for tearing down the two-story, 12-unit building at 7 Van Buren and replacing it with a 44-unit building.
The immediate response from immediate neighbors is that the building is too tall and lacks adequate parking.
Residents of the existing building were given notice last summer that their one-year leases would not be renewed. David Pope, ResCorp president and CEO, says his organization is working with tenants to find other housing in the neighborhood and says many have moved or already signed leases elsewhere.
The proposed development would include five floors of rental units, a roof top deck topped with solar panels, and a first-floor parking area for 18 cars. Currently, 5 studios, 35 one-bedroom and 4 two-bedroom units are planned. Pope says 20% of the units will be set aside as affordable housing.
Justin Dossier is president of the Parkview West Condo Association and the owner of a condominium in the building just to the south of the proposed development. He expresses concerns with how OPRC has approached the planning process and says he wishes they had involved neighbors more before to getting to this point in the process.
As the owner of a unit in an historically significant building, he is also concerned about the impact construction and the finished building will have on his building. “First and foremost,” he says, “the building is beautiful. However, the general size for the lot is completely disproportionate to its neighbors. Secondly, it’s dwarfing our building and blocking our sunlight because 50% of our building’s windows are on the north side.”
Jim Gilchrist and his wife Sue have lived at 808 S. Humphrey since 1978. Beyond concerns that the new building will provide residents views into his yard and home, Gilchrist, who served on the village’s Building Codes Advisory Commission in the past, has several broader worries about the development.
Top of his list is height. He says that while Pope describes the building as six stories, the presence of solar panels and a roof deck on the top of the building make it a seven-story building. “The tallest building around this is three and a half stories, so this is double that,” he says.
Steven Brown lives on the 700 block of South Humphrey, attended the April 13 meeting and says he is in total support of the project. He cites the design and the sustainability features and adds, “It checks all the boxes. It does something that most new developments don’t do in that it balances attractive, modern design with affordability.”
He says the size of the building, while larger than some neighbors, is not overwhelming. For him, the privacy concerns raised by some neighbors at the meeting, don’t make a lot of sense in a village like Oak Park that is a dense urban area
The fact that the building is being developed by ResCorp is another positive for Brown. “It’s a not-for-profit. Affordability is a big part of its mission, and they do a good job with their other buildings in the neighborhood.”
Neighbor Frank Vozak lives with his wife Terrie Rhymer at 804 S. Humphrey, directly behind the proposed development. Vozak says he appreciates ResCorp’s original mission to turn around old apartment buildings and bring them up to better standards, but he is unhappy with the size of the proposal and the precedent that could be set by allowing developers to raze buildings and build stories above neighboring buildings with buildings that go over public sidewalks.
Neighbors also worry about the 18 parking spaces provided for 44 units. Gilchrist says during his time serving the village that new buildings were required to provide one parking space per unit and that allowance still led to parking shortages.
Pope counters ResCorp will actively pursue residents without cars. With 18 parking spaces for a building of 44 units, 40% of the building’s units will have a parking space. He adds in reference to ResCorp’s other buildings, “In comparison to our existing portfolio, only 31% of our current households have a car. This is materially higher than that.”
Vozak and Gilchrist also expressed frustration with the limitations of Zoom for a community meeting. Vozak says Pope declined to answer any of his or his wife’s five questions about the development.
Gilchrist says, “It’s a disadvantage of meeting in the COVID era. You don’t really have a public meeting if people submit questions via chat and someone chooses not to answer them.”
Dossier says his questions were answered via the chat. He stresses that those answers reflect the building is likely a foregone conclusion. “I asked how many of the ResCorp’s projects that had been before the village had received approval in the past, and the answer was all of them. This goes to show the power of the ResCorp in the village.”
Pope says he offered up his work phone number, email address and cell phone number to all participants and has been happy to engage with community members one-on-one. He points to one neighbor of the project who reached out via email immediately after the Zoom meeting to say that they were supportive of the building, and another neighbor who posted positive comments on the chat during the meeting.
Pope acknowledges there are neighbor concerns, and says that with any situation in Oak Park, there will never be unanimity, but says that’s what makes Oak Park a special place.
Pope says ResCorp continues to work through the building and budgeting process and declined to give an overall price tag for the project. At this point, he does not anticipate asking the village for financial support and says that ResCorp is uniquely situated not to need a significant financial return from the building. “We don’t have the return-on-investment requirements that a private sector building would have.”
Pope would not provide a specific date, but says the next step is to submit plans to the village.