Neighbors to a proposed five-story development at 505 N. Ridgeland Ave. have formed a group called Oak Parkers for Wright-Sized Development (OPWSD), and they hope to expand their reach in advance of developer Ambrosia Homes’ neighborhood meeting on April 20.
Three neighbors of the proposed development, Frank Lipo, Kathy Dull and Ben Brimeyer, are part of the group which has expressed concerns about 36-unit luxury apartment building and would require zoning relief to be built.
The district’s zoning, according to Dull, gives developer Tim Pomaville permission to erect an 11-unit building by right.
Currently, the property at 505 N. Ridgeland Ave. is home to a one-story building last used as a dentist’s office with a rear parking lot. Located in the Frank Lloyd Wright Historic District, the building was constructed in the mid-20th century and is considered a non-conforming structure, not protected from demolition.
Pomaville is proposing a larger building than is allowed by right through Oak Park’s planned development process. According to Village Planner Craig Failor, developers must go through the planned development process when proposed buildings are over 20,000 square feet in gross floor area and the applicant is requesting relief from zoning regulations.
“I think the group is fairly unanimous that we support some kind of development on this corner but also unanimous that this type of development is not right for the Frank Lloyd Wright Historic District and this area,” said Brimeyer, who owns the home directly to the north of the proposed building.
Lipo, Dull and Brimeyer have already met with Pomaville and said that while the meeting was cordial and Pomaville was open to their ideas, it was clear the developer was not going to change his plans for the size of the building.
At their meeting, Pomaville pointed to two other similar developments that Ambrosia has built in Oak Park, one at Lyman Avenue and Madison Street, and the other at Washington Boulevard and Cuyler Avenue.
Lipo, who is the executive director of the Historical Society of Oak Park and River Forest, is a part of the OPWSD in a personal capacity. His home is on the same block as the proposed development. He says Pomaville’s earlier multifamily projects in Oak Park differ from this proposal.
Lipo pointed out that the neighborhood of Chicago Avenue west of Ridgeland, is made up of single-family homes until it nears Harlem Avenue.
“Washington [Boulevard] has long been an apartment building corridor in the village, and that building is a replacement of an apartment building that burned down,” Lipo said of Ambrosia’s development there.
Similarly, he says the development at Lyman Avenue and Madison Street fits into the village’s long-range plan for the Madison Street corridor. He also points out that the Madison Street building is on a larger lot than the building at 505 N. Ridgeland Ave., but it is only three stories tall and contains only 24 units.
“We’re just trying to understand why this number of units and why this height,” Lipo said.
Dull raises questions about the compensating benefits that are a part of Oak Park’s planned development process. She does not see how the proposed development meets that requirement as there is no commercial component to the building.
Rather than contributing a business for local residents in the neighborhood, she says it will add 39 cars to the alley traffic and significant height, which is a negative for neighboring single-family homes.
Brimeyer, Dull and Lipo all say that granting the proposed zoning variances here would set bad precedent for the neighborhood as the other three corners of the intersection of Chicago and Ridgeland avenues, which are home to one-story commercial buildings that could potentially be redeveloped into taller, residential buildings.
“It’s a pure density play,” Brimeyer said. “It’s good for the developer’s pocketbook. … The village should be very careful with this.”
Acknowledging that as the next-door neighbor to the project he is likely to be most affected by the development, Brimeyer says that his concerns are broader when taken in the context of the development process in the village.
“It’s sort of scary as a resident when something like this happens,” Brimeyer said. “We’re up against someone who isn’t from here, who boasts about his connections with the village. He has all of the strings, and we have none.”
Lipo cited the village’s Chicago Avenue Neighborhood Plan as evidence of long-term community planning that should be valued when new developments are proposed.
“If the village doesn’t uphold the zoning code, it’s like the wild west,” Lipo said.
Christopher Payne, the former chairman for the Oak Park Historic Preservation Commission, an architect and member of Preservation of Oak Park, questioned the village’s process for approving developments in general and in historic districts in particular.
He draws comparisons to the corners of Lake Street and Euclid Avenue, home to four relatively newly constructed buildings.
“It seems when these were getting built, there was a sense of character and design,” Payne said. “The sense of scale, the presence, the entrance and the roofline all took design into consideration.”
More recent developments though, including the multifamily building at Harlem Avenue and South Boulevard, which abuts a historic district, don’t have those design considerations, according to Payne.
“It’s like we don’t have a plan,” he said. “We just do whatever comes before us as a village.”
Payne said he’s not necessarily against the type of development proposed at 505 N. Ridgeland Ave., but he thinks it belongs elsewhere in the village.
“It doesn’t fit in this neighborhood. It belongs on Madison,” Payne said. “I’m not against capitalism. We want our developers to be healthy, but not at the expense of our neighborhoods.”
Because the development is in a historic district, the developer will need to submit plans to the Oak Park Historic Preservation Commission for review.
Susie Trexler, Oak Park’s urban planner in historic preservation, says the village’s guidelines for new construction in historic districts encompass many of the details Payne thinks the village would be wise to consider in new developments.
The guidelines state that the HPC should look to new construction to “be compatible with the neighborhood and adjacent buildings [and] consider carefully how the new structure relates to the character of the neighborhood in terms of scale, massing, street frontage, materials, height, windows and door placement, details and finishes.”
The April 20 community meeting, which is a required part of the planned development process, is open to the public and will take place from 7 to 8:30 p.m. at the Dole Branch Library, 255 Augusta St., Oak Park.
At the meeting, the developer will present preliminary drawings of the proposal and comments from the public are invited.