VOICE candidates call for right-sizing development

Slate criticizes lack of transparency in village government

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By Timothy Inklebarger

Staff Reporter

Three candidates running as a group in the Oak Park Village Trustee election on April 2 gathered at the site of a proposed 28-story luxury high-rise building on Lake Street to "encourage appropriate development" in the village.

VOICE, a new political organization in the village, is endorsing candidates Tim Thomas, Christian Harris and Josh Klayman for the three trustee seats open in the municipal election. They face eight other candidates.

The press conference was held at 835 Lake St., the site of the proposed tower by developer Golub & Company. Oak Park Mayor Anan Abu-Taleb and most of the current village trustees have already stated their opposition to the height of the proposed project. 

Many oppose the tower because of the shadow it would cast on Frank Lloyd Wright's masterpiece house of worship, Unity Temple, which is located about half a block away.

Wendy Greenhouse, a member of VOICE (Vision, Openness, Inclusion, Community, and Environment), read a statement from the candidates, noting that there is "plenty of potential for appropriate, moderately-scaled development in the village. …

"Any development beyond established zoning must provide solid evidence that it will have a positive impact on the quality of life of its neighbors and the village at large," she said.

Thomas added that government should be an advocate for residents, not developers.

"And if a developer is requesting a deviation or a variance from current community standards in building codes, there should be a significant benefit to the community before that variance is even granted, and the community should have input in that decision-making process," he said.

Harris stated that he is not anti-development, but when a project goes outside the pre-existing zoning, residents should have greater involvement in the process.

"I am pro-development in areas of the village that have been underserved, and making sure there are affordable places to live for everyone," he said. "I am here today because we have focused on downtown Oak Park, and it is time to shift our focus to other parts of the village."

Klayman said the approval process for large developments like the one Golub proposes is "broken." He criticized Oak Park's use of a nonprofit entity called the Oak Park Economic Development Corporation, which does not allow the public to attend its meetings.

"That corporation is, on the books, a private consultant, but in fact they act as a closed-door branch of village government with the village president, the village manager and a trustee on their board," he said, noting that the organization is not required to reveal information under the Freedom of Information Act.

"No large development takes place in this town unless the Economic Development Corporation says so, and those decisions are made with no public involvement. This has to change," Klayman said.

tim@oakpark.com

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