Save the project, if not the process

? Our Views


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From the time Whiteco first surfaced several years ago,  it appeared the village was poised to shove a secretly negotiated development deal down Oak Park's collective throat. Its sudden appearance left a bad taste in the mouth of activists and has made Whiteco's trek through the public process all the more agonizing.

Last week, Whiteco president Tim Connelly told us the company was brought in by Multiplex gym, which approached the village about building at Harlem and Ontario. The village told Multiplex it wanted mixed use. Hence, Whiteco was born.

This is far from the frequently repeated rumors of village Development Services Director Mike Chen, under cloak of darkness wooing Whiteco, putting before them a plan for a massive development of his design.

Unfortunately, for many, it's too late for simple explanations or purposeful communication. And we would hope that the village has learned from this mess of a process it has created. To most, a Request for Proposal process is better than negotiated contracts, but even without an RFP, some better public communication was in order.

That said, after much of our own agonizing over taxpayer subsidies, potential vacancy rates, density and traffic, we ultimately believe Whiteco is a good project for Oak Park.

With ever increasing condo conversions, new apartment stock?#34;even if it's pricey?#34;is a benefit to Oak Park. And with it, inevitably comes density?#34;the sticking point with detractors that can never be resolved, no matter how many bland public forums are held or how many Oak Parkers Whiteco brings aboard its team.

And also with density, comes traffic and parking problems?#34;and here we maintain some reservations. We also cringe over the potential for the developer to file massive property tax appeals once the building has risen.

But, overall, the revised proposal is undeniably better designed than its Dryvit predecessor, and fits in better with the character of the neighborhood. It will bring life to a critical corner that is begging for development. And though even the staunchest of opponents may not admit it, we all want a Trader Joe's.

Of greatest concern in Whiteco's second go around has been the village's overlarge subsidy?#34;that this company would only suffer Oak Park's slings and arrows if it's getting a lucrative deal. Or it could be, as Connelly said, Whiteco has already invested too much to give up.

Without any greater knowledge than us, opponents have sat crunching their own numbers instead of engaging in dialogue with the developer or village staff. The ensuing great information?#34;and thus opinion?#34;divide is painfully evident at every Plan Commission hearing.

Communication has completely broken down, and the process has gone down with it.

But even if it's too late to save the process, it's now time to save a project that will benefit the community.

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