Preservation commission deems Drechsler plan 'massive'

Preliminary review requested by developer


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By Stacey Sheridan

Staff Reporter

The Oak Park Historic Preservation Commission declared the proposed 159-unit apartment complex slotted for the Drechsler, Brown & Williams funeral home site too large for the area in a preliminary review held Nov. 24.

"It just feels overwhelming to me," Commissioner Monique Chase said of the proposed 84-foot-10-inch-tall, seven-story structure, which includes 123 parking spots.

The preliminary hearing was requested by applicant Focus Development to gather the commission's feedback ahead of the project's required advisory review on its construction plans for 203 S. Marion St. in the Ridgeland-Oak Park Historic District.

While a few commissioners expressed an appreciation of the use of brick in the building's façade, the commission was generous in giving more constructive feedback as well.

"I think it's too tall," said Commissioner Jennifer Bridge.

Commissioner Sandra Carr liked the design's U-shaped courtyard, believing it effectively broke up the building's mass, but said the building was still too tall "by like two stories."

"Zoning height is 60 feet and I think that's appropriate for this location," Carr told Focus representatives.

If Focus was set on keeping the building at eight stories, Carr suggested they look into stacking the first four floors and stepping back on floors five and six, then stepping back further on the top floor.

"So that the façade that's on Marion Street feels more like a four-story at least," she said.

Chase thought the building did not have enough green space around its edges.

"It makes it feel almost claustrophobic," Chase said.

Commissioner Lou Garapolo believed the U-shaped courtyard was effective from the top but, despite its setback, gave no relief at the street level. He also felt that the renderings of the building really showed "that this proposal is out of scale with what we're seeing in the area."

While he thought using bricks on the façade served as a unifying factor among the buildings in the area, Commissioner David Sokol was concerned about the proposed structure's scale as well.

Commissioner Noel Weidner felt the building made the area feel claustrophobic as well.  "You go one block west and try to go north and you're at a dead end," said Weidner of the recently constructed 1133 South Blvd. apartment building. "It's like a giant wall there already and then you add this there to that little area of Oak Park and you're like in a canyon."

Chair Rebecca Houze liked the brick and the incorporation of plantings but agreed the building felt massive. She thought the design lacked the unique details evocative of different architectural styles that the other buildings in the area have.

"It doesn't really pick up on any of that, kind of, delicacy that I see in some of other buildings in the area that give it visual interest," said Houze.

Oak Park's Historic Preservation Urban Planner Susie Trexler agreed to summarize the commission's recommendations for Focus in a written letter.

Only a preliminary review, the Historic Preservation Commission will make its official determination on the proposal during the as yet unscheduled advisory review. After that, the proposal will head to the Plan Commission.

Story has been updated to reflect changes to the design made by the developer.


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Reader Comments

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John Michelotti  

Posted: December 4th, 2020 1:19 PM

it's very frustrating that there are so many uninspired proposals. If these developers really want to honor tradition in Oak Park, they should seek something more progressive. Wright's designs were provocative, and not universally well received. I'm so happy he didn't do (for 1920) some updated design with "Victorian Elements" I also don't see a word here about compensating benefits, like the addition of public space, which I thought people around here treasured. What we accept instead is a private coffee shop on the first floor of the Albion with floor to ceiling windows. Taking off two floors means we will have a crappy building with ~120 units vs 160. It wouldn't be hard to top the mediocrity of the buildings built since 2000. All the parcels getting developed will result in more density either within or above the zoning envelope. We might as well get something out of it like additional public space. The libraries, the parks, Cheney Mansion, are what make Oak Park a nice place to live. We should demand more of that.

Tom MacMillan from Oak Park  

Posted: December 4th, 2020 10:51 AM

The trees in the rendering won't be there. They have not added enough parking spaces for their tenants, and any guests to the people living here will be that much more of an impact on parking. This is too big for the space.

Jeffrey Smith  

Posted: December 4th, 2020 9:16 AM

It looks like a prison and smells like another taxpayer funded bonanza for parasitic real estate developers. And it will destroy the charm and the views of the area anchored by the Carlton Hotel and the park. But by now we know how these predatory real estate jackals work: they propose something so awful they know it won't get approved and then get something approved that's slightly less awful. Money talks, and bs gets the go-ahead in Ananville.

Neal Buer from Oak Park  

Posted: December 3rd, 2020 7:46 PM

I like it. The proposed "old people's building" proposed for Madison and Oak Park is eight stories high, and no one is complaining.

Brian Souders  

Posted: December 3rd, 2020 6:08 PM

This looks just fine, with a solid industrial West Loop warehouse vibe that we don't have much of in Oak Park. Not every building needs adorned "delicate details" ?" they're often cheesy, like the cornice on the Opera Club building at Marion & South. I don't quite understand the issue with "green space" when there's a massive park across the street and a woody lot to the South. A tough part of this town is a reluctance to evolve ?" everything has to be the same style or size as the past. Good thing the review is just advisory.

Mary Kay O'Grady  

Posted: November 28th, 2020 12:39 PM

I loved living in what used to be Oak Park.

Charlotte Stewart from Oak Park  

Posted: November 28th, 2020 9:41 AM

I agree. This building is a monstrosity. The poor neighbors by the alley, the photography studio next to it, all will be affected by the enormity of the building. Marion is a quaint little street known for its ambiance. To have this building on this street would ruin everything. Just look at the congestion of all of the high rises in the area. This isn't Chicago. Keep the damn high rises there. I'd be curious to find out with all of the high rises in a Oak Park, what is the occupancy rate of all of the new ones? Or are they mostly empty? Does anyone know?

Tom Zapler from Oak Park  

Posted: November 26th, 2020 1:03 PM

The Preservation Commission still does not understand the financial impacts COVID has had on the Village of Oak Park and all our taxing bodies. The loss of this tax income will have devastating effects on everyone living in Oak Park. This impact will be far worse then too large of a building that will generate more tax revenue then a smaller building.

Tom MacMillan from Oak Park  

Posted: November 26th, 2020 10:29 AM

The easy fix is to just rename the Pleasant District into the Claustrophobic District.

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