Plan commission concerned about Oak Park-Madison proposal

Fifty people show up for first meeting about former Comcast building


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By Marty Stempniak

Staff Reporter

Members of the Oak Park Plan Commission expressed concerns last week about a controversial apartment building proposal for Madison Street, the first of what will likely be many meetings on the development.

Commissioners worried whether the Chicago-based developer looking to adapt the vacant Comcast building will be able to fill the retail space at the ground floor.

"There's a real problem with the commercial" portion of the development, said Commissioner Steven Rouse.

Interfaith Housing Development Corp. is looking to build a four-story apartment complex for low-income individuals at 820 W. Madison. They want to gut and reuse the building, which was constructed in the 1920s as an auto dealer. The proposed building is too tall, too dense and doesn't provide enough parking under village zoning rules, so the developer is asking the commission for variances.

The Dec. 16 meeting was the first of at least five in the coming months, as the plan commission — a volunteer panel of nine citizens that makes recommendations to the village board on planning and land use — tries to decide whether Interfaith should get the eight zoning variances it's seeking.

Along with 51 apartments, the building would have 5,200 square feet of retail space, but with no dedicated parking spots. The village requires at least nine spots to go with the storefront, but a study conducted by Interfaith says there is ample parking available along Madison Street, Grove Avenue and in the nearby 32-space parking lot that the developer is offering for apartment tenants.

Rouse and others on the commission expressed concern about the viability of the retail space without any dedicated parking spots.

Perry Vietti, the chief operating officer for Interfaith, said it wasn't their first inclination to incorporate retail into the building. But such an inclusion was strongly urged in the Madison Street corridor plan, a roadmap that the village put together a few years ago on how to develop the commercial stretch.

Jason Schulz, the commercial real estate broker for the project, said they were likely targeting "grab-and-go" businesses for the space, such as coffee or sandwich shops. He acknowledged the economy was challenging, but said the building won't be ready to lease for another two years, when things may be improved.

Roughly 50 people showed up to the meeting, though attendees did not get a chance to testify or question the developers. Some bemoaned the project briefly before being hushed by the commission.

"This greatly affects my property values, and if you don't believe it, you are living in a dream world," Victoria Peterson shouted from the audience, before the commission's head asked her to stop.

Interfaith and its two partners, the Oak Park Housing Authority and Catholic Charities, spent the bulk of the four-hour meeting laying out the details of their project. The apartments are targeted at low-income singles, preferably people who already live or work in Oak Park and earn less than $26,300. They must be at least 18 and are allowed to have up to one child under the age of 18. The developers anticipate residents will be a mix of veterans, low-wage workers and people with disabilities, said Ed Solan, executive director for the Housing Authority, which would manage the building.

Solan said his organization has a waiting list of more than 200 people who are looking for this type of housing. Opponents have argued that there is already a plethora of apartments available in Oak Park, and that grouping 51 poor people into the same building is a bad idea.

The next meeting is scheduled for Jan. 6, when residents are expected to start cross-examining Interfaith and its two partners. The commission is hoping to make a decision in March. Further meetings about the project are planned for Jan. 20, Feb. 3 and 17, and March 3.

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Reader Comments

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ConcernedWriter from Ciudad  

Posted: December 31st, 2010 8:29 PM

Mary Ellen Eads -- Maybe you should worry a little bit more about your son, Chris Eads. Christopher Eads. You know, the one who lives in Los Angeles, and who has stirred up a hornets nest with his site Script Shadow, which published screenplays without permission, drawing the ire of actual working screenwriters. You see, his only accomplishment in life after growing up in a life of privilege is being on a failed reality show about high school 15 years after the fact, where he was "The Misfit."

OP Mom from OP  

Posted: December 22nd, 2010 3:19 PM

Meeting Schedule per my notes from the first meeting: Jan 6: Opposition cross exam and evidence Jan 20: Testimony by those in favor, opposed, and neutral Feb 3: Commissioners exam of opposition witnesses Feb 17: Deliberation? - unsure Mar 3: Commission Recommendation All meetings are at Village Hall beginning at 7pm

john murtagh from Oak Park  

Posted: December 21st, 2010 9:48 PM

RESIDENT FROM OAK PARK has a point regarding the high rental cost for single rooms in the Comcast Housing Proposal. The cost 1.57 dollar per square foot per month at the Comcast Bldg is about the same as the cost per square foot of some apartments at 100 Forest Place on Lake Avenue. I found one style apartment at 100 Forest for 1.48 dollars per square foot per month. As strange is the build cost per unit. If the cost of the total project is 10m, the cost per housing unit is 147,000 dollars.

john murtagh from Oak Park  

Posted: December 21st, 2010 9:01 PM

Paul I don't have all the dates but the next Plan Commission Public Hearing is on January 6th at 7PM in the Board Chambers at Village Hall. There will be a minimum of six meetings in all, I believe. The last hearing is scheduled for early March.

resident from Oak Park   

Posted: December 21st, 2010 11:29 AM

I am concerned about the density of units in small space, lack of adequate parking, and absence of pkg for a retail floor. Resident permit parking in this area is often very difficult. It's also a congested traffic area, made more so by the new Walgreens pkg lot. Rents in OP are relatively low, but the rents for these proposed tiny units sound way too high. How can we communicate with Planning Commission? Is it true that one of the proposers is also on the PC? 51 units-min for fed $-are too many

David Barsotti  

Posted: December 21st, 2010 8:45 AM

I don't understand why everyone is getting so concerned about this proposed development. This development will NOT happen, period. The Plan Commission is going to vote against it and the Village Board is going to accept the Plan Commission's recommendation. The next couple of months are going to be an exercise in futility for this decision was already made behind closed doors without public opinion. There is not enough money in this project and it does not include a hotel and $611,000 condos.


Posted: December 21st, 2010 7:32 AM

Has the Commission sought input from PADS? Community members local to the Comcast site know that an emergency homeless shelter is offered at Euclid United Methodist Church, just 3 blocks away from. How has this weekly influx of people in need impacted the community? Is there any cause to compare the impact that the OP YMCA tenants have had on their community that can act as a predictor for the proposed site?


Posted: December 21st, 2010 7:01 AM

Marty, good article, but please include the dates, times and locations of future meetings. Also, if an official online space for comment is available %u2013 where entries are included into the official record %u2013 that would truly facilitate meaningful communication. Is there such a thing?

Jason Malley from Oak Park  

Posted: December 20th, 2010 5:09 PM

Move the ever-contracting village hall to the Comcast building. Sell village hall land or give it to the park district for a sports field complex.


Posted: December 20th, 2010 4:44 PM

@E.S.: Invoking emotional Dickensian images in an attempt to demonize those who express reasoned concerns about this project does nothing to address those very real concerns. Can a real case be made that this project in its current form is good for Oak Park?


Posted: December 20th, 2010 3:24 PM

Are there no prisons? Are there no workhouses?


Posted: December 20th, 2010 1:08 PM

FYI, the Oak Park Housing Authority is not funded by the village. I believe it is supported by state and perhaps federal funding. It administers section 8 vouchers in OP and also focuses on housing for the elderly and disabled. Noble things for sure, but their goal is to serve those constituents. They are not any sort of governing body and they do not first and foremost have the what's best for all of OP in mind.

Violet Aura  

Posted: December 19th, 2010 2:46 PM

@Kathleen: Unfortunately, that appears to be their MO in OP. They did the same thing with the hotel that will be built on Forest and Lake (is this "the tower" that so many were against?). They act as if they are taking suggestions from residents but it's probably all a sham to make it look fair. I love OP but I cannot understand why homeowners allow themselves to get screwed left and right. It's just not worth it anymore...

kathleen from OP  

Posted: December 19th, 2010 1:03 PM

I was quite surprised to see that the Oak Park Housing Authority is heavily involved in this project, according to the Tribune. Is this now a done deal with the planning commission just pretending to be considering whether to allow this ill-advised project?

OP Resident  

Posted: December 19th, 2010 8:52 AM

@ Mary Ellen Eads: Gasp... Surely we wouldn't build low income housing in 60302?!?!? The plan is for Oak Park rely on 60304 for all of its economic diversity.

OP Resident from Oak Park  

Posted: December 18th, 2010 3:09 PM

One idea that might work in mitigating the potential for crime is to make a satellite police station in the building.

Mary Ellen Eads from Oak Park   

Posted: December 18th, 2010 11:40 AM

And finally, if, as suggested below, current Oak Park residents and workers will not have priority access to these apartments, what is the point? Why Oak Park? Why not communities who have been far lower rates of income diversity?

Mary Ellen Eads from Oak Park  

Posted: December 18th, 2010 11:37 AM

I still have the same questions. Why is the Oak Park Housing Center supporting a proposal for high-density low-income housing. Chicago is ending high-density housing for the poor after decades of disastrous outcomes. If low-cost housing is needed, why not buy up low cost condos around the village for this project. There are many on the market, close to public transit. Why is Catholic Charities providing social services to this project when Oak Park already has a wide array of social services.


Posted: December 18th, 2010 8:47 AM

I guess tax payer is saying low income people are criminals. Some Oak Park and River Forest residents were gangsters and I'm pretty sure they were not low income. Phony liberals are always for low income housing until it's proposed for their community. Maybe low income people should wear something like a scarlet letter to identify themselves.


Posted: December 18th, 2010 6:30 AM

My reaction is to the income and rent numbers I'm hearing. There are already people in the village who make under that, pay around that, and do it without special "low income" status. There have to be better ways to help people live in the village more easily without this silly building. Not to mention better uses of the real estate.

Joel Sheffel from Oak Park  

Posted: December 17th, 2010 5:35 PM

These are my personal thoughts and do not reflect the views of any commission or organization I belong to. I do not think it fair that persons who wanted to give testimony at Thursday's meeting were not able to give testimony. Also I do not feel it fair that some of the village's commission's were contacted for their thoughts but others were not. If the Village's commission's do not work with each other who will. As a tenant of the Oaks for 1o years 24/7 staff is not a necessity.

Tax payer  

Posted: December 17th, 2010 5:27 PM

I hope the neighbors are already installing bars in their windows to prevent some of the crime that that building will bring to Oak Park.

OP Mom  

Posted: December 17th, 2010 5:12 PM

Sorry for the typos...contAdicted

OP Mom from Oak Park  

Posted: December 17th, 2010 5:09 PM

I attended the mtg and really thought the proposal was full of holes. The applicants contridicted themselves more than once eg. saying that parking was not a problem, but then their commercial real estate guy said on retail customers-direct quote-they "might park on Grove, might park illegally". I was also interested in the fact that they presented a tenant profile targeting OP residents/employees but when asked said they COULDN'T GIVE PREFERENCE to OP applicants. It didn't inspire trust at all.

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