Every elected leader has some sort of tote board, an abiding goal, a to-do list that they measure themselves against, about which they tout each success along the way. For Oak Park's mayor, Anan Abu-Taleb, that goal has been reducing — ultimately eliminating — the number of square feet of real estate that the village government haphazardly accumulated over past decades.
Coming into office six years ago to a municipal government under substantial financial strain and rising taxpayer upset over perpetually rising property taxes, Abu-Taleb saw village-owned parcels large and small, from downtown Oak Park to Madison Street, to odd lots on North Avenue as lost opportunity.
With the great benefit of a roaring economy and deft moves in his "Oak Park is open for business" mantra, Abu-Taleb and the village board steadily off-loaded that inventory. Like the tall buildings or not, three of the four high-rises downtown are built on land fully or partially owned by Oak Park taxpayers. New townhouses at Madison and Home are on land packaged by the village government. When Pete's invests in a second Oak Park store at Madison and Oak Park Avenue, it will be on village land. Both the townhouse and the Pete's project were amped up by recent and strategic purchases of land — a Car-X and the original Robinson's Ribs location — by the village to expand the footprint of the parcels.
So when, a while back, Abu-Taleb called to trumpet that, in looking at his tote board, all the village-banked land had been or was about to be sold off, he was a rightfully proud mayor. Which led us to ask, perhaps with a leading question, if this meant the village government was swearing off ever buying land again.
He gave us the right answer. No. Under the right circumstances village government might buy a piece of land in order to control the development, speed an environmental clean-up, pair-up with a developer who owns other contiguous parcels.
This comes up based on our reporting last week that the village made a substantial offer of $4.4 million for the decrepit Mohr Concrete property at Harlem and the Ike. That offer was rejected as too low. Now on the market with an asking price of $7 million we'll soon see if the village's offer was reasonable or not.
There are multiple arguments, pro and con, that can be made as to whether the village ought to buy this large piece of land. Won't current zoning allow the village to control the future development? How can the village make an offer without fully understanding the cost of what everyone assumes will be a notable environmental remediation?
Fair questions. But, we'd argue, an unfair objection at this point is that village government doesn't know what the hell it is doing when it buys real estate. The successes of the past six years in effectively selling off its non-producing parcels prove to us that, in the right circumstance, Oak Park can be a strategic buyer, the best buyer. Time and the market will tell.
Answer Book 2019
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