By Thomas Vogel
The Oak Park Plan Commission turned down the Albion high rise application in a split vote at its Aug. 29 meeting. The proposal, for an 18-story high rise apartment building at the corner of Lake Street and Forest Avenue, will now go to the full Oak Park village board for a final vote.
The plan commission vote, a 5-4 split, is the latest development in the months-long process for the controversial 265-unit proposal. The plan also included a few hundred parking spaces and 9,500 square feet of commercial space on the first floor. The commission's decision is only a recommendation; the village board could still decide to move forward with the project. It is expected that the issue will go to the village board in September.
This was the commission's sixth meeting on the development. As at those previous meetings, the proposal has attracted opposition from some residents and commissioners concerned about the building's impact on Austin Gardens, which sits just north of the site, and its design, which some, including a few commission members, said did not mesh well with the neighborhood.
"We're disappointed in the Plan Commission's vote, but we continue to believe our project is the best use for the site and will move Oak Park forward," Andrew Yule, vice president of development at Albion Residential wrote in a statement to Wednesday Journal. "We appreciated the opportunity to present facts and data during several Plan Commission meetings as well as a public process to respond in good faith to concerns and suggestions."
Yule added Albion's proposed development had the support of "the Economic Development Corporation, the Business and Civic Council, Downtown Oak Park and other business districts, business owners, residents, and neighbors."
Yule, at the Aug. 29 meeting, stressed Albion has worked well and kept open communication with village staff, and pointed to the recently opened Vantage building as evidence that there is demand for new housing in "transit-oriented" places like Oak Park.
"We have not asked for a single TIF [Tax Incremental Financing District], tax abatement or any type of financial assistance to make this project possible," Yule said.
Mark Burkland, attorney for the Park District of Oak Park, voiced his opposition to the development, mentioning the shade study conducted by Albion.
"The shade study does not include even the basic scientific study," Burkland said. "No analysis of plant ages, other than a visual review of 11 trees [in Austin Gardens]."
There were other issues voiced, too.
Commissioner Lawrence Brozek, at the Aug. 29 meeting, asked if some of the building's amenities, like its fitness room, as well as mechanical and electrical components and parking spaces, could be moved to the basement, in an effort to reduce the height of the building.
Commissioner Chair David Mann also suggested reducing the building's height by four stories.
"Once again, it is rentable square footage; could you make those units smaller and bring it in a little bit? You could," said Albion President Jason Koehn, at the meeting, in response to that suggestion. "But it's going to be a smaller unit and size is the primary determination of how much rent we can charge for each unit."
Koehn added that the building hasn't "gotten any less expensive during the process" adding Albion couldn't lose any more of the rentable space from the existing proposal.
"I'm generally supportive of the project," Commissioner Paul May said. "I do think it's important that any potential impacts to the park district, that there would be an instrument in place to resolve those but aside from that I am supportive."
"Based on all that I've heard and seen here, I appreciate the design," Mann said. "I think it's gotten a lot better. I just think this is in the wrong place."
Commissioners Douglas Gilbert, David Mann, Greg Marsey, Jeremy Burton and JoBeth Halpin voted against the proposal. Commissioners Glenn Brewer, Paul May, Kristin Nordman and Lawrence Brozek voted in favor.
Answer Book 2019
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