Madison apt. complex wins OK from village despite critics

Plan Commission unanimously opposed project


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By Stacey Sheridan

Staff Reporter

The Oak Park village board voted 6-1 to approve construction of a 5-story, 42-unit  apartment complex at 435 to 451 Madison St. during an Aug. 3 meeting, despite an earlier unanimous plan commission recommendation against the project and heavy opposition from neighbors who live in the abutting Gunderson Historic District.

"This has been an arduous journey, but I think at the end of the day, we've ended up with a very good project that the neighbors will hopefully, ultimately embrace," said Tom Meador, president and CEO of developer Michigan Avenue Real Estate Group (MAREG).

Prior to the proposal coming to the village board, the Oak Park plan commission directed MAREG to make significant redesigns to address community and commission concerns regarding the apartment complex's mass and height. The redesign brought back to the commission was criticized for being insubstantial, leading the plan commission to decline to give it a positive endorsement.

"The massing of the proposed structure is too large, too tall and too close to residential properties and a residential neighborhood to the South and East," the plan commission wrote in its report to the village board.

As the project already had a series of public hearings in the plan commission stage, the number of public comments at the village board meeting was limited to five on each side. The board read five against the project but only one in favor which was submitted by the Oak Park Economic Development Corporation, which the board opted not to read.

MAREG made further redesigns to the complex's design prior to its village board vote that were not subject to formal plan commission review. While the 63-foot height of the building remained the same, MAREG lowered its original plan of 48 units to 42. The new plan also made revisions to the building's setback.

"It's a different building than what we looked at," said David Mann, plan commission chair, who was present at the Aug. 3 board meeting.

The area's zoning dictates a maximum building height of 50 feet and a maximum density of 24 living units, but the village board's approval allows MAREG these zoning variances. Mann said he did like some of the revisions that MAREG made, but the plan commission's main concern, the building's height, remained the same

"This building would not work economically if it were a four-story building," said Meador. The fixed costs of the building are countered by rent revenue generated from more living units.

Due to Mann's comment, Trustee Simone Boutet motioned, with the support of Trustee Arti Walker-Peddakotla, to send the revised proposal back to the plan commission. The motion failed 5-2.

As a public benefit, MAREG will contribute an additional $50,000 to the village's affordable housing fund on top of the $500,000 it had already opted to pay under the inclusionary housing ordinance.

"We're in favor of affordable housing," Meador told the board.

Walker-Peddakotla had concerns about MAREG's union disputes over development projects in Forest Park and Evanston.

"We've had some issues with some unions who have not been awarded the business and they were disgruntled and frankly got very aggressive with their tactics – disrupted our tenants downtown, abused a couple of our staff," said Meador, adding that MAREG filed a claim with the National Labor Relations Board.

According to Meador, MAREG is not against working with unions and its projects are generally 30 to 40 percent staffed by union labor.

"We put our projects out to anybody who wants to bid. At the end of the day it comes down to competency and cost," said Meador.

Mayor Anan Abu-Taleb voiced his support for MAREG and the project, saying the company had expressed interest in developing along the Madison corridor four or five years ago.

"They kept coming back to Oak Park because they believe in the community," Abu-Taleb said. "I don't know how we can say no to them."

The mayor admitted it was not a perfect project, but that no projects are. The benefits to the village outweigh the project's negatives, Abu-Taleb said, and the village needs to generate money to spend money on social services and other community needs.

"I'm not in love with buildings; I'm in love with having great economic development in our community," said Abu-Taleb.

The board approved the development proposal 6-1. Walker-Peddakotla voted against the project because of its lack of plan commission endorsement.

"Bringing these reasonably priced rental units into our community into what is now a blighted stretch of Madison Street is exactly what we need to be doing in Oak Park," said Trustee Jim Taglia, after the vote. "If you care about affordable housing, you really need to support these projects otherwise we're out of money for the fund." 

 This article was edited to fix a typo..






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Reader Comments

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Kevin Peppard  

Posted: August 7th, 2020 6:12 PM

Let's examine the economics of this. Why is a building within the zoning code not financially feasible? Did the developer submit a business plan for his override? That should be simple. Use standard construction costs, including the teardown and environmental remediation. What are standard occupancy rates and how long would it take to reach those and what are market rents? What are the costs of operations? If it doesn't fly, then the developer paid too much for the property or should not exercise its option to buy. Why don't we recognize that speculators are just that ?" they lose money sometimes and the rest of us shouldn't bail them out. They knew what the conditions were and sometimes they lose. Instead, we bail them out. They know that the zoning doesn't apply. This is Albion redux. We are in a death spiral here on property taxes. Businesses of many sorts could locate or relocate to nearby suburbs, cutting the tax base where they pay 2.5 times as much as residences. Then the tax burden becomes even higher. All we get are more restaurants and nail salons that don't last. Oak Park is close to fully developed and we cannot develop our way out of this. We must cut spending across all six taxing bodies. The owner or developer should take the loss ?" it's theirs, not ours. Then a building within the code could have possibly been built.

Heinz Schuller from Oak Park  

Posted: August 5th, 2020 7:53 PM

For me it's all about due process, otherwise how can residents have any confidence in village government? Watching the video of the vote was frustrating, it felt very rushed, and there seemed to be confusion on some details. Not sending the slightly scaled-back plan back to the plan commission under the guise that it would 'take too long' also shows how Covid seems to be providing convenient excuses to break or skip process. The plan commission & citizens spent a lot of time working on this, they deserve more than cursory consideration.

Neal Buer from Oak Park  

Posted: August 5th, 2020 3:32 PM

Helen, the village has always under-zoned properties. This way, the village retains the power over developments they deem "acceptable". Proper zoning would create a more uniformed look to the village, rather than the sometimes gross buildings the Board of Trustees "like".

Linda Heffernan  

Posted: August 5th, 2020 11:51 AM

I guess my question is why do we have an advisory commission and community meetings if you are going to totally ignore their work. There appeared legitimate concerns regarding the scope of the project which the developer could address if we insisted and were not so concerned about money. I think we could do better than this in Oak Park.

Helen Vogel  

Posted: August 5th, 2020 11:22 AM

Pretty simple question- Why even have zoning ordinances when variances are given out like candy on Halloween? Ridiculous.

Katie Murphy from Oak Park  

Posted: August 5th, 2020 10:52 AM

Very disappointing that Simone would vote for it to go back to Planning then vote to approve. That makes absolutely no sense. If you want it to go back for revisions then don't approve. Why have the advisory commissions and committees if they are going to be ignored all the time?! Simone, you are following in Anan's footsteps...not a good look for the next leader of OP.

Waldhorn Fafner  

Posted: August 4th, 2020 11:20 PM

Where is the developer for the property just East, across the alley. Now to be affordable here we need nothing less than a 20 story building. Propose 25 and then after 2 hearings with the Planning committee go to the Board what as already said say 20 stories and you have it.

Kevin Peppard  

Posted: August 4th, 2020 10:06 PM

I'm not sure what the Affordable Housing Fund is, but it would have to be massive to make a difference. A $550,000 contribution? How many units would that build? If used for operational subsidies, it would have a limited lifetime and help very few people. There is some kind of charade or Kabuki Theater and the Village Government is being had. We're getting to be seen as patsies by large developers.

Jeffrey Smith  

Posted: August 4th, 2020 9:27 PM

S/B "He's just a boy who c'aint say no."

Jeffrey Smith  

Posted: August 4th, 2020 9:26 PM

Here's a song for Anan, the Ado Annie of Oak Park politics. he's just a hoy who c'aint say no.

Jeffrey Smith  

Posted: August 4th, 2020 9:20 PM

Well, of course it won approval! The Mayor and the Village Board just can't say no to real estate developers. At least respectable hookers make their clients put the money on the dresser before delivering services, but not Oak Park's leaders.

Kevin Peppard  

Posted: August 4th, 2020 9:13 PM

Cliff Osborn: Your observation was correct on the fact that the story stated a 5 to 3 vote, more than there are voters.. It;s obviously been edited. At 6 to 1 one it was even more one-sided. Why not tell how people voted? Walker-Peddakotla was the NO. This is yet another lopsided reversal of a commission. Why serve on one and waste one's time?

Melinda Reynolds Murray from Oak Park  

Posted: August 4th, 2020 8:37 PM

It was disturbing to learn that our neighborhood was a blighted section of Oak Park. The mayor also commented that Oak Park has already spent over $17 million on the Madison corridor (on what?) and cannot continue to support this area without the approval of this development. One of the main reasons to approve was for economic reasons. The additional tax revenue per year was $100,000. This is for 42 units assuming 3 per unit supporting 126 people and does not account for costs associated with children attending our schools. Please watch your government at work starting at the 15 minute mark:

Clifford Osborn from Oak Park  

Posted: August 4th, 2020 8:17 PM

According to the story, Trustee Boutet"s motion to send the proposal back to the Plan Commission failed on a vote of 5 to 3. It almost sounds like a Chicago Council vote where more votes are counted than there are people on the Board.

Katina Smith  

Posted: August 4th, 2020 7:49 PM

I haven't seen once the building of new schools to go along with all of these new residences. These kind of decisions will turn Oak Park school system (struggling already) into an overcrowded extension of the Chicago school system. The overcrowded schools along with the uptick of crime will make Oak Park a very undesirable place to live. One of the finer characteristics of Oak Spark has been a small town feel within a short distance to a major city without the major city problems. I am upset by all of these building projects and I am thinking hard about selling my home and leaving. I really want to ask these board members what is their long term vision of Oak Park twenty years from now?

Janet Haisman from Oak Park  

Posted: August 4th, 2020 7:47 PM

I am not against big buildings if they provide something that the Village needs. But it seems that the trend is to come in with a huge overreaching plan, get shot down for that, and modify it somewhat. In addition, why would I or anyone else volunteer to serve on a commission, vote 100% against the proposal, and be shot down by the Village Board by a vote of 6 to 1? Didn't we just lose almost all the members of another committee - the one on Community Relations (don['t know if that is the current name)? WHY BOTHER?

Neal Buer from Oak Park  

Posted: August 4th, 2020 7:35 PM

"Bringing these reasonably priced rental units into our community into what is now a blighted stretch of Madison Street is exactly what we need to be doing in Oak Park," said Trustee Jim Taglia, after the vote. "If you care about affordable housing, you really need to support these projects otherwise we're out of money for the fund." Yes, now the village will have more money to build affordable housing in SOUTH Oak Park.

Leonard Grossman  

Posted: August 4th, 2020 7:30 PM

Renegade Trustees ignore Plan Commission again. No wonder other commissions are losing members. It's getting to be the rule, not the exception.

Neal Buer from Oak Park  

Posted: August 4th, 2020 7:26 PM

Look at the building at 801 S. Oak Park Avenue to get an idea of how out of place this building will look. The village likes to under zone sites, so they can control the building and the size of the building. Zoned for 24 units, allowed to build 42. Look at 801 S. Oak Park Avenue. Zoned for 16 units, allowed to build 37 units. Why don't we have zoning without these unreasonable variances? Because the village can't retain power over the process without variances.

Barbara Purington  

Posted: August 4th, 2020 7:26 PM

Mayor Abu-Taleb makes some disturbing comments: "I'm not in love with buildings..." and " I don't know how we can say no to them." i.e. MAREG

Stacey Penelope Sheridan Wednesday Journal Employee

Posted: August 4th, 2020 7:21 PM

Hi Beverly, The building has indoor parking. As I needed to include as much as the conversation at the meeting as possible, I did not have room to include as many building details as I'd like. I've previously reported the parking information in my other stories about this development.

Nancy Trock  

Posted: August 4th, 2020 7:11 PM

Look at that suggestion of trees around the building - ha, looks like the MAREG is hallucinating a fantasy for us.

Beverly Forbes  

Posted: August 4th, 2020 7:02 PM

Where are the parking spaces. Any building being built in Oak Park should have at least 1.5 parking spaces per unit. You have a lot of units and don't tell me everyone won't have a vehicle.

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