Albion opponents lay out concerns, problems

Opponents plead with Oak Park Plan Commission to reject the tower

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By Timothy Inklebarger

Staff Reporter

Oak Park residents got their first chance to speak out against the proposed 18-story building by Albion Residential at an Oak Park Plan Commission meeting last Thursday night at village hall.

Residents, the Park District of Oak Park, representatives from Oak Park Festival Theatre and others urged the plan commission to reject the proposal, arguing that it would damage the adjacent Austin Gardens, increase traffic downtown and hurt the aesthetics of the area.

Opponents have sat through two meetings since the plan commission first began hearings on the proposal, which entailed tree, wind and traffic experts from Albion – mainly stating that the project will have little impact on the surrounding area – and testimony from proponents of the tower.

After at least one more meeting this week, the plan commission will send a nonbinding recommendation to the Oak Park Board of Trustees for consideration. That board will ultimately determine whether to allow the project.

Dozens of residents had signed up to testify against the proposal over the last few weeks of plan commission meetings.

Jan Arnold, executive director of the park district, told the commission last Thursday that the tower will negatively impact Austin Gardens in a number of ways – damaged trees, turf, plant life and increased winds – and that the village should reject the proposal.

She said the average amount of park space for municipalities across the country is five to 10 acres per 1,000 residents "which would equate to between 260 and 520 acres of park space for a community our size."

"We have 82 acres of green space," she said. "That is why we give so much attention to every square foot of park space."

Much of the opposition to the project has come from concerns over the shade the building will cast over the park, largely during the winter. Albion has argued that based on computer generated shadow studies the park will largely be unaffected during the growing season.

Arnold contradicted Albion's shade study, which states only 11 trees would be negatively affected in the southeast corner of the park, noting that the park district's GIS database shows 35 trees are located within the shaded area.

"These trees will receive fewer than six hours of sunlight during the growing season, which will impact their health," she said.

She quoted Dr. Gary Watson, lead scientist in arboriculture at Morton Arboretum, stating, "mature trees get accustomed to a certain amount of sunlight, and when that amount of sunlight is decreased the trees are susceptible to secondary diseases which could lead to possible death."

Victor Guarino, a park district board member, told the commission that increased winds rolling off the side of the recently constructed Vantage apartment building across the street from the proposed project have already damaged trees in the park, leading to the loss of four trees so far.

"The trees are snapping due to wind pressure on the canopies," Guarino said. "Park district records indicate that we did not have any tree or wind damage to trees in Austin Gardens from 2014 to 2015 (prior to Vantage)."

The Austin Gardens Environmental Center, a freestanding structure built last year in the southeast corner of Austin Gardens, also would be negatively affected by the high-rise building, Arnold said.

The park district's building is powered by solar panels, and additional shade "will eliminate the net-zero consumption status of this building, a goal that we are proud to be producing in a community that highly values energy conservation and sustainability."

Two of the most vocal opponents of the tower project – Joshua Klayman and Laura Stamp – told the commission that the development would not pay off in the long-run and would damage the quality of life in the village.

Klayman said he and others have gathered more than 3,000 signatures from Oak Parkers in a petition against the project.

The tower is projected to bring in an estimated $1 million a year in revenue to the village, but Klayman said that money will be spent on services by the village.

"This is a common pitch from developers, but it does not hold up to scrutiny," he said. "To talk about increased revenues is to book only half of the numbers because added residents and businesses cost the village and the school districts in extra services required."

He noted that the nearby District House condos being built are projected to bring in $720,000 to the village but with far fewer units will require far fewer services from the village.

"This project is like a bad payday loan – it promises you quick money up front, you end up paying and paying forever and the company makes off with a huge profit," he said.

Klayman also said that the although the building has been sold to the commission and public as a unique design to compliment the architecture of Oak Park, Hartshorne Plunkard Architecture has sold an almost identical design to JDL Development at 640 N. Wells St. in the River North neighborhood of Chicago.

"This building is merely a copy," he said.

Ray Hartshorne, a partner with Hartshorne Plunkard Architecture defended his design in an email response to questions, noting that "our Wells project and 1000 Lake are distinct and different designs."

"Wells Street is a much taller, all glass, and symmetrical building, whereas our design for Oak Park utilizes multiple materials and treatments to express movement and the energy of downtown," Hartshorne wrote. "Further, the intentionally asymmetrical design and setbacks of 1000 Lake are used to minimize the visual and environmental impact on Forest Avenue and Austin Gardens."

Stamp, who established the advocacy group Austin Guards after the building was first proposed, said Austin Gardens is considered "the jewel of Oak Park by many residents." Allowing the building to be built along with other developments in and around downtown will have a cumulative negative affect.

"Each new development takes away part of the quality of life in downtown Oak Park," she said. "It's the cumulative effect of all the development that's negatively impacting downtown Oak Park, but each development is evaluated individually and in solitude."

The commission also heard from Leonard Grossman, vice president of Festival Theatre, which holds performances in Austin Gardens each summer. Grossman said he's not only concerned about the wind and the shade the tower will create, but the noise.

The park already is getting noise from the outdoor dining area at Cooper's Hawk Winery in the Vantage building, and now it will get additional noise from the proposed patio seating that will be associated with a restaurant planned for the Albion building.

The building also plans a deck on the fifth level on north side of the building that will include an open-air pool that will generate noise with which the theater will have to compete.

"Once we give this away, we don't get it back," he said.

The Plan Commission will meet again to discuss the project on Aug. 10.

* This article was updated to include additional comments from Joshua Klayman and a response from Ray Hartshorne. New images also were included.

CONTACT: tim@oakpark.com

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Reader Comments

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Scott Concertman  

Posted: August 10th, 2017 12:53 AM

Just like shade and light. Park trees and open skies work together. Olmsted built open vistas into his tree filled parks. And laid out curbless streets for sake of Riverside neighborhood's "unbroken" views. If Austin park is to continue representing a pre-settlement natural scene, why wall it in with modern "Apartment building" filled skies? Has anyone looked into why existing structure was built with it's low profile years ago? Dig 14 stories underground instead! A century ago Wright's era of developers patriotically protected properties existing forests of old trees. Today developers could care less about these irreplaceable living souls of communities oldest members, commonly clearing legacy sized lots of standing 220+ old Oak trees with municipalities blessing. Even felling 12 Oaks within just 3 hours recently in River Forest, along with destroying eight old growth burr oaks bordering Chicago Av. on prehistoric Oak Park "Glacial sand ridge" site. One developer in Elmwood Pk. was considered so valuable to "Community interest", municipality quickly cleared its most prized wild 100+ old healthy Slippery Elm from lots public parkway to make way for progress! Would O.P. allow owners to knock down Wright's studio because infested with termites, even though pest could be controlled? Why not, public just lost its 146 old front parkway Elm, born year of 1871's Great Chicago fire, to expensive but easily preventable Dutch Elm Disease! Revealing vast separation, between what community wants, and what Municipal leaders consider best for everyone. After all, elected officials & business owners are residents too!? Compromise should be the buzz word, guiding every future planning, but each past project encroaching on "Lloyd Frank's" historic district, had already set precedent for OP residents continued lost battles.

Bruce Kline  

Posted: August 8th, 2017 7:18 PM

May I remind Joette and Jim that in a representative democracy WE - the people - get the leaders and policies we deserve. I am one of many who are totally against Anan's vision for DTOP. But may I remind you that NO one stepped up to run against him this past April. What is the message in that fact? Perhaps most voters are happy with his vision and we are the outliers? Furthermore what Anan has done can alternatively be looked upon as astute hard ball (but perfectly legal) politics. In my opinion the "thoughtful" discussion on this should have happened last "election season." And the outcome could have been very different if that thoughtful discussion translated into a new Village President this past April. But it did not. Yeah, I'm disgusted too. But it is too easy and simplistic to blame one person.

Joette Higgs from Oak Park IL  

Posted: August 8th, 2017 6:37 PM

As a 32 year resident of Oak Park I have to ask, when will this building up of downtown Oak Park STOP. It is ruining the look & feel of our downtown. This construction is a big mistake & once completed we will be left with all the problems. We have so little green space so we need all we have. It used to be so easy to just stop in our downtown area to shop but now it takes time to find a space, compete with valet parking, go to a parking garage or walk a bit of a distance since there is so much 15 minute parking or loading zones. If you can't walk far it's even harder. Why is the Village President not trying to keep Oak Park a quaint town. This is not downtown Chicago.

Jim Coughlin  

Posted: August 8th, 2017 3:22 PM

Abu-Taleb effectively stacked the plan commission and with three rubber stamps in his pocket; the tower will rise! The Village president will not tolerate dissent and says anyone who objects is "not in their right mind". It's unfortunate that there is no room for a thoughtful discussion on the subject but that's the reality of governance in Oak Park.

Michael Nevins  

Posted: August 8th, 2017 3:17 PM

@MH. Adding 500 (or less) residents to OP will increase the overall population by 1% (or less). Sure, I understand why the banks and business owners on Lake St. would be mildly pleased, but I don't think that their initial business models took this project in to consideration when they began. Further, logically, this is an argument/precedent for multiple 100-story buildings thru-out OP and to not care about the people already living here. Yes, the D97 referendum brought some extra people to vote (pro and con), but why did our friends and neighbors then overwhelmingly vote for the independent candidates and not the heavily endorsed/supported incumbents? IMO, it was a combination of arrogance AND Albion from the establishment that led to their defeat. I don't consider the Lytton's property as a zero-sum matter - Albion or nothing. We're spending $725,000 for an economic team to provide options - I'm in favor of letting them have a do-over which fits in to existing planning/zoning.

Mike Hanline  

Posted: August 8th, 2017 2:32 PM

If the Albion were to bring in 500+ additional residents, I think every business owner in downtown Oak Park would disagree with you about whom actually benefits. I also think it's quite a stretch to say the Village Board elections was essentially a one-issue race. Is the Albion even on the radar of the average Oak Parker? The OPRF pool and the D97 referendum were far more polarizing issues in recent memory.

Bruce Kline  

Posted: August 8th, 2017 2:26 PM

Mike: I agree with what you wrote except for one "minor" issue. You write that "...the incumbents ... were part of the ONLY semi-political party in OP..." I assume the "semi-party" you refer to is the VMA. As Christine Vernon has pointed out previously, the courts years ago determined that the VMA IS a full fledged political party. There is nothing "semi" about it. The VMA even acknowledges itself (finally) as a political party on its own web site (http://www.vma-oakpark.org/downloads/VMA_Membership_Brochure_Final.pdf).

Michael Nevins  

Posted: August 8th, 2017 1:47 PM

Three months ago we had a Village Board election which, essentially, was a referendum on Albion. Three independent candidates ran against two incumbents. The incumbents had the endorsement of the WJ, were part of the ONLY semi-political party in OP (which rarely loses), supported by the Village President, were genuinely nice guys, etc. Result? The incumbents lost - and it wasn't close. What has changed in less than 100 days? To give Albion the numerous variances that they are seeking would be the epitome of arrogance and grossly insult the intelligence of your neighbors. Why? Sales tax increase? If Albion brought 500 new residents and they daily spent $20 ((500)(20)(365)(.02))......VOP would "earn" only $73,000 per year. To put that amt in to perspective, VOP just renewed the "Economic Development" contract.....for $725,000 per year. Who benefits from this behemoth? Simple, it's Albion - not us.

Brian Slowiak  

Posted: August 8th, 2017 12:40 PM

@ Charlie Meyerson: I have no dog in this fight. However , a forward thinking single person may some day wish to raise children. The difference between living downtown Chicago or downtown Oak Park is that you cant send your children to any of the Chicago Public Schools.

Mike Hanline  

Posted: August 8th, 2017 12:29 PM

My tax bill just went up over $1,200 due to the D97 referendum. People will support that but not a substantial outside investment in our downtown? If the village isn't subsidizing the development, who cares whether they're able to lease all the units? The developers have assumed the financial risk, and sophisticated investors tend to do their due diligence before committing millions of dollars. The concerns about increased traffic and wind tunnels just sound like excuses to me--Lake Street isn't the only route to travel east-west in OP. Now Austin Gardens IS a valid concern, but it still sounds like any impact would be minimal.

Stephen Hartmann  

Posted: August 8th, 2017 12:11 PM

The Albion would be a neighbor of mine and visible from my front porch. But, I am not automatically against it. I do think that some of the arguments are not being fully thought out. The argument that the 1,000,000 in additional property taxes is not sufficient ignores that fact that the additional residents will bring much more money in sales tax and village fees. I do not think the argument that additional residents bring a net cost to the village is not a valid one in this case. The argument from the Village Players that the additional noise pollution would impact their play is just short of ridiculous. Their argument is that the village should forgo development to preserve their plays is selfish and self serving. Our neighborhood has endured the additional noise they have generated for years. We have put up with the loss of the use of the park. One could argue that the Village Players do as much damage to the park each summer as the the new high rise would.To say that these new units would not be affordable to the target audience is also no fair. It is the the location of the likes of McDonalds and Google just down the tracks that make these units attractive. Many people do not want to live in that area and the rents there are even higher. If everyone wanted to live where they worked nobody would commute. This argument discounts the attractiveness of Oak Park even with the commute. I am willing to make a support decision based on environmental and congestion issues. But I cannot ignore economic advantages as my taxes continue to sky rocket. Let us not pile on other arguments the are not accurate or fair.

Dominique Frigo from Oak Park  

Posted: August 8th, 2017 10:32 AM

Has anyone commented about the aesthetics? This plan is not in line with the best of Oak Park buildings, and will make our downtown uglier. A resounding no from me! Not to mention the additional burden on the downtown area from noise, traffic and lost sunlight.

Tom Bassett-Dilley  

Posted: August 8th, 2017 10:17 AM

This project is so out of line, we shouldn't even be discussing it. The idea of Planned Development in the zoning code is to allow developers to exceed certain regulations so they can provide something of greater benefit to the Village. A PD must support the Master Plan, and cannot damage adjacent properties. Given the many ways this project violates the objectives of the Master Plan, its damage to Austin Gardens (see my shade study presented at Plan Commission 8.3.2017), and its lack of compensating benefits, I cannot understand how it has gotten this far. Well, I can understand how it got this far, but I can't accept it. Yes, our Master Plans will change, but they must do so with expert guidance and public process: we cannot let the character of our Village be sold behind closed doors.

Jason Cohen  

Posted: August 8th, 2017 8:15 AM

I don't know if any of us can say who will or won't move into these buildings but I do think it's fair to want to see what happens when all the current buildings are finished before we build yet another tall building. DTOP has undergone a pretty large transformation over the last couple of years and we have yet to digest the impact. Wouldn't it be nice to be able to show concrete proof that a certain type of unit is much more likely to rent or that you really need xx parking spaces per unit or that retail capacity is at max and that it's hard to rent the ground floor. We won't know this for another year I am guessing and I am sure we won't wait that long to make this decision but it sure would be nice if we could.

Charlie Meyerson  

Posted: August 8th, 2017 1:13 AM

"Why would single people want to come to Oak Park and pay luxury rents when they could live there and walk to that scene?" This is a specious argument.

Laura K. Stamp  

Posted: August 7th, 2017 9:05 PM

. With 562 units coming up for sale or rent without the Albion building, plus a saturation in apartment buildings in Chicago, does it make sense to shove this building in now?

Laura K. Stamp  

Posted: August 7th, 2017 9:04 PM

There was a lot more to this meeting. Oak Park residents gave thoughtful, intelligent arguments against the building, and backed their arguments with data. You can find more on austinguards.org. One compelling argument was about Albion's economic assumptions. Albion is a luxury apartment building, with rents starting at about $1700 for a studio. Albion used the median household income of $80,196 for households in Oak Park for their analysis. However, U.S. Census data says that the median income of non-family households is $43,547, and, given that the vast majority of the apartments are studios and one bedrooms, it's more likely that single people would rent them. (The Census defines families as households with at least two individuals related by marriage, birth, or adoption. Individuals and unmarried couples would count as non-family households.) At that income level, the rents are unaffordable. Those who stretch to pay this rent would then have less disposable income to support the downtown businesses. Another resident pointed out that many new apartment buildings surround the new Morgan el stop where the McDonald's and Google headquarters are located, and that the West Loop and Randolph Street are arguably the hottest areas in Chicago for restaurant, living and entertainment options. Why would single people want to come to Oak Park and pay luxury rents when they could live there and walk to that scene? In addition, she pointed out that there are 46 apartments available of the 270 in the Vantage building, so it is only 84% rented, despite their claims of 95% occupancy. The Albion building will add another 265 units to the 241 from Emerson (the "Target" building), 263 from Lincoln (at Harlem & South) and 28 from the District House ("Tasty Dog" site). This increase in units is 20% above the population goals set by the Village. With 562 units coming up for sale or rent without the Albion building, plus a saturation in apartment buildings in

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