Developers Outline Plans for Comcast Building
Oak Park Plan Commission holds first hearing on controversial affordable housing proposal.
Developers and their consultants have laid out their case before the Oak Park Plan Commission, explaining how they would to turn the long-vacant Comcast building on Madison Street into affordable housing.
Over the course of a three-hour meeting Thursday, officials from Interfaith Housing Development Corporation, the Oak Park Housing Authority and others told commissioners the project would be a well-managed facility that would fill a vital community need of providing more affordable housing for singles.
During the hearing, officials tried to allay commissioners' concerns about the viability of the retail component, as well as the lack of commercial parking in the developers' plans, among other issues.
Project developers answered their critics, claiming the facility in the 800 block of Madison Street, would have minimal traffic impact.
The building, backers said, would look and feel like any market rate apartment building and would shed the stigma associated with concentrating low-income workers in one building.
Ed Solan, the housing authority's executive director, told commissioners any building that has been vacant for a lengthy period of time, like the Comcast site, is more likely to lower the value of neighboring properties.
Thursday's meeting was the first time the project's developer, Interfaith Housing, and partners from the housing authority presented their case in a formal setting. Catholic Charities is also a partner in the project, but representatives from that organization did not attend Thursday's meeting.
Public presentations were made this fall, but Thursday's meeting and planned subsequent sessions are the first formal steps toward assessing whether the project will move forward.
At least five more hearings will be conducted before a recommendation is sent on to the Oak Park Village Board. Sessions usually are held at 7 p.m. at Oak Park Village Hall, 123 Madison St., in the council chambers. The current schedule is:
- Jan. 6 — Commissioners will address questions related to various staff analyses of the project. Objectors who filed requests with the Village Clerk's Office will query project developers and consultants (referred to as the applicant).
- Jan. 20 – Testimony can be provided by the public. Each person will have five minutes to speak.
- Feb. 3 — Commissioners will query objectors' witnesses and other evidence. The developers can question those who objected to the project.
- Feb. 17 — Closing statements by the developers and objectors. The commission will deliberate.
- March 3 — The commission will present its recommendation.
Interfaith wants to convert the vacant Comcast building at 820-832 Madison St. into an L-shaped, environmentally friendly apartment building with 5,200 square feet of retail space on the first floor and 51 single-family units on the second through fourth floors.
Rent will be about $700 monthly. People 18 and older who earn at or below $26,300 annually — the area median income, according to the IHDC — and who live or work in Oak Park would qualify.
Solan told commissioners the authority, which provides affordable housing for elderly and disabled individuals and families, has a waiting list of more than 200 names of singles who work or live in Oak Park, but there is no building in the village that targets low-wage workers.
Prospective tenants would be screened for income verification and household size.
Perry Vietti, chief operating officer for IHDC, said tenants could include employees for Oak Park school districts, the village, veterans or the disabled.
Green space will be added in the back area of the site, where Comcast once kept its trucks. The space would act as a buffer between the residential neighborhood and the development.
The Chicago-based IHDC has been working on the effort for about two years and will be the lead developer and oversee the financing. The authority will screen tenants, market the property and hire a property manager.
Catholic Charities will provide social services for the residents. If the project is approved, construction is slated to start in late 2011 or early 2012 with completion in late 2012.
Scrutiny by the village's plan commission is required because Interfaith Housing wants a slightly taller building (by 5 feet), fewer parking spaces (32 instead of 73) and more units (51 instead of the allowed 40) than are allowed by current standards.