Final Vote on Controversial Housing Project Nears
Trustees seek more material before deciding the Comcast project's fate.
The Oak Park Village Board has asked project developers for more information before deciding whether the long-vacant Comcast building will be converted into affordable housing.
Trustees on Monday said they wanted answers from project developers and village officials to a wide variety of concerns before deciding which way to vote. Specifically, they're looking for more information on plans for the facility's ground-floor commercial space, more details about parking and environmental remediation.
They also want more information about the building's prospective new tenant list and the need for criminal background checks on tenants.
Once those answers are delivered to the village board, trustees will approve or shoot down the village plan commission’s initial recommendation.
That vote — the final vote on the controversial project — is expected in June.
An upcoming meeting will be the first time trustees will openly express their views on the project, which has been the focus of controversy.
Back in November, trustees sent development plans to the plan commission for review. Seven hearings and more than three months later, the commission OK'd the project March 18 and sent their recommendation to the village board.
Meanwhile, controversy has mounted, with proponents and opponents of the project flooding trustees with e-mail and letters. A Facebook page opposing the development has 69 fans.
The tenant profile was one of the myriad issues neighbors brought up during the public hearings.
Opponents said low-income residents would court problems; proponents said the project would carry out the best tradition of furthering social justice.
Trustee Colette Lueck has called discussions on the tenant profile "problematic and disturbing," a position she reiterated at Monday's village board meeting.
“We have two different opinions in Oak Park regarding the acceptability of inviting low-income people into the community….There’s a priority that only people who live and work in Oak Park can live in this development. What does that say about us in the community that we cannot invite anyone else into the community who’s low income?”
Patricia O’Shea, a vocal opponent of the project, disputed Breymaier and wondered if the effort fit in with the village’s commitment to diversity.
“The goal is to live side-by-side,” she said. “Does a building designed to have 51-102 individuals living in a multi-floor apartment…fit that definition? They should not be segregated.”
Opponents like Douglas McMeyer lobbied for the addition of a nearby cul-de-sac to be added to allow for extra parking, provide for at least 10 more parking spaces, allow for two-way traffic to continue onto Grove and be a compensating benefit for the residents of his neighborhood.
It's a suggestion trustees asked to be studied.
Nancy Leonard championed the project.
“Oak Park’s existing affordable housing has not hurt our property values. The fact that Comcast [building] will be owned and managed by a local entity that already owns and manages existing affordable housing further reinforces what studies have found,” she said. (The studies she referred to were on affordable housing conducted by United Power for Action and Justice, a Chicago-based faith-based advocacy organization.)
Meredith Hill, who lives with her family near the building, said she could live independently in this project.
“It’s acceptable and affordable housing in our home town is something worth fighting for,” said Hill. “I love the rich personality and historical significance of Oak Park. We truly live in a frank and earnest town.”
Project at a Glance
Interfaith and OPHA wanted 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.
The structure, just west of the intersection of Oak Park Avenue and Madison Street, has been vacant for about two years. Interfaith wants to convert the 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 —would qualify to live there.
Catholic Charities will provide social services for the residents.