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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 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.  

Controversy Builds

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   and sent their recommendation to the village board. 

However, the commission's findings of fact placed 21 conditions on the developers, Interfaith Housing Development Corp. and the . 

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. 

Thewas 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.

Rob Breymaier, executive director of the , said the project and would attract a racially diverse population.

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, 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.

Dave May 18, 2011 at 01:53 PM
I just want to thank Patch for a well balanced article and straight-forward reporting throughout this project. It's a sign of the times when an online resource can do journalism at a much higher level than the long-time go-to local newspaper, the Wednesday Journal. It's shocking to have learned through this project just how desperate the WJ is to be the house organ for the VMA and how arrogantly it ignores the views of the people it expects to support its advertisers. How does the editor of such a rag sleep at night?
William J Belmonte Jr May 18, 2011 at 05:42 PM
As I read some of the articles attached to this, I find that this is another Non- Profit group? Does this mean that they will not be paying ANY form of TAXES? Just what we need another non-Tax paying group and less parking. When are you people going to WAKE UP? I can only hope that the Village is not contributing to this project!
Dave May 18, 2011 at 06:08 PM
It will pay local taxes, but it has been said only a $25,000 increase over the past owner for between 50 and 100 new residents who can bring children with them. The costs for education and social services will no doubt be far greater to the Village and township than $25,000. However, you should know the project is being funded through federal tax credits to large corporations. So, at a time of a huge federal deficit, Oak Park's support for this is allowing corporations to avoid paying taxes that could help fix the budget. And there are towns and cities across America much more in need of the housing these limited tax credits than Oak Park so it can fix up a building. Of course, no real need for this housing has been demonstrated here. This is really about VMA being able to say they brought in a development, without demonstrating any care about the views of the people in this neighborhood, of course. And your point about parking is well taken. If you go by the Grove-Madison corner, note all the cars now parked in the empty lot, often on the sidewalk, by what appear to be Walgreens workers. For this project, the Village Plan Commission essentially suggested people can park across Oak Park Avenue at the empty lot there. Everyone else but the Plan Commission seems to understand that people don't cross busy streets to park, as these cars on the empty lot demonstrate already. Nice planning vision, wouldn't you agree?
William J Belmonte Jr May 19, 2011 at 11:04 PM
Going by the VMA past history for bringing developments to Oak PArk this will most end up being another empty lot or another parking lot. Maybe if we get lucky it could turn into a "PARKING GARAGE" or a bowling alley or a great big bar and micro brew, top that Forest PArk. This whole thing stinks like "RED LINING".

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