The Oak Park Village Board has approved plans for a new retail and residential building, one that will effectively change the face of downtown.
The approval paves the way for Sertus Capital Partners to begin construction on a 20-story tower that will contain 20,000 feet of retail space and 270 residential luxury apartments. The agreement also means Sertus will construct on the property a parking garage with 588 spaces – 300 public spaces and 288 private spaces.
"It's all part of a whole, all part of an objective," Village President David Pope said at Monday's meeting, which stretched more than four hours. "That fundamentally is...what we come back to, [that Oak Park] is the vital, vibrant place that everyone wants to live, and the idea of having that downtown that works is an important piece of that."
The board first voted unanimously to overturn the plan commission's denial in November of Sertus' height, density and parking amendments, then voted to accept those amendments with another unanimous vote.
Construction is expected to begin later this fall, and officials say the building could be finished by 2014.
"The economic advantages to the village are great," said Trustee Ray Johnson. "Two hundred and seventy more households will create incredible synergy and value for the rest of our Oak Park businesses."
Trustee Colette Lueck threw her support behind the estimated $81 million project based on the longview, saying the addition of more residents would help ensure a vibrant business district and maintain Oak Park's reputation as a public transportation hub.
"There is really compelling evidence...that the future of our earth relies on increased use of rapid transit and less on cars," she said.
Following board policy, six people were allowed to address the dais — three for the development and three against. Residents Kevin Murphy, David Barsotti and Steve Harris argued against approval of the project, with each speaker concluding their statements to rousing applause in the village auditorium.
Barsotti, , took aim at Sertus capital and it's "failed" developments in Des Plaines and Chicago.
"Voting to approve this project would once again send the message that this board is more interested in the financial well-being of an out-of-town developer than the residents of Oak Park," he said.
Harris called the project "poorly conceived" and "glaringly offensive, more appropriate for the Florida coast than to be next to the Frank Lloyd Wright district."
Trustee Adam Salzman said he can see why some people are wary of the village's track record with real estate development. "But I’d ask you to take into account that the last several years have been cataclysmic in terms of the state and national economy," he said. "I think this could work out very well."
Arguing in favor of the project were Juliane Kelly, former village development director, Martin Noll, chairman of and the , and Georga Parchem, who chairs the board of the Nineteenth Century Club. The trio agreed that the project would be a boon to economic development for years to come.
"This project is precisely the kind we'd hope to see in downtown Oak Park years ago," said Kelly.
Parchem said Sertus has agreed to certain provision with her organization, including protection of the Nineteenth Century Club's building at 178 Forest Ave. through "financial aid and technical assistance." Taken together, that makes for a "contribution to the public good," Parchem said.
"The building will increase density, be we believe such a change is inevitable and more people in the downtown area will make it a more vibrant business community," she said.
In prepared remarks, Trustee Glenn Brewer invoked famed Oak Park architect Frank Lloyd Wright, by way of historian Paul E. Sprague's 1986 Guide to Frank Lloyd Wright and Prairie School Architecture in Oak Park.
"In driving forward toward a new style, Prairie architects were rejecting in the process the idea that new buildings should be inspired by, or derived from, the historical styles of architecture," Brewer read, then added his own comment:
"I believe even the Prairie School of architects would say that you need to move forward into the future with new designs that are reflective of your own time," he said. "This project accomplishes that."