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Disillusioned
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Thanks, Blair! You've really conjured up the essence of the Oak Park controversy. Sadly, it appears that the Village Board has an agenda that is in direct conflict with how the community has outlined its desire to guide future growth, as spelled out in its Zoning Ordinances, Comprehensive Plan, and Greater Downtown Master Plan documents that are supposed to be used as development guidance. The people have spoken with their direction of the Greater Downtown Master Plan, and support of the Comprehensive Plan through the Zoning Ordinance. I have lost faith in government when I see how quickly the governing Zoning Ordinances as statutes (laws) can be cast aside at a whim through purposeful inclusion of the "we can do whatever we want" PUD exception language. Quick note before another stream-of-consciousnous monologue - everyone seems to insist on calling this PUD a tower. That's the way it appears on the north and south elevations, but have you seen the proposed design from the east and west elevations (those which most of the Downtown and The Avenue visitors will see)? Not much of a tower to me from these elevations; looks more like 20 stories of glass and concrete walls. I don't think supporters realize what this is about. It is truly about protecting and maintaining the documents that indicate how the community has determined it wants to grow - by keeping with the small-town feel, maintaining low-rise development, doing so wisely, and by using its limited funds prudently. Multi-use is great! The community gets all tingly thinking about revenue-generating retail space! But this area also needs more publicly-available parking, not less! The currently-available 349+ public parking spaces will be dimished to 300 spaces, because that is all that can be economically feasible within the proposed design... as if that is the only design, and that is how it should be accepted! If the Board really does desire growth, it is being completely irresponsible with taxpayer dollars if it believes that removing public parking spaces for purpose of squeezing in a pet-project hotel is better than increasing public parking spaces. The community is all for redevelopment, but it needs to be done responsibly, adhering to the spirit of the guidelines that the community has worked so hard to develop and protect... and honestly - wouldn't you think that if it is not economically feasible for a development - or a portion of a development - to be built without taxpayer subsidy, then it should not be developed? Oak Park has already tried subsidizing a major residential development (reference Whiteco project at the SE corner of Harlem and Ontario), and it appears to have failed; only 50% occupancy (-ish... maybe...), mostly because these apartments are too expensive (so much for Oak Park's vision of supplying more affordable-housing!). The only positive that came from that development is that we now have a thriving - even if somewhat small - Trader Joe's. I know that the Board believes in their hearts that this is the right thing for the community, but it is not - not with this design towering over charming Downtown Oak Park, and with imprudent use of tax revenues. Thank you for the opportunity to rant, as senseless acts require no less...
The community is not opposed to "high aspirations" of high-rise design, but you have obviously not visited Oak Park and the Frank Lloyd Wright Historical District, if you can state that "...there is nothing to suggest [that] a 20-floor tower would destroy the character of the neighborhood...". The Village's Zoning Ordinance, and its requirement that development plans in the Village adhere to the Comprehensive Plan, and consider the Greater Downtown Master Plan (which states that one of its guiding principles is to preserve the historic small-town feel), was established with specific purpose. And the purpose was not to cast planning guidance aside when the Board has its OWN ideas of how the Village is to be developed! They were established to protect the community against this very scenario. You see, Oak Park is considered an outdoor museum; “home to the world's largest collection of Frank Lloyd Wright designed buildings and houses, with 25 structures built between 1889 and 1913. It was in our village that Wright developed and perfected his signature Prairie Style architecture, emphasizing the use of interior light and open spaces in low, earth-hugging buildings,” according to the Oak Park Tourist office. Though Frank Lloyd Wright was an advocate of pioneering architecture, people visit Oak Park to experience the community’s historical architectural importance. This proposed development – in its current form – is an assault on, and an affront to, the existing architecture, which is our main source of tourism. It is completely out of character, will be very costly to the Village, has reduced rather than increased much-needed parking, and will do so to the detriment of established boutique hotels and bed and breakfasts, while subsidizing the new hotel with $500K – how about that for adding insult to injury! Though I can certainly appreciate contemporary architecture, this 204'-monolith is inappropriate for the location - it would be most "stunning" in downtown Chicago or Evanston, however! But picture it neighboring 100+-year historical gems that draw the intrigue of over 75,000 visitors each year – our largest source of tourist revenues for the Village – cut to 75,000 tourists scratching their heads in the shadows of this building, trying to figure out how it was allowed to be built at that particular site. And though there is a 165’-building across the street (south) from the proposed development, the 80’-restrictive zoning was written since it was built – also with obvious purpose. I might add that: 1)the Comprehensive Plan permits the development of higher density residential buildings at reasonable intervals in accordance with development principals in said plan (across the street is not a reasonable interval); and 2) the existing building is a quarter of its own height shorter than the proposed building, is considerably shorter in length, and is set back from the road nearly 100 feet. The proposed building has no setback. So, please – look at the images (http://www.oak-park.us/public/pdfs/Planning/Lake-Forest/09.17.09_Lake_Forest_PDA.pdf), and then come visit Oak Park to see whether it would destroy the character of the neighborhood. Until then, opinions mean nothing...
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Jan 15, 2010