Refining and denying developments

Opinion: Editorials

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There's a lot to be said for public hearing processes in Oak Park. January opened with two notable but medium-sized proposals heading to either the Plan Commission or the Zoning Board of Appeals. Both hearings were lengthy. Both rightly brought out a slew of immediate neighbors. And both ended with continuances as developers were sent back either to the proverbial drawing board or to gather more information. 

The plan commission heard a proposal to replace a decrepit commercial building at Madison and Gunderson with a super-sized apartment project. The eager developer overreached with a doubling of allowed-by-right units in the project — 48 vs. 24 units. Also concerning to neighbors and to us is the access to parking under the proposed building. The driveway would come off Gunderson, one of the narrower streets in the area. Not a reasonable plan, at least not at 48 units.

We agree with neighbors and, seemingly with plan commissioners, who criticized the proposed architectural design. Substandard. Not ambitious. Unacceptable. Hard to design buildings by commission or worse, by taking the advice of neighbors. A simple thumbs down and expectation of aiming higher should suffice.

All that said, we are on perpetual NIMBY alert and found the objection of one neighbor, complaining that apartment balconies would put their backyards into view, an inadequate objection. Once more, buy a house adjacent to a commercial strip and you give up some right to complain as commercial uses shift.

A compromise will be reached here. And the continuing transition of Madison Street from a commercial strip of obsolete buildings and uses into a residential hub is one of village government's true victories of recent years. The rezoning of Madison to allow this to flower, the bold expectation that, if the village consolidated its redevelopment efforts between East Avenue and Home, private developers would spread out from there is proving true.

Down Roosevelt way, a street that time has not improved, residents there turned out at a Zoning Board of Appeals hearing to largely but not completely object to a Taco Bell being pushed for the Oak Park intersection of Austin Boulevard and Roosevelt. Most recently an undistinguished but oversized bank branch, this parcel awaits new development.

Our friends at Taco Bell, forever remembered as the inventor of what obese America really doesn't need, the Fourth Meal, are going to get a complex if their effort to invade Oak Park is turned down again. But we hope they are turned down again.

Sitting at the crappy crossroads of Cicero, Chicago and Oak Park, we really need to aim higher than a Taco Bell. Everything about this sad intersection calls for reinvention. Fast food drive-thru is capitulation, not reinvention. Too many substandard bars and too many depressing liquor stores already line the Cicero contribution to this piece of God's green Earth.

Recall that neighbors on Madison rose up to block Taco Bell's introduction at the long vacant Madison and Lyman corner. So what has followed on that site? Currently under construction, a handsome apartment complex. That is what should go on the corner of Roosevelt and Austin. Let the bank company that still owns the corner pay the taxes and keep the weeds down. And let's be a little patient, a little hopeful, a little ambitious that better days are ahead for Roosevelt Road.

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