People to village: Stop downtown high-rise

Opinion: Columns

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By Joshua Klayman

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Do you like the new 21-story Vantage building that looms over Downtown Oak Park? Want another one like it just across Forest Avenue? Albion Residential's proposed 18-story tower at 1000 Lake Street faces mounting opposition, including a petition drive and a rally March 19 in neighboring Austin Gardens. It also promises to be a significant issue in upcoming village elections.

Who gains and who loses with this project? The benefits accrue to Michigan-based Village Green Holding LLC (Albion's parent company) and to the current owner of the site, who bought it on speculation that the village would approve a massive development there. The residents and current businesses of Oak Park bear the cost in high taxes and lower quality of life.

The myth that higher density means lower taxes imagines magical new businesses and residents who pay taxes but who never need the fire department or paramedics, whose cars and garbage trucks don't drive down local streets, who don't send kids to school, and whose toilets don't produce sewage. 

In fact, data show that more densely populated areas pay higher taxes. But won't all those new tenants help save local businesses? Not likely. The new developments add more retail space, further diluting the clientele for existing local merchants.

A new high-rise building will: 

 Block Austin Gardens' southern exposure to the sun, damaging trees, wildlife, and aesthetics in Oak Park's most heavily wooded green space. The developer's own estimates show full sunlight in Austin Gardens for just four hours a day — in midsummer.

 Increase traffic congestion along Lake Street and push more traffic onto the residential streets that begin just one block away.

 Put additional strain on village services and school districts.

 Violate Oak Park's commitment to diversity. The development includes no low-income or subsidized housing units. Albion's website states that it "is focused on …  urban, luxury rental apartments."

 Provide no offsetting public amenities. The project's "green space" is a narrow alley between buildings, to be covered with permeable pavers.

 Contribute to destroying the character and aesthetics of Downtown Oak Park. The village's own Greater Downtown Master Plan states: "Buildings higher than Marshall Fields [five stories] would be disruptive and incompatible with … Oak Park's village character."

Albion has accelerated the submission of its plans to the village, possibly to circumvent public opposition, possibly to gain approval from trustees prior to the April village elections. Residents need to keep their eyes open for notices of public hearings. They are very sparsely announced, with one poster on the 1000 Lake St. site and a notice somewhere within the village website. Only two weeks' notice is required. 

For updates, concerned residents can check the Facebook page or website of a group dedicated to saving Austin Gardens, facebook.com/AustinGuards or AustinGuards.org. Those sites also link to petitions and other actions.

Oak Parkers must let village trustees and plan commissioners know that they will not be satisfied with just tweaking Albion's plan here and there. No exception should be made to the current 8-story limit, and indeed, the village should adhere to the no-higher-than-Marshall-Field limit indicated in its own master plan. 

Joshua Klayman is a resident of Oak Park.

Reader Comments

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Josh Vanderberg  

Posted: March 10th, 2017 3:05 PM

I am so tired of the idea that high end housing doesn't help affordability. It does. It increases supply, and decreases the rents/prices in places that now look significantly less desirable when compared to the new buildings. See: http://cityobservatory.org/urban-myth-busting-new-rental-housing-and-median-income-households/. We almost never build 'affordable housing' from scratch. Most affordable housing is older housing that has depreciated. Housing that was built with the dollars of more affluent residents. If we keep building high end building downtown, this will decrease rents in older condos and rental building that compete in the same market. If you care about affordability and diversity, then as demand increases we need to increase density and supply, even out in the residential neighborhoods.

David Gulbransen  

Posted: March 10th, 2017 10:54 AM

And in terms of *retail* space, with the ground floor being prime retail, it's the same for an 8-story or 18-story building. And we clearly need more retail space on Lake *immediately*, since there are *no* vacancies between Oak Park Ave and Harlem. Riiiiight. *eyeroll*

David Gulbransen  

Posted: March 10th, 2017 10:51 AM

I support appropriate and sustainable development in our Village. The site is _already_ appropriately zoned and they wouldn't need a variance for 8 stories. If Albion can't make 8 stories work for them, then they clearly aren't the right developer for the site or for Oak Park.

Carolyn Cullen  

Posted: March 10th, 2017 9:46 AM

Agreed! People from Albion said at their open house that they can't make money with 8 stories, might break even with 12 and need 18 to be profitable. MAYBE any residential and retail building is just not a good use for this site and it could enrich Oak Park more as an extension of Austin Gardens!

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