Gunderson proposal should be rejected

Opinion: Columns

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Elizabeth Loentz

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I am writing to express my concern about the proposed development of 435 Madison Street, a parcel located directly adjacent to the Gunderson Historic District. As a resident of the district, I (like most of my neighbors) would welcome a high-quality, appropriate, and context-sensitive development of 435 Madison, but I do not believe that the proposal at hand is any of these things.

The Oak Park Plan Commission voted unanimously against this project. Despite this resounding rejection, the developers have elected to present it to the village board with minor changes that do not address the Plan Commission's grave concerns. To date, the board has never overturned a unanimous decision of the Plan Commission, and I sincerely hope they will continue to respect the guidance of their panel of experts.

In their "Finding of Fact" document, presented to the board on May 28, the Plan Commission said the development was "inappropriately massive, dense, tall … and too close to the residential properties to the south and east," and that the "residential neighborhood to the south and the east would be negatively impacted by such a dense and tall building on too close of a proximity."

The developer's minor revisions are simply not enough:

1) The building is still too tall: The developer has made no changes to the proposed height — at 5 stories and 63 feet tall, instead of the permitted 50 feet, this building would be taller than any existing building on Madison.

2) It is still too dense: 42 units instead of the permitted 24.

3) It is still too close to its neighbors: The five-story building will loom over the neighboring single-family historic Gunderson homes. It is a mere 15 feet from the nearest home to the south, and only the narrow 8-foot alley will separate it from the neighboring properties to the east.

This proposed development is clearly at odds with the goals expressed in the village's strategic plan, Envision Oak Park: A Comprehensive Plan for the Oak Park Community (2014). This plan emphasizes the importance of "Oak Park's heritage and its historically and architecturally significant neighborhoods … including three nationally recognized historic districts." It calls for "context-sensitive development" that is "complementary to the scale and character of surrounding residential neighborhoods." 

The Plan Commission rightly determined that this proposed development, which will compromise the character of the Gunderson Historic District, is not the sort of context-sensitive development that is permitted by Oak Park's Zoning Ordinance (created in 2017, the ordinance is up to date and development-friendly) and envisioned in Oak Park's comprehensive plan, nor is it the type of development that Oak Park deserves.

Why do the developers refuse to make the changes suggested by both the Plan Commission and concerned neighbors? They say they cannot reduce the height, number of units, or building footprint, because this "reduces the operational income for the development" rendering it "not economically feasible."

The Plan Commission made the right decision. It is not their job to bend Oak Park's zoning ordinance to maximize a developer's profits. It is their job to uphold our rules and standards to ensure that the unique character of our community will be preserved for its current and future residents. They can and do approve variances to the ordinance if there are significant compensating benefits for the community, but in this case, they determined that the compensating benefits were not sufficient for the significant variances the developer is seeking. I sincerely hope that our village trustees and president also make the right decision: to reject this proposal.

 is a resident of Oak Park.

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Zachary Jean Paradis from Oak Park  

Posted: July 30th, 2020 8:06 PM

This observation is 100% on point. I am happy for and pro-development in Oak Park but this building could be quite easily described as "out of place". It should be voted down.

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