The Oak Lawn Board of Trustees, by a surprising 4-2 vote, stood with residents opposing a three story development with eight multifamily units in the center of Oak Lawn at 95th Street and 50th Court.
After a motion to approve was seconded, Trustee Robert Streit, who has served that area for 26 years, started the conversation among the rest of the board. Streit said that the decision should not be made in a vacuum.
Streit, referring to the traffic flow changes and other parts of the development, noted that there are “many moving parts to the development and most of them are good”. He said that the development should improve ingress and egress into the parking garage. He also noted that “it sounds like we are going to get an upscale Mexican restaurant as well”.
Streit said that he has supported the components of the project thus far but recently the administration added the three story development with eight apartments. Streit noted that the original plan called for a one story commercial site with a Dunkin Donuts and the new proposal represented “quite a change” from what was previously presented to the neighbors and the board.
Streit said that it was already difficult to find parking at the strip mall that includes Starbucks and Pot Belly restaurant and noted that the board approved a 500 percent parking variation for the Advocate development at the old Beatty Lumber site.
Streit urged the board to learn from the mistakes of the past noting that developments should be “well planned” and said that 20 years ago mistakes were made when the residents’ concerns were ignored and the original development was approved without sufficient parking. He said that the Mayor’s own Patriot Station traffic review committee had not been asked to weigh in on the development. He said the concerns of the residents should be given consideration and added that if the development is planned correctly everyone will support it.
Mayor Sandra Bury asked Village Manager Larry Deetjen to respond to Streit’s points. He defended the development as “highly complex” and noted not only the companies involved but the State each one is located in or has its headquarters. He also said that he presented the concept of mixed use development in 2016 and the board adopted the idea by purchasing the Karras property.
Deetjen then stated that he didn’t have time to go through the history but said that the Oak Lawn Library has photos of many buildings on 95th Street from the past that had stores on the ground floor and residential on the top. He then repeated several times that he wanted to deal with “the facts”. He then read one paragraph of a multi-page purchase agreement while interrupting himself. The paragraph referred to the possibility that there could be commercial or mixed use development but that it would have to be approved by the various boards of the village.
Deetjen also told a story about a conversation with a resident about traffic and another about a possible wall. He also blamed residents for cutting through the neighborhood and using the alley. He admitted it was a “long winded way to tell you” that the purchase agreement was acted upon by the board.
He called the process “dynamic” and then asked for the applicant to make power point presentation before opening up the process for questions. However, Trustee Tom Phelan asked to make a few comments and noted that while he wasn’t on the board at the time of the purchase agreement and while he didn’t want to contradict what Deetjen was saying from a global standpoint, he has been inundated with calls and emails regarding the project about how important it is to Oak Lawn. However, he called the development proposal “convoluted and confusing”.
Phelan said that he kept saying, “the next piece of paper that I get on this (development) will be the first”. Phelan, who was elected in April, said he hadn’t seen anything but was being asked to support something he didn’t have any information on.”
Phelan then held up a few pieces of paper saying he was handed the document “last night” by a village community service officer who delivered it to his house. He said he read it but received another message stating that what he was given is not what the final product would be but that the village wanted to provide something. Phelan, who previously served from 2005-2013 as a Trustee, asked, “what’s the hurry?” to approve the development.
Phelan said, “anytime something is this confusing and its going to negatively impact this many people or the perception is that it is going to impact them negatively …” before asking Deetjen to answer why the board was being asked to approve the development today when there will be another meeting.
Trustee Bud Stalker tried to answer but Phelan said he wanted to hear from the Manager. Deetjen then talked about the 95th Street Corridor Plan, various meetings over the last five years, discussions about mixed use development, and Advocate’s strategic plan. Deetjen also said “class A” retailers were not interested in the property south of the tracks and then talked about the Mayor’s traffic committee before Phelan interjected asking again why it had to be decided that night. Phelan said that is there something that would be affected by the delay of the vote.
Deetjen then reviewed the entire negotiations with the railroad, IDOT’s rejection of a previous plan in 2005, the delays in the project and the fact that Advocate is hoping to commence demolition soon. Phelan said he was wondering if the village was going to lose a grant if they didn’t approve it immediately but Deetjen could not provide an immediate negative result if it was delayed. Deetjen argued that the facts show that in other towns property values have increased with such developments and said he was part of some of those developments.
After Deetjen spoke, Phelan added a conclusion that there would not be any catastrophe occurring if the board did not approve it that night. Deetjen answered, “there’s always risk….I’ll let the applicant address that…”
Trustee William Bud Stalker claimed that the board had already approved the plan even though Phelan had noted that the document he was given showed one story and did not include 8 apartments. Stalker said it was approved previously. “The building you see has already been approved. Not completely but the principal. Eight units, two commercial. So there’s no rush to do it, it’s done.”
Phelan then said the purchase agreement does not talk about 8 units before Bury recognized Trustee Vorderer to speak. Vorderer said it was a “first class development” and said he sat in on many of the meetings. “This is already a done deal,” said Vorderer.
Vorderer then raised the ire of the audience, which had listened quietly, when said there are a lot of five story buildings in the neighborhood. As residents made comments from the audience, Vorderer then said that maybe the buildings aren’t near 50th Court but they are in other neighborhoods. The noise from the audience led Bury to pound the gavel and remark, “folks, folks we’re going to have a business like meeting…”
Vorderer said, “I understand your concerns but that’s what happens when you live in Oak Lawn. It’s different.” Vorderer noted that he lives in the shadow of Advocate Christ Hospital, although he lives south of 95th Street.
Streit responded to Deetjen, Vorderer and Stalker’s argument that the plans were approved already arguing that the statements were incorrect. He said he was at meetings where residents were told that the development was a one story Dunkin Donuts and now the project has changed. Streit said if anyone is going to be honest, the idea of 8 apartments only was raised in the last couple of weeks. He also said that Trustee Phelan has an excellent point asking why the request for approval is being rushed. He suggested sending it back to committee.
The developer provided a presentation and responded to questions but Bury did not let the residents ask the developer questions. Trustee Alex Olejniczak, however, said he wanted to ask the same question posed by a resident. He said the biggest problem is parking on both sides of 95th Street noting that the 51st Avenue Development, where Bury lives, has gone through three restaurants because of parking. Bury said she thought the restaurants failed because of taxes and not the parking. But Olejniczak asked if it the taxes were going to be any cheaper in the new development.
Olejniczak said the 51st Avenue site was a poorly designed development and when he looks at this development “I just can’t get past the parking problem.” Olejniczak said that the parking variance would probably not work well just as the 51st Avenue parking variance, which was approved before he joined the board, has not worked.
Olejniczak noted that the people living in the residential units would have to park in the municipal parking lot and walk to the units. The Mexican restaurant would valet customers’ cars. He didn’t think either idea was practical and shared that thought with the board.
Olejniczak agreed with Streit calling it a “bad plan”. After Olejniczak spoke, Stalker then said there were too many questions and suggested that the developer bring in a different plan.
Olejniczak made a motion to refer the matter to committee, which was seconded by Streit. Both Bury and Olejniczak thanked the residents in attendance with Olejniczak remarking that the residents raised a lot of good issues. He then said, “we listen”.
The board voted 6-0 to send the matter back to the Planning and Development Commission, which would have been heard tonight. However, the developer has asked for a continuance.