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Affordable apartment plan gets mixed reception

Neighbors concerned about density, traffic; others argue Oak Park needs economic diversity

July 16th, 2018 4:55 PM

Rendering provided by Community Builders Inc.

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By Timothy Inklebarger

Staff Reporter

Boston-based Community Builders Inc. held its second meeting last week, giving Oak Parkers new details on its plan to build a four-story, 37-unit affordable-rental building on an empty lot at the corner of South Oak Park Avenue and Van Buren Street.

The proposal got a mixed reaction at the meeting held July 12 at the Oak Park Public Library, Maze Branch, where about 40 residents turned out to ask questions and voice their concerns about the project.

The building as-proposed, includes 32 one-bedroom units, three studios and two 2-bedroom apartments, according to Kirk Albinson, a project manager with Community Builders. It also includes a 900-square-foot retail space at the northeast corner of the building.

"(W)e are focused on integrating quality materials into the design," Albinson said. "Authentic is the key word that we've gravitated toward in speaking with the village and various folks in the community in terms of Oak Park's rich architectural heritage. We want to uphold that."

Several attendees voiced their concern that the building would be too dense and bring unwanted traffic and parking problems to the area.

One building owner said he already has parking problems for his tenant in the area, and the Community Builders' plan for 23 dedicated parking spots for tenants is not enough.

"Parking is a huge problem (in the area)," he said, adding, "This is OK on paper, but once you fill the place up people will want parking."

Community Builders is working with contractors on a traffic and parking study that will be rolled out once the company submits its application to the village for review.

"We are confident that we're planning ample parking for folks that will have cars on the site," Albinson said.

He added that parking studies in similar communities show that transit-oriented developments – developments near public transportation such as the nearby CTA Blue Line – of similar size and density show that residents require 0.56 stalls per unit. Providing 23 parking spots works out to about 0.62 spots per unit for the proposal.

The proposal also creates five on-street parking spots for those visiting the commercial district, Albinson said.

Because of the size of the units, Community Builders does not expect the units to attract people with children and are, therefore, unlikely to put additional stress on local schools. Neighbors noted, however, that just a couple of new students could cost District 97's nearby Lincoln Elementary thousands of dollars in additional spending. "That school is bursting at the seams," one man said.

Milton Clark, a resident of the 800 block of South Grove, said he and other neighbors are opposing the project because it is too dense and will bring too many new residents to the area. He and others are calling for a development with fewer units, possibly made up of townhouses or condominiums.

"We think this is going to overload the immediate area and create too much density and traffic issues," Clark said.

Another neighbor, Joyce Ford Gradel, argued that Oak Park has a shortage of affordable housing, and Community Builders' proposal is vital to helping create more economic diversity in the village.

"I've lived in Oak Park for 40 years and we've talked about diversity over and over and over and we're pretty good with racial diversity, so if you're rich, we don't care what color you are," she said. "These will provide economic diversity, and we're talking about parking and cars; we need this and I'm thrilled …"

The comment prompted applause from several people attending the meeting.

The proposal targets residents earning up to $17 an hour. Those with an annual income of $35,600 or less would be eligible for units running $844 a month. Those earning up to $17,800 would be eligible for units running $368 a month.

Albison reminded residents that the development would contribute to Oak Park's property tax base despite the fact it is being built by a non-profit and will be partially funded by grants from the Illinois Housing Development Authority.

CONTACT: tim@oakpark.com