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Dust up over Oak Park zoning rewrite

Top staff resent trustee's implication of 'inappropriate' changes

September 11th, 2017 3:24 PM

By Timothy Inklebarger

Staff Reporter

Debate became heated Sept. 5 at the Oak Park Board of Trustees meeting, where officials confirmed that a rewrite of the village zoning code still requires a two-thirds majority vote to approve planned developments rejected by the village's Plan Commission.

The issue was brought up by Trustee Simone Boutet, who noticed that the rewrite of the zoning ordinance had removed language stating that if the Plan Commission, which is tasked with reviewing planned developments, rejects a proposal, then the board of trustees must achieve a 5-2 majority vote to override the commission.

Village Manager Cara Pavlicek and Tammie Grossman, Oak Park's director of development customer services, both said the removal of the language was intended as a technical cleanup, because the language was duplicative and already required under the special use provision of the village statute.

Paul Stephanides, the village's attorney, also confirmed at the meeting that the two-thirds majority provision is required under state law and could not be changed at the municipal level.

The issue is relevant to the controversial proposal by Albion Residential, which wants to build an 18-story residential tower at the corner of Lake Street and Forest Avenue. The Plan Commission rejected the proposal earlier this month, putting the proposal in jeopardy.

"At the end of the day, I think it's important to recognize, or at least for us to reiterate, that the two-thirds supermajority has never been totally removed from this zoning ordinance," Mayor Anan Abu-Taleb said at the meeting. "It was packaged a little different. Some people may feel that it is not as clear to them, and so the whole idea here is to duplicate it in another paragraph and make sure it is crystal clear."

Abu-Taleb said that no one at the village was trying to "pull a fast one" on the community. He argued that those concerned about the removal of the language should have contacted village staff for clarification before making accusations.

"I think the village manager deserves candid feedback from the board members, so we don't have to go through all this distrust between neighbors," he said.

Boutet said the proposed change was never presented to the Plan Commission or the trustees, adding that it "would have been a significant major impact on a highly controversial development in our town."

"I think we're making excuses and these are the kind of excuses that are resulting in people in the community saying they don't trust this board, because the excuses that are given are not credible, and I have a big problem with that," Boutet said.

Grossman defended the proposed change in language, reminding Boutet that it would have no effect on the two-thirds majority rule.

"I was the project manager of the zoning ordinance, and Simone, I've known you for a very long time and I don't think anybody can ever attack my integrity or honesty in my level of responsibility," Grossman said. "And when I tell you that we believed that this provision was in the special use section, that was our belief and that's exactly the truth, and I resent your accusing me of doing something inappropriate."

Boutet called the proposed change "suspicious" and restated that the village staff failed to report the proposed change.

Other trustees voiced support for Grossman, but Trustee Andrea Button warned that the village should be up front about these kinds of changes because of the atmosphere of distrust with government at all levels.

"Tammie, I have the highest respect for you and your work, and I believe you operate with integrity," Button said, adding that village staff needs to be "very, very careful" when it comes to transparency.

CONTACT: tim@oakpark.com