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Oak Park Mayor: 28 stories is too tall

Five Oak Park village trustees agree proposed Lake St. building is too tall, dense

December 5th, 2018 5:06 PM

Image courtesy of Golub & Company

By Timothy Inklebarger

Staff Reporter

Plans for a 28-story luxury apartment building on Lake Street could be in trouble, following a letter to the editor Oak Park Mayor Anan Abu-Taleb released to Wednesday Journal this afternoon. In the letter Abu-Taleb says he believes the structure, located less than a half a block from Frank Lloyd Wright's Unity Temple, is too tall.

The proposal by Golub & Company would construct the 299-foot building at 835 Lake St., where a U.S. Bank drive-thru is currently located.

Golub has not yet submitted an application for the project to the Village of Oak Park, but it did hold a public meeting at the 19th Century Club in late November to present the proposal to Oak Parkers.

Abu-Taleb said in his letter that Unity Temple is "one of the crown jewels of the community" and that any development on the site of the U.S. Bank building "addresses the concerns of this monument."

He added that it must be acknowledged that "the bank drive-thru is not the highest and best use of that property."

"I do not envision, nor do I support, a 28-story building on this site," Abu-Taleb wrote. "I have, therefore, asked Golub to revisit its plans and explore other options that would not place Oak Park's tallest building in this location."

Jim Prescott, a spokesman for Golub, issued a statement late Wednesday saying "Golub & Company appreciates Mayor Abu-Taleb's comments and shares his interest in developing a transit-oriented project at 835 Lake St. that is sensitive to neighbors and responds to strong demand for additional rental apartments in Oak Park. We will continue to solicit feedback about preliminary plans for a development that makes sense for this site and Oak Park, which is why we initiated ongoing communication with neighbors like Unity Temple."

Abu-Taleb said in a telephone interview that he has asked Golub to "go back to the drawing board" on the project and come back with something better.

Much of the controversy centers on the shadow the building will cast not just over Unity Temple, considered a masterpiece by the famed Oak Park architect, but over nearby Scoville Park.

"I'd like to see us get to a place where Golub, which is a very credible developer, can get to a place with Unity Temple where they can be neighbors," he tells Wednesday Journal.

Abu-Taleb added that he hopes Oak Parkers and Golub can have a rational conversation about the proposed development.

"I know this is election season and I just hope we don't use fear to divide us and appeal to the worst in us," he said. "I hope we use common sense and facts and rational thinking and behavior that we can all benefit from."

The mayor appears to have support from the five of the six remaining members of the board. Trustee Andrea Button could not immediately be reached for comment, but the other five board members also voiced their opposition to the height and density of the proposed building.

"I'm supportive of this letter," Trustee Bob Tucker said in a telephone interview. "I think that like any proposal that comes before the board for development, a proposal needs to be sensitive not only to the Oak Park community but also to the surrounding buildings."

He called Unity Temple "Oak Park's architectural treasure and one of the greatest architectural treasures of the world" adding that 28 stories is "too tall."

Trustee James Taglia echoed Abu-Taleb's comment that the height is "much too tall" adding that it also is too dense.

"People say, and I've heard this discussion, that they'd like to see something of the density of District House (a 28-unit, five-story luxury condo development finished earlier this year at 708 Lake St.)," Taglia said in a telephone interview.

Trustee Simone Boutet said she is "very glad this is (Abu-Taleb's) position."

"I'm very glad he's respecting the architecture of Unity Temple and surrounding buildings that are also historically interesting," she said in a telephone interview.

The building has been positioned as a transit-oriented development because of its proximity to the Metra and CTA trains, a point that Boutet said she supports. "But we should be doing it in moderation, so that the buildings are appropriate in the context of their surroundings," she said.

Trustee Deno Andrews said the height of the building is a concern "but my biggest consideration is the impact on Unity Temple."

"I consider Unity Temple to be the primary stakeholder in what gets built next to them," he said in a telephone interview. "A blessing from Unity Temple would go a long way toward getting my support."

Trustee Dan Moroney agreed that the proposed building was "just too dense for that plot of land."

He said in a telephone interview that he was not willing to put his name on something that damages an "inherent attribute" of the village. Moroney added that the height of the building, its proximity to Lake Street and to Unity Temple are all of concern to him.

"I think with a little compromise from all parties involved there could be a solution that satisfies the developer, Oak Park residents and the architectural integrity that reasonable minds can get behind," he said.

tim@oakpark.com