Statement on Appropriate

Development Policy

Presented in conjuction with VOICE Oak Park and the three independent candidates for Trustee endorsed by VOICE: Tim Thomas, Christian Harris, and Joshua Klayman, with additional comments by Josh Klayman.

Also available on video on Facebook here.

January 9, 2019

Statement on Appropriate Development

We three candidates for Trustee in 2019 —Tim Thomas, Christian Harris, and Joshua Klayman—recognize that Oak Park, like all towns, needs to encourage appropriate development in order to thrive. We emphasize appropriate.

Appropriate development provides new housing opportunities for people at all different income levels and new opportunities for local businesses and jobs while respecting and enhancing the unique character of the village and its neighborhoods and protecting the environment.

There is plenty of potential for appropriate, moderately scaled development in the Village, and there are many existing structures suitable for rehabilitation. A larger development project could be appropriate, but it must be limited in size and restricted to one of the few sites that are particularly well suited for such projects. Citizens—particularly neighbors and local businesses—must be included in the entire design and selection process, not just at the end, and any development beyond established zoning must provide solid evidence that it will have a positive impact on the quality of life of its neighbors and of the village at large.

Appropriate development should take place throughout the Village and not just be concentrated in and around Downtown Oak Park. There are two existing comprehensive plans that should guide development in Downtown: The Envision Oak Park plan and the Greater Downtown Master Plan. Recent and proposed high-rise developments have violated the letter and spirit of those plans. All future development, wherever it is in Oak Park, must conform to comprehensive plans for its district that are created with extensive input from diverse citizens, community organizations, and independent experts.

The three of us have signed on to a set of principles proposed by Oak Park community-advocacy group VOICE, including these:

We pledge that, as trustees, we will work to

  • establish clear, uniform limits on zoning exceptions, and approve only those exceptions that conform to citizen-supported neighborhood plans
  • enhance Oak Park’s natural environment and public green spaces and adopt sustainable practices throughout the village
  • revise or create neighborhood plans to reflect the priorities of residents and local businesses.
  • promote affordable, integrated neighborhoods instead of subsidizing gentrification
  • support existing local businesses and new businesses that neighborhoods want

Further remarks by Josh Klayman

I want to highlight that we are not anti-development. Our statement begins with “we recognize that Oak Park, like all towns, needs to encourage appropriate development in order to thrive.”

But the Village seems be locked into just one kind of development: Massive downtown glass blocks with one floor of retail and 10 or 20 or 25 stories of apartments on top. There is no adherence to any overall plan—just a grab for any opportunity that big developers present. The goal seems to be to make Oak Park some kind of extension of the West Loop or some landlocked version of a North Shore suburb. That’s not what Oak Parkers want for our village.

Developers claim that these massive developments help keep taxes down. But research by economists and urban planners shows that it doesn’t help. Serving all those extra people uses up the added taxes, and you end up pretty much right back where you started. Look at the chart of rising property taxes and see if you can find any decreases from the high-rises that have been built so far.

A big part of the problem is how development is handled. The approval process is broken. Right now, big developers approach Village officials in private. Those officials refer projects to something called the Oak Park Economoic Development Corporation. That corporation is, on the books, a private consultant, and thus falls outside any open-meeting laws or freedom-of-information requests--or so they say. But in fact, they act as a closed-door arm of Village Government, with the Village President, the Village Manager, and a Village Trustee on their board. No large development takes place in this town unless the OPEDC says so, and that decision happens with no public involvement. This has to change.

When we think about development, we need to think about revitalizing different parts of the Village, we need to think about housing for middle-class and working-class residents, and very importantly—we need to keep this a truly integrated town—not luxury over here, affordable over there. We need to implement what’s called an Inclusionary Zoning ordinance to make that happen, one with real teeth.

We recognize that, for example, the U.S. Bank drive-through at 835 Lake Street is not the best use of its site, but building another massive tower there is not appropriate. The proposal by Golub & Co. may or may not have gone away. But even if it does go away, there will be a next one. We need a more open, inclusive, and innovative process for making good use of the limited territory we have within the borders of our village.