Oak Park residents balk at administrative building proposal
Oak Park resident Amy Williams asks questions about traffic congestion and parking during a community forum held at Beye School Saturday. | Jerry Daliege~for Sun-Times Media
Updated: December 16, 2012 6:32AM
Residents put District 97 and Park District of Oak Park officials on the defensive in a second community forum on the consolidation of their respective administrative facilities.
Traffic, parking and environmental issues topped concerns expressed by some of about 40 people, not including staff and elected officials, who attended the forum Saturday at Beye Elementary School.
“This feels like the whole thing is being shoved down our throats, and nobody who lives in the neighborhood wants it,” said Amy Williams, a resident of the 600 block of South Lombard Avenue since 2000.
District 97 and park district officials first formally approached Oak Park officials with their plan in September. They hope to come before the Village Board around Dec. 1, after completion of a financial analysis expected at the end of November, for approval to move forward.
The proposed 16,000-square-foot structure, with an estimated cost between $4.5 million and $ 8.5 million, would be built on what now is the Village Hall parking lot.
Next steps would include hiring outside companies to perform a traffic study, develop engineering studies and design a building that would complement the architecturally significant Village Hall.
If officials keep everything on schedule, it’s possible the new administrative building could open by August 2015.
Several residents said they didn’t trust District 97 or the park district. Others said they couldn’t trust the numbers presented. Audience members became increasingly hostile when Park Commissioner Christine Graves denied officials said a new building could improve traffic flow and congestion when a PowerPoint presentation clearly said it would.
Williams asked Graves whether she lived on Lombard and understood the nature of traffic there. Graves responded it was irrelevant whether she lived on that street.
District 97 Board President Peter Barber assured residents there would be no tax increases to pay for the new administrative facility. He said a combination of money already allocated for renovations, potential proceeds from the Madison Street tax increment finance district and the sale of the existing administrative buildings would be used toward the cost.
“If we can’t find the money to do it, it won’t happen,” he said.
Joan Filbin, a real estate agent who has served on the Oak Park Plan Commission and other advisory boards, said she opposes the plan. She angrily told officials they will not get a decent price for their current buildings in a reasonable amount of time.
Filbin said this is the worst real estate market in history, and she doesn’t anticipate any changes in the next three to five years. She also claimed village governments have a history of buying when prices are high and selling when they are low.
“This is an expensive proposition with little benefit for the neighbors,” she concluded.
Gary Barnes, a resident of South Humphrey Avenue, was concerned about the environmental impact a new building would cause, including the use of materials, the loss of the green space next to the current parking lot and the loss of the village’s architectural legacy.
“This is a town that’s supposed to be attracting tourists and homeowners because of its old buildings,” he said.
“Both boards have made the commitment not to take away the green space,” Graves answered.