Under a dimly lit street light at the corner of Harrison Street and Hannah Avenue last week a small group of Forest Park citizens enjoyed non-alcoholic champagne in plastic glasses.
Why the celebration?
For over two years, developer Patrick Wangler from the Armitage Company had planned to demolish the current Roos building located at 7329 W. Harrison to build four condo towers that would have housed 132 units. Wangler recently applied for an extension to his Planned Unit Development (PUD) to keep the process moving, but his extension was denied in a unanimous vote at the September 26 Forest Park Village Council meeting.
This no vote closed yet another chapter in the ongoing saga of deciding the fate of the antiquated building.
Marcy Wozniak, the de facto leader of a small but effective group of citizens that fought against the development for the last two years, reflected on attending countless planning commission meetings, village council meetings and obtaining signatures for two separate petitions as the giant, empty Roos building loomed behind her.
“It is refreshing that a small group of like-minded citizens help stop this development from happening,” she said as she toasted members of the group. “A year ago we met with the mayor to discuss the project and told him we weren’t opposed to developing the property, but that we wanted something that fit in with the surrounding neighborhood. We still have a long way to go, but this was an important step.
The petitions resulted in 600 signatures in September of 2003 and 953 over Memorial Day weekend in 2004. Despite helping to accumulate such a significant number of signatures, group member Jerry Webster was still surprised the village denied Wangler’s extension request.
“At first, I thought the extension was going to be approved,” he said. “I am thankful (village council) saw the light. I do think that with the election coming up and the fact that half the people that voted in the last election signed the petition were major factors in the ‘no’ vote.”
Dave Goetz, who has also taken an active role in determining the future of the Roos property, acknowledged that the denial handed down by the council is just one small step in the process.
“We like the building and we think it should be utilized,” he said. “I think the process is that we are always reacting to what is presented, rather than taking a more proactive approach to determine something that citizens will approve of. This situation is really more like the developer lost, than we won.”
One aspect that forced many members to vehemently oppose the project was Wangler’s idea of developing 132 units on the property. Such density was simply more than the area could handle, according to Steve Wagner. The original plan called for as many as 195 units, but the scope of the project was cut back over time.
“I think that they should develop lofts to limit the density of the project,” he said. “My mom used to work in this building, so if it has to go, I want to see it utilized with some class. I was very gratified to see the council vote the way they did. None of us are against the development per se, we just hope that once the property is developed it is in keeping with the neighborhood and it will be something we all can support.”
Wagner’s wife, Kathryn Moran, agreed.
“I am sorry to see it fall by the wayside as an industrial building, but I think lofts are the best solution,” she said. “I love the architecture of the building ” it has such potential if it is developed well. Our victory confirms that (Wangler) really didn’t have his act together to develop this property.”
She said she hopes that the building will be used for something of a smaller scale than a 132 unit development.
“We would still like to see less than a 100 units developed, so we are cautiously optimistic that there will be a little more sense with the next project. All of us didn’t like to be characterized being against development and progress by the council. What we all we want is a carefully considered development. I hope going forward that (village council) realizes that this isn’t a neighborhood that has its head buried in the sand and we are not going approve just anything they offer.”
While the final fate of the Roos property is still unknown, many in the group are hopeful that the park district will become involved, according to Dave Stromberg.
“I am very happy the development did not get approved,” he said “There are a lot of possibilities for the building. I am hoping the park district gets involved, but their budget seems to be cost prohibitive for the next two years. For many of us, this was kind of a let down that the park district won’t be involved. We are hopeful that they take a closer look and see if they can solve this problem.”
The idea of having the Park District purchase the property on its own or in partnership with the village has been floated around by Mayor Anthony Calderone in recent months, but no decisions have been made regarding the prospect. The district and village split the cost of a property appraisal, which came back at $2.3 million as a residential property and $1.3 million as an industrial property.
Park and village officials have said the two parties still plan to meet to discuss the potential acquisition in the future.
For now, the building is still zoned residential, but it can be reverted back to industrial with a vote from the Zoning Board of Appeals.