Members of the village government’s Altenheim Committee got to share their own ideas for what should happen with the village-owned portion of the historic Altenheim site during their Jan. 9 meeting.
Committee chair Marty Tellalian said that it was something he asked the members to do as “a last-minute homework assessment” a few days earlier based on the stakeholder presentations and feedback the committee already received. All proposals included some kind of public green space and a housing component, but most committee members went further. Some of their suggestions included a data center, a smaller-scale solar panel farm and senior housing, among other ideas.
The village-owned portion of the property includes the land north, west and south of the Altenheim retirement community. It doesn’t include the Altenheim cemetery at the southwest corner of historic property, but it does include the piece of land at the southeast corner closest to the Forest Park Blue Line CTA terminal.
Committee member Roberto Escalante suggested putting in a data center, saying that there is a growing demand for it the Chicagoland area – something that northwest suburban Elk Grove Village has been able to take advantage of.
“The great thing about it is that it is a big revenue generator, and it’s low-noise, low-traffic,” Escalante said.
He suggested putting in housing in the southeast corner of the property, east of the Altenheim Cemetery. Given the proximity to the village-owned commuter parking lot and the Blue Line terminal, it wouldn’t necessarily need a lot of parking. Escalante suggested putting the park on the south section of the property, closer to the street.
Committee member Kurt Hansen said a data center was a “cool idea,” while commission member Scott Presslak said he was worried about the size of the building and the effect its footprint would have on flooding. Presslak added that a data center could be a good use for the former U.S Army Reserve site at 7204 Roosevelt Road.
Committee member David Gulyas, who was recently reappointed to the Forest Park Environmental Control Commission, presented two plans. Both versions called for a playground and picnic area at the north end of the site, with a parking lot with electric vehicle chargers to the west and a mid-rise building on the southwest side of the property. The differences were that the first version called for most of the remaining property to be a public green space, with a midrise tower similar to Escalante’s concept at the southeast corner. The second concept called for another mid-rise building directly west of the Altenheim community and more green space at the southeast corner.
Presslak wondered how, in either version of the concept, people would get to the Altenheim cemetery. Gulyas said that he “didn’t get in the deep end of design process,” so he didn’t consider that question.
Hansen suggested something that he believed was unlikely to actually happen – having the village lease out the property to build a solar panel farm, so that it could recoup some of the money it already spent on the property while having an option to take it back if it wants to use the property in the future.
“We can turn it into a community garden in some point – it would be the best soil in town,” he said.
Hansen said that if the village does go that route, it should aim for “just enough to cover property taxes and make it a little bit of money” to make the idea viable for smaller solar power companies.
Presslak suggested keeping the north end of the property as public space, while putting in open space west of the retirement community, building smaller housing on the south portion and taller housing on the southeast corner. He suggested selling some land back to Altenheim to straighten out the property lines – something that the retirement community expressed interest in.
Presslak also proposed a “Phase 2” which would turn the commuter parking lot into a residential area with some kind of a public amenity on the west side and extending Jackson Boulevard through the property so that it curves down toward Van Buren Street. Phase 2 would also convert the section of Van Buren at the north end of the property into a “Festival Plaza” similar to the section of Marion Street in downtown Oak Park.
Tellalian also suggested leaving the northern portion an open space and putting in residences in the center – though, in his case, he suggested single-family homes and rowhouses geared toward seniors.
“Senior developments are single-story, not a whole lot of stairs,” he said.
Tellalian also suggested leaving 2-3 acres at the south section of the property, including the southeast corner, open as public space. He suggested adding food truck parking and only having it open to events on weekends to avoid overcrowding at the commuter parking lot on weekdays.
Committee member Steve Rouse said he drew on his experience as an attorney who represented developers. He said developers would be interested in getting as much density as possible, which is why he liked the idea of putting something denser at the southeast corner. Rouse proposed keeping the north portion open as a public space, preferably with some stormwater mitigation, and putting a “pocket park” somewhere on the south side of the property. He argued that the area west of the retirement community isn’t likely to attract development because of its distance from Van Buren and Madison streets.