OAK PARK, IL-The most talked-about development proposal this suburb has seen in years is not likely to leave the drawing board any time soon. Village officials appear split over how the southeast corner of Harlem and Ontario avenues should be developed, giving no direction to Whiteco Residential LLC.

Chicago-based Whiteco Residential has proposed a multifamily rental high-rise building at the site, a village-owned parking lot that is within walking distance of Metra commuter rail and Chicago Transit Authority Green Line stations. It would be the company’s first project outside the Sunbelt.

Whiteco Residential most recently reduced its proposal to 180 units, mostly one- and two-bedroom apartments, and slashed the retail portion of the project to 13,000 sf by jettisoning a 52,000-sf health club. Units will average 854 sf and nearly $1,800 a month, according to Whiteco Residential, which has been waiting two years for a green light.

The most recent proposal also likely reduces Whiteco Residential’s return on the $29-million multifamily portion of the project from 8.25% to 7.75%, says company president Richard F. Cavenaugh. A 550-car garage and the retail portion of the project, which is expected to be occupied by upscale grocer Trader Joe’s, add another $13 million to the project.

However, more than 50 hours of public debate have produced a 5-4 recommendation from the plan commission against the project, and a village board that has almost as many viewpoints as it does members. New trustees, including its most vocal opponent, joined the village board in the April election.

Now, some trustees suggest the tower should be shelved while a comprehensive plan is developed for the Downtown area, including the project site. Others suggest it was a conflict of interest for the village to be a co-applicant with Whiteco Residential, adding a request for proposal process was too short and should be reopened to generate a wider number of proposals.

At least one is exasperated a decision has not been made.

“The endless debate we have other this one building is unbelievable to me,” says Trustee Diana Carpenter. “I don’t understand the arrogance of this community, that it thinks a developer will put up with everything and come back for more. We can talk and talk until developers find another place to spend their hard-earned money.”

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