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Thread: New townhouses in Oak Park, IL (no 56K)

  1. #1
    Unfrozen Caveman Planner mendelman's avatar
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    New townhouses in Oak Park, IL (no 56K)

    The following photos are of a group (4) of new townhouses that were finished recently on S. Oak Park Avenue in Oak Park, IL (where I live). This segment of S. Oak Park Ave. is a mix of single family bungalows, 2-Flats and mid-large sized apartment buildings. The area is zoned R-7, which the highest density residential zoning district in Oak Park. The aerial shows that there are still many single family houses along this stretch:


    S. Oak Park Ave. is the street in the center of the image, and the new townhouse site is within the red box.

    Well, the housing market in Oak Park is strong, so townhouse developments like this are a feasible money-maker for developers, but the effect on the ground can be interesting when old is next to new.

    The following photos show the new townhouses compared to the adjacent 1-1/2 story houses. Plus, some additional photos of sites a block north.

    I would like everyone's opinion about this small increment development (architecture, relative scale and mass, etc.) I actually think it is a satisfactory development, though the achitecture is rather plain. But it has quadrupled the density of the site, which is within 1-1/2 blocks from a CTA EL Stop (Blue line Oak Park Ave. stop).


    The maximum building height is 45 feet, to the roof midpoint.









    These are sites a little north:











    I'm sorry. Is my bias showing?

    The ends can justify the means.

  2. #2
    Cyburbian Random Traffic Guy's avatar
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    Talk about a McMansion! A contiguous area of them would be okay, but one in the middle of jampacked houses looks like hell...

  3. #3
    Cyburbian abrowne's avatar
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    It's of surprisingly decent taste for a random townhouse development. I think an area has to grow up at some time. There is always going to be odd buildings out at the beginning. *shrug* The city is discord. Is it so absolutely jarring to have a 4 storey building beside a 1.5 storey dwelling? Come on folks.

  4. #4
    Cyburbian
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    The 4 townhouses are a great example of successful infill development. Thanks for making us aware of it.

    Planners must support infill projects 100%, even when neighbors predictably complain that prosposed developments are "out of scale." Higher density, infill developments in a neighborhood indicate demand is strong there. Planners should encourage and approve these projects and let the supply match the demand.

    Developers must include sufficient off-street parking. First, it makes the neighbors happy. Second, it is good policy because the residents moving into urban infill developments don't give up their cars, except in New York and San Francisco. The alternative is a dreadful on-street parking situation.

  5. #5
    Cyburbian
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    Quote Originally posted by jtmnkri
    The 4 townhouses are a great example of successful infill development. Thanks for making us aware of it.

    Planners must support infill projects 100%, even when neighbors predictably complain that prosposed developments are "out of scale." Higher density, infill developments in a neighborhood indicate demand is strong there. Planners should encourage and approve these projects and let the supply match the demand.
    I disagree with this. Some neighborhoods deserve to be protected from such developments while others may be more fitting locations. High demand in a neighborhood should not be the reason to approve a higher density infill project. In fact, many neighborhoods have a high demand because of how they are currently, not because they are loaded with fourplexes. I do believe that a mix of housing options is desirable in a neighborhood, but they need to fit into their location. It was mentioned that this site is close to a mass tranist, which is a good thing. High density projects work best when they are located next to a walkable commercial area, with quick access to public transit. If a high density infill requires you to drive to every destination, then it is a sprawl promoting project.

    The other pictures you showed seemed to be less intrusive and fit in better while accomplishing the same purpose. The picture of the building with the barrel vaulted roof seems to fit in better, lower on the side of the single family dwelling, taller on the other to match the building on that side.

    Also, it is hard to tell by your pictures, but it doesn't seem that the building does a good job of addressing the street. The other building have great street presence, while this one consists of primarily a brick wall with a few scattered windows. I do like that the roof line is similar to the roof lines on the surrounding structures. There really isn't much architechtural presence to the building. Maybe some protruding details on the front elevation would help the building.

  6. #6
    Cyburbian abrowne's avatar
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    Reading again... its only 45 feet tall to roof midpoint. In my city that would actually fall under the height limit for RS-1 zone, anyways. I don't think that massing is an issue here at all, and its design is tasteful.

    As for the fellow who called it a McMansion - are you serious? It's a townhouse development. It's like the inverse of a McMansion.

    correction: It would not fall under my city's default RS-1 zone but rather a newly created zone type for dense developments (essentially a CD zone - Comprehensive Development). Long story...

  7. #7
    Unfrozen Caveman Planner mendelman's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by cololi
    High demand in a neighborhood should not be the reason to approve a higher density infill project.
    Well, this property is zoned R-7 which makes this development legal, as of right. If the proposal meets the zoning regs. than there is no room for the planner to deny this.

    I agree with abrowne and jtmnkri, this is a sound development, in execution and theory.

    Btw, since this area is zoned for high density residential development, that shows that the municipality has deeemed this scale of development appropriate.

    Though there may be a problem in the future when/if the adjacent properties redevelop in a similar manner. The current "good" views (depending on the unit, one could have views of the Chicago skyline) the townhouse owners currently have will be practically gone.
    I'm sorry. Is my bias showing?

    The ends can justify the means.

  8. #8
    Cyburbian
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    I missed the point about it being the highest density residential zoning district. If the vision of the area is for that kind of development then that certainly changes things. The first portion of my comments were directed towards the quote, not necessarily to this project.

  9. #9
    Cyburbian
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    Quote Originally posted by cololi
    The other pictures you showed seemed to be less intrusive and fit in better while accomplishing the same purpose. The picture of the building with the barrel vaulted roof seems to fit in better, lower on the side of the single family dwelling, taller on the other to match the building on that side.

    Also, it is hard to tell by your pictures, but it doesn't seem that the building does a good job of addressing the street. The other building have great street presence, while this one consists of primarily a brick wall with a few scattered windows. I do like that the roof line is similar to the roof lines on the surrounding structures. There really isn't much architechtural presence to the building. Maybe some protruding details on the front elevation would help the building.
    This is silly jibberish. Roof angles, roof lines, elevation details, and how a building "addresses the street" - these frivolties don't rise to the level of a planner's' concern. Let architects and urban planner professors whine about these things. Real planners should approve residential developments in residential neighborhoods, even if the density is higher and they don't like meaningless architectural elements such as the roof line.

  10. #10
    Cyburbian abrowne's avatar
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    How about... not reject outright, rather than approve? There IS in existence a wonderful idea called feedback.

    All of what you speak of is not meaningless.

  11. #11
    Cyburbian Luca's avatar
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    Urban fit: poor. It's a bit packed into that lot size. Also, (AFAI can tell), it does not seem to open clearly onto the street.

    Architecture: neutral. Nice use of bricks and ample fenestration but the detailing is a bit sparse and the building overall looks a bit disproportionate in height relative to width. The first two of teh nearby buildings shown seem architecturally superior, so there was no lack of inspiration.

    Now, considering that I would grade most new projecets closer to appalling or very poor, this is actually not so bad...but it could be so much better
    Life and death of great pattern languages

  12. #12
    Cyburbian Random Traffic Guy's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by abrowne
    As for the fellow who called it a McMansion - are you serious? It's a townhouse development. It's like the inverse of a McMansion.
    I was speaking McMansion from an out of scale, block out the sun, overlook my tender kiddos playing in the back yard point of view. McTownhouse then. But now that you mention it is townhouses I will further complain about overloading parking, overloading streets, and overloading local elementary schools.


    Architecturally I can't complain, who cares really. In a group of others there would be no question. Alone it is a ugly lump.

    What did the neighbors think of it? How much at the THs going for, how much is average home price in remaining neighborhood. Interesting to see an appraisal of neighboring house before and after.

  13. #13
    Unfrozen Caveman Planner mendelman's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Random Traffic Guy
    I will further complain about overloading parking, overloading streets, and overloading local elementary schools.

    What did the neighbors think of it? How much at the THs going for, how much is average home price in remaining neighborhood. Interesting to see an appraisal of neighboring house before and after.
    Actually, since the scale of this development is relatively small, parking, street traffic, and schools will certainly not be impacted in any substantive way.

    I don't know specifically what neighbors thought of it, though it would probbaly be no more than grumbling, because this was a by right development, and the neighbors can't really do anything about it.

    I believe the units went for about $450,000 each and the existing houses in the surrounding neighborhood generally go for $300,000-$450,000, and condos for $180,000-$250,000. For comparsion, some new single-family houses are proposed in the same general area and are priced at about $650,000.

    I am sure that the introduction of these townhouses will have no real negative impact on the value of the surrounding houses. The housing market is very robust in Oak Park, and the worse would that the neighboring houses could be limited to only the value for redevelopment for higher density.
    Last edited by mendelman; 08 Dec 2005 at 4:26 PM.
    I'm sorry. Is my bias showing?

    The ends can justify the means.

  14. #14
    Cyburbian boiker's avatar
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    What's the comp plan say for this area?
    What's the zoning say?

    If this development agrees with them, then no problem.

    I don't like the way it addresses the street. As numbers go, it may work in terms of density, use, etc. But in from the street, it "feels" awkward.
    Dude, I'm cheesing so hard right now.

  15. #15
    Unfrozen Caveman Planner mendelman's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by boiker
    What's the comp plan say for this area?
    What's the zoning say?

    If this development agrees with them, then no problem.

    I don't like the way it addresses the street. As numbers go, it may work in terms of density, use, etc. But in from the street, it "feels" awkward.
    The development certainly could have done a better job of addressing the street. Actually, the unit facing the street has its entrance off that facade, but it is a very simple metal stoop to an equally unceremonial door. That side of the buiding could definitely have used a nice porch element and the facade should have been treated, architecturally, as a "front" wall.

    I'll try to get a better shot of the front of the building this weekend.
    I'm sorry. Is my bias showing?

    The ends can justify the means.

  16. #16
    I think Cololi is right on the mark. These are things that planners need to be aware of. Here we look at bulk and mass of a project and if it does not fit it will not be approved. We have several architectural requirements that need to be met before a structure can be built. Mass and relation to the street are part of that.

  17. #17
    Cyburbian natski's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by jtmnkri
    This is silly jibberish. Roof angles, roof lines, elevation details, and how a building "addresses the street" - these frivolties don't rise to the level of a planner's' concern. Let architects and urban planner professors whine about these things. Real planners should approve residential developments in residential neighborhoods, even if the density is higher and they don't like meaningless architectural elements such as the roof line.

    In Oz we must not be real planners.............


    I guess if the area has a dense zoning, the isnt much you can do with impacts of the inital denser buildings- But i do agree that it doesnt appear to address the street well.

  18. #18
    Cyburbian abrowne's avatar
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    I won't comment specifically on how it addresses the street until some better photos are posted. I can't really tell right now.

    What I'd like to have seen is TWO properties developed into one building so that it would not have to be so narrow. This would enable a U-shaped building with a pleasantly enclosed garden court facing the street. In my city developers are encouraged to shop around and select neighbouring properties, too, and spacewise this allows a bit more flexibility in design and requirements. We also have a rule about not orphaning lots (this is given that it is a REzoning, though).

  19. #19
    Cyburbian
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    Quote Originally posted by jtmnkri
    This is silly jibberish. Roof angles, roof lines, elevation details, and how a building "addresses the street" - these frivolties don't rise to the level of a planner's' concern. Let architects and urban planner professors whine about these things. Real planners should approve residential developments in residential neighborhoods, even if the density is higher and they don't like meaningless architectural elements such as the roof line.
    Well, architecture is a legitimate thing to critique when the thread creator asks for others opinions on it. It may not be a concern in your neck of the woods, but in ours it is. I know of several communities where the architecture of homes have to be compatible with their surroundings. Salt Lake City is considering a similar compatible infill ordinance. Clearly the example is not simply stuffing a multi DU structure into a single DU zone (as I originally and erroneously thought it was).

  20. #20
    Cyburbian Plus Zoning Goddess's avatar
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    I think they look like crap. Do people really live in 4-story townhouses up there? Geez, I think it's bad enough when a bunch of 2-story homes are built overlooking old 1-story homes. Those are way out of place. They look like college dorms. But smaller.

  21. #21
    Cyburbian
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    Today's planners are too hard to please.

    These new townhouses in Oak Park are a quintessential new urbanist project, especially given the site's size constraints. The project should be commended by who planners who fashion themselves as supporters of new urbanism, smart growth, and higher densities. I shouldn't be the only responder with a positive thing to say. This project is in the top 5% of new residential construction projects being delivered in this country. Where do the critics who posted believe this project ranks?

    Here is how this project matches up with the principles of new urbanism:

    1. Walkability - yes, easy access to sidewalk
    2. Connectivity - yes, fits into existing street grid
    3. Mixed-Use & Diversity - no
    4. Mixed Housing - yes
    5. Quality Architecture & Urban Design - too subjective, I say yes
    6. Traditional Neighborhood Structure - yes, a traditional neighborhood
    7. Increased Density - yes
    8. Smart Transportation - yes, 2 parking spaces per unit hidden from view and accessed from an alleyway
    9. Sustainability - yes
    10. Quality of Life - too subjective, I say yes

  22. #22
    Cyburbian natski's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by jtmnkri
    Today's planners are too hard to please.

    These new townhouses in Oak Park are a quintessential new urbanist project, especially given the site's size constraints. The project should be commended by who planners who fashion themselves as supporters of new urbanism, smart growth, and higher densities. I shouldn't be the only responder with a positive thing to say. This project is in the top 5% of new residential construction projects being delivered in this country. Where do the critics who posted believe this project ranks?

    Here is how this project matches up with the principles of new urbanism:

    1. Walkability - yes, easy access to sidewalk
    2. Connectivity - yes, fits into existing street grid
    3. Mixed-Use & Diversity - no
    4. Mixed Housing - yes
    5. Quality Architecture & Urban Design - too subjective, I say yes
    6. Traditional Neighborhood Structure - yes, a traditional neighborhood
    7. Increased Density - yes
    8. Smart Transportation - yes, 2 parking spaces per unit hidden from view and accessed from an alleyway
    9. Sustainability - yes
    10. Quality of Life - too subjective, I say yes

    That may be well and fine- but realisitically does it fit into the current streetscape (in terms or scale/form/bulk and design- well- i would think not really.

  23. #23
    Cyburbian illinoisplanner's avatar
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    I think it fits in wonderfully and is just part of Oak Park growing up, the same thing that is happening in Des Plaines, Palatine, Arlington Heights, etc. It fits in well with the neighborhood and is not monstrous or ugly or unadabtable by any means. And as more infill and demand for housing in this area increases, so will the level and mix of single-family and townhome and apartment and two-flat and whatnot, making whatever awkwardness associated with this project disappear. You are fortunate to live in a great community that knows how to draw from its best characteristics and maintain a good quality of living despite being an inner-ring western suburb.
    "Life's a journey, not a destination"
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  24. #24
    Cyburbian boiker's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by jtmnkri
    5. Quality Architecture & Urban Design - too subjective, I say yes
    6. Traditional Neighborhood Structure - yes, a traditional neighborhood
    Although the structure may be a traditional unit type, it fails what hundreds of years of urban tradition have taught us regarding street frontages.

    7. Increased Density - yes
    Which would be valid argument if New Urbanism solely valued increased density. It values neighborhood scale /multi-modal area development. Increased density near the core and decreased density towards the edges is a trait of new urbanisim.

    I have nothing major to object on. The structure does most everything it's asked of. Regardless if you use a front door or not, do you think it matters where the "front" of the building is?
    Dude, I'm cheesing so hard right now.

  25. #25
    Cyburbian
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    Quote Originally posted by boiker
    Although the structure may be a traditional unit type, it fails what hundreds of years of urban tradition have taught us regarding street frontages.
    What has hundreds of years of urban tradition taught us regarding street frontages?

    Quote Originally posted by boiker
    Regardless if you use a front door or not, do you think it matters where the "front" of the building is?
    No.

    Probably you're writing about the building's footprint on the site plan, featuring entrances that face a pedestrian footpath rather than the street. This is fine, especially considering the constraints of the long and narrow site. The developer did a super job to fit four private entrances on this site.

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