Planners turn thumbs down on Optima

The Plan Commission last night voted to recommend that the City Council reject a proposal to build an 18-story condo, office and retail development at 1515 Chicago Ave.

The commissioners said the project is too tall for the site in a transitional area at the edge of downtown and that the retail portion of the development is too far from the street and creates an uninviting pedestrian space with inadequate landscaping.

They said the design of the project doesn’t adequately address the traffic congestion it would create in the alley behind the site.

The commissioners praised the developer’s plan to seek environmental certification for the project, the mix of land uses in the project and the favorable impact it would have on the city’s tax base.

Commissioner Alice Rebechini called the building “a beautiful sculptural object” but one that has negative effects on and is disrespectful of the abutting properties.

Commissioner Lawrence Widmayer said the development includes too many single bedroom units — which he saw as driving the demand for additional height.

Commissioner Douglas Doetsch said the Optima design of “tall, boxy, glass and poured concrete buildings is a very limited formula.”

“It has perhaps been successful in some locations,” Mr. Doetsch said, “but it’s horrifically unsuccessful in this particular location.”

Commission Chairman Albert Hunter called the design “unbelievably context-insensitive.”

But other commissioners favored the building’s appearance. Commissioner James Woods said, “I actually admire the aesthetics of the building.” With the exception of the specific objections the commission raised, Mr. Woods said, “I’m very supportive of the design.”

And Mr. Widmayer said he lives in one of the other David Hovey-designed high-rises in town. “From the inside out it’s a wonderful experience,” he said, “It’s like living in a treehouse all the time, so it’s not that I’m opposed to the style of architecture at all.”

Commissioner Stuart Opdycke said, “I really like the aesthetics of this building, although it’s a little tall for my taste.” But he said the traffic situation “is a mess now, and I can’t see it getting any better under any circumstances. I think it cannot be solved.”

City staff say the Optima project likely will be on the City Council’s Planning and Development Committee agenda for its July 10 meeting.

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