More wins on Madison

This editorial about a Mercy Housing mixed use project originally appeared at

In what we see as another in a string of small victories for Madison Street, two non-profit developers last week announced to neighbors a plan to build a mixed-use project at the long vacant Madison-Highland site.

The street level would offer retail space while the three upstairs levels would provide 55 to 60 units of affordable housing.

Full stop. Read that right. Affordable housing. This is not public housing or low-income housing — not that there is anything wrong with those types of development. It is affordable housing built for working people, with a special place for people who work in Oak Park but cannot necessarily afford market-rate housing.

Kudos to Mercy Housing Lakefront and Chicago Neighborhood Initiatives, the joint developers, for first taking their plan to neighbors. In a session last Thursday evening at the fieldhouse in Longfellow Park, the developers laid out the plan, explained they had an option to purchase the site, which straddles both sides of Highland at Madison, and welcomed questions and input.

Neighbors who gathered for the session offered a respectful ear and some worries that are about typical when change is coming to the end of your block. While some suggested the project was too dense, we’d note that the current proposal is less dense than the ill-fated office building proposed a half-decade back, which has lingered on in a zombie state for too long. Also, the hideous bridge proposed to cross over Highland Avenue and link two parts of the old project is now long gone.

Madison Street is a major commercial thoroughfare. It was built to include some modest density, and we are talking just four stories here.

While there were inevitably concerns raised about parking, the initial proposal of basically one spot per apartment unit seems more than adequate. We wonder a bit about the first floor retail as some of the current wisdom about Madison Street has been that it is too long to expect retail from Austin to Harlem.

The developers come with stellar credentials — and some Oak Park ties. They will be looking for some modest zoning variances when the project begins its path toward formal approval.

Couple this announcement with last week’s exciting opening of the Sugar Beet Co-op (filling the ground floor of another affordable housing project), the plans for a Sherwin Williams paint store a bit west, the repurposing of the awkward old Boy Scouts building into a yoga studio facility, a new school district headquarters and the availability of the old facility for a wrecker’s ball, and we’ve hit some nice singles and doubles along the street.

We don’t anticipate a long wait before an announcement comes on a major development at the intersection of Madison Street and Oak Park Avenue. Yes, we’ll grant you it has been 40 years plus of decline and sidesteps along this street. But there are successes starting to pile up and that is great news.