A year after giving the regional planning agency the green light to complete a comprehensive plan for Riverside's central business district, village trustees on April 15 voted 4 to 0 to adopt the document as a guide for revitalizing the area.
Officials praised the plan, which was written by the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP), saying it provided a road map for future village boards.
"It's an amazing plan," said Trustee James Reynolds, who admitted he was skeptical about another whack at downtown planning. "It's sympathetic and gives us a way forward and a framework on which to build."
Village President Michael Gorman, meanwhile, urged the next board — which will be seated May 6 — to work toward implementing parts of the plan "within two years," since CMAP officials have pledged to lend their support for that amount of time.
"Using this plan as a guidepost, Riverside will be able to continue to preserve and promote its heritage while moving forward to address the needs and desires of today's residents," Gorman said.
"It is my hope is that implementation of the plan will be embraced by the next board and by the residents," Gorman said. "Speak up and speak up while we have somebody here to help us for the next two years."
The CMAP plan is the result of study by the planning agency and input from a group of village stakeholders as well as residents. It emphasizes six key ways to improve the downtown, including diversifying the mix of businesses and services, increasing the visibility of the central business district, enhancing street appeal, building connections to the riverfront, preserving and capitalizing on Riverside's historic legacy and making the area easier to visit.
Riverside's president-elect, Ben Sells, was not present at the meeting where the plan was adopted. However, last month he laid out plans for adopting aspects of the plan immediately.
Sells, for example, wants to streamline the approval process for new businesses in the downtown area, one that can force small-business owners to delay plans for months.
Trustee Lonnie Sacchi, who supported the CMAP plan enthusiastically and called it "the best I've seen to date," was less certain about that particular suggestion.
"I'd also caution about speeding up the review process for businesses," he said. "This process was put in place to involve a lot of commissions."
Among the bolder proposals in the plan are recommendations to open up a water tower observation deck and expanding the role and footprint of the Riverside Historical Museum, establishing a canoe/kayak livery for recreational boaters, building a community/recreation center on the site of the old public works garage and widening the sidewalk on south side of East Burlington Street to allow for outdoor cafes and provide more room for pedestrians.
The plan also suggests making Miller Road a two-way street again in order to pull in more traffic from Ogden Avenue. That suggestion got a thumbs-down from Reynolds and Trustee Mark Shevitz, who believed the traffic would be disruptive to the residential neighborhoods and unlikely to easily draw traffic downtown.
Other, more modest recommendations include allowing businesses to use "shingle" type signs, implementing a "shop local" campaign, improving way-finding signage, marketing vacant storefronts and using them to display works of art and planting more trees in the business district.
Whether those recommendations are implemented will, of course, be up to future village boards. Many would require substantial funding, whether from grants, special taxing districts or issuing general obligation bonds, which would require a referendum.
"It's not meant to be implemented as one piece of paper," said Gorman. "This is a menu of items that the board endorses in theory for further discussion."
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