The new year brought a brand new interest in development for downtown Riverside. But that increased interest by developers has also resulted in a a good deal of suspicion on the part of some residents, who believe the downtown will be remade into something (and at a scale) never envisioned by the village’s founders.

In a village where many are proud of Riverside’s historic landmark status, that concern is understandable. And for a downtown which has been slumbering for some time, an injection of activity via a more urban condo/commercial venture is bound to startle folks.

That’s why it’s so important?”and fortunate?”that Riverside is about to embark on a kind of comprehensive planning process specifically targeting the historic downtown area. It’s equally important that the residents, specifically ones uncomfortable with what they now see taking shape in that area, get involved in the process.

The process will be similar, though smaller in scale, to the master planning process recently completed in neighboring Brookfield. Just last month, the village board there adopted a new master plan for its commercial and transit-oriented pedestrian areas. The document gives a village long divided along political lines an agreed-to roadmap for future development. In our opinion, that document will be indispensable to Brookfield as long as politicians there use it as a strategic planning tool.

In a village like Riverside, which is more politically cohesive, we feel that the Transit Oriented Development plan now underway can serve the same purpose. Although Riverside in 2003 adopted a new set of zoning regulations for the downtown business district, there is little in the way of an actual, comprehensive vision for the area.

The TOD study should be able to provide that. Like the Brookfield process, planners will actively seek input from residents and other stakeholders in the community, not just local politicians.

In Brookfield, that was a crucial aspect to the plan. Politicians largely kept out of the process. During the small group “visioning” sessions that focused on individual commercial areas of Brookfield, it was residents who provided the bulk of the input. Those “visioning” sessions will also be an important part of the Riverside TOD plan, so residents’ opinions on such things as scale, style and land use will be equally important.

One thing that everyone is going to have to agree on, however, is that the current Riverside downtown atmosphere is not viable. There’s no reason that redevelopment of the downtown shouldn’t be encouraged, as long as it conforms with a strategic plan that most people can agree on.

That process is just beginning, and residents should be prepared by summer to have their say.