People in many quarters of Riverside breathed a collective sigh of relief last night when the village board overturned a recommendation by the Zoning Board of Appeals and denied nearly all the variations requested by developers of the Henninger Pharmacy property.
From the moment the drawings became public, there was a strong reaction by some members of the community who said the plan would overwhelm the downtown area.
While they are probably right, it wouldn’t take much to overwhelm Riverside’s downtown. What wouldn’t overwhelm the downtown is a suggestion by one of the property owners, Harry Liesenfelt, to turn the old drug store into offices for his development firm.
But while the retail/condo development may have been out of scale, surely passive office space is not the highest and best use for the Henninger property.
When the Central Business District zoning code was reworked a couple of years ago, it did set limits on development in downtown Riverside. At the same time, however, redevelopment was part and parcel of that revision. In fact, redevelopment was to be the direct result of that revision.
Those zoning guidelines are clear, and it was good for the board to indicate clearly from the outset what would and would not be acceptable as development. While the Henninger proposal was similar to what the zoning code calls for, there has to be some ability for developers to modify plans.
The developers understood the critical nature of the site, so we’re not sure why they were so unwilling to alter their plans in order to come to an understanding with the Board of Trustees. Developers have to have some flexibility; it can’t be a take it or leave it. Only the most desperate boards would buckle under to that kind of demand. And while the situation in downtown Riverside is certainly a challenge, it doesn’t rise to a level of desperation.
There will be just one chance to redevelop this space correctly. If the village is stuck with an underused site for a few more years, that’s not the end of the world.
That said, the village has got to make it easier for developers to understand what it is they can ask for. There was a misunderstanding in this case regarding what constituted the front of the building, which affected setbacks on every lot line. That kind of basic information has to be crystal clear from the beginning of the design process.
The developers spent thousands of dollars on a design that used village guidelines for setbacks. At the board table, they were told those guidelines were wrong. That’s not the developer’s fault, and it’s not fair.
We hope this process will eventually send a clearer message to developers, one that says Riverside wants downtown redevelopment, but not on just any terms.