Riverside residents debated the merits of development proposals for the central business district, looking at potential expansion of commercial and residential spaces in the area as well as other, more aesthetic reforms, at the second community workshop for the Transit-Oriented Development Study held on July 16.
Richard Wilson, the the principal urban planner at URS-TPAP, explained that he and his colleagues had identified areas on five main streets in the downtown area: Burlington and Quincy streets, as well as Forest, East and Pine avenues. On each they identified historic structures or buildings that they said significantly contributed to the appearance of the district. Those buildings were left untouched, but they considered how others could be reused.
On Burlington Street, the proposal envisioned 40-46,000 square feet of new commercial space, 23-27 new residential units, and 101-111 new surface parking spaces for the south side of the street. On the north side, the two-story building at the corner of Burlington Street and Longcommon Road was left intact, but further down the street the consultants proposed creating a 50-space parking lot or a building with 11,000 square feet of commercial space, plus six new residential units.
The alternatives proposed for Quincy Street were more variable, with differing scenarios?”7,200 square feet of new commercial space, eight residential units and 33 parking spaces vs. 20,000 square feet of new commercial space, 22 new residential units and 27 parking spaces. All of these new developments would take place on the north side of the street.
The most specific proposal was offered for the land bordered by Forest, East and Pine avenues, where the consultants envisioned the construction of a parking garage. The garage would be built off of Pine Avenue, and could be two or three stories, providing 64-126 new parking spaces. Depending on its size and design, estimated costs ranged from $1.25 million to $2.8 million.
Village’s role is limited
The goal of all of the commercial development, Wilson explained, would be to attract more niche businesses and establish Riverside as a tourist destination. All of the consultants, as well as Village Manager Kathleen Rush, however, stressed that all of the proposals were highly speculative, and the village’s role in any specific development of commercial or residential sites would necessarily be limited.
In a separate interview, Rush said most future development of the downtown would be driven by the market.
“There is a perception that the village has the ability to take control,” she said. “We have to respect that it’s still the choice of the property owners. When it’s private property, in many ways all we can do is encourage.”
What the village can do, Rush said, is use different tools to have a bigger say in commercial development, such as developing a TIF district or becoming involved with the state’s Main Street program.
For other proposals, however, the village could play a much larger role. For example, one of the more radical suggestions made at the workshop was the creation of a Riverside community center at the site of the old Public Works building behind village hall. Ed Torrez of Bauer Latoza said such development would better tie the Des Plaines River, a key part of the village’s history, into the downtown area.
“Let’s take advantage of the views and vistas that Riverside has to offer,” said Torrez, whose sketch of a hypothetical community center included a deck overlooking the riverfront. “Olmsted used the river. It dictated the layout of this town, and we don’t use it as much as we should.”
Somewhat less dramatic were Torrez’s suggestions to improve the downtown area’s aesthetic features. One way to do this, he said, would be to create a universal signage scheme, allowing for easier navigation in the district and giving the businesses a unified look.
Torrez also suggested incorporating more trees and landscaping into the area around the railroad tracks, to hide the long lines of parking surrounding the tracks and present a better picture of the village to commuters passing through.
Public reaction varied almost as much as the proposals. Although most seemed excited about Torrez’s proposals, there was no consensus as to how residents wanted to see residential and commercial properties develop.
Most of the debate over these sectors revolved around the question of parking. While the consultants focused on providing ample parking spaces for residents, commuters and shoppers, some residents at the workshop doubted it was as much of a problem as presented.
“I don’t see parking as a big issue,” Mark Shevitz said. “I’m in downtown Riverside every day, and I never have a problem with parking. I just want to make sure this is geared toward residents and not Metra,” he added, referring to the fact that Metra and RTA are funding the TOD study.
On the other side of the debate, however, Rush said she had received a letter from the Riverside Chamber of Commerce urging the village to increase parking facilities. Also, at the first community workshop in June there had been an overwhelming consensus that residents wanted to see more parking in the downtown district.
When it came to the aesthetic proposals, however, the audience seemed unified in its support of them. Residents praised the concepts of universal signage and increased landscaping, and, although Rush noted there are currently no plans in the works for such a facility, they seemed especially excited about the idea of a community center.
“I think if we did that, Olmsted would smile down from above and be happy with us,” Randy Brockway said.