Armed with a long-term vision of the future for the downtown business district, Riverside village trustees on April 17 are expected to vote the recently completed Transit-Oriented Development (TOD) Plan into law.
A year in the making, the 200-page plan is expected to serve as a roadmap for the future redevelopment of the central business district and make better use of the Des Plaines River front which gives the village its name.
“What we see here are a lot of the ideas we’ve talked about over the years,” said Village President Harold J. Wiaduck Jr. “What we need as a government to decide is if we’re willing to take this leap of faith and say this is a reasonable way [to redevelop Riverside] over a period of time.”
A final draft of the TOD Plan was unveiled Monday night during the board’s Committee of the Whole meeting, and trustees appeared ready, despite a few criticisms, to adopt the plan as the official vision of the village’s future.
Richard Wilson, principal and urban planner for the URS Corporation, who guided the study process that started in April 2005, said the 10-year plan was the result of a collective vision for Riverside.
“I describe this as a roadmap for redevelopment,” Wilson said. “There are a lot of ways to get there. The hard part is chipping away at it. But the idea is to know where you’re going. This becomes the legal framework for the village to say what happens downtown.”
The TOD study was funded largely by a grant from the Metra commuter rail company and does focus in part on ways to increase ridership in downtown Riverside. That aspect of the plan, however, is seen as going hand-in-hand with the overall redevelopment of the central business district, a vision that sees more multifamily residential structures and increased retail/commercial opportunity downtown.
In terms of residential development, the plan envisions 70 to 100 new housing units in the study area, which encompasses the entire downtown area within a quarter-mile radius of the train station at Bloomingbank and Riverside roads.
Those housing units could be in the form of freestanding townhome developments or mixed-use commercial/condominium structures similar to the Village Center development slated for the former Henninger Pharmacy site.
According to the study, “by increasing the number of residents, workers and transit users in this concentrated area, downtown Riverside will become a more prominent retail and visitor destination area, attracting a wider business base.”
The types of businesses envisioned for the area include more restaurants, niche retail and professional services. It also specifically calls for retaining a grocery store, but facilitating its “expansion and upgrades.”
The plan also calls for a comprehensive review of parking in the area, including the construction of a parking structure and developing a “shared, interconnected parking system” incorporating already existing private lots throughout the central business district.
“What we’ve been lacking is a vision, and that’s what’s provided here,” said Trustee Kevin Smith. “The blight we now know, the village imposed partly. It’s something, as a municipality, where we can remedy what we created by having a vision.”
Smith and other board members, however, were critical of the plan’s insistence on four-story mixed-use retail/residential structures. Instead, trustees agreed, the plan should encourage developers to stick to the three-story limit imposed by the village zoning code.
The TOD study also pictures the village taking advantage of its potential for tourism by expanding on tourism offerings and strengthening its ties with other regional attractions such as the Brookfield Zoo, Oak Park Convention and Visitors Bureau and architectural offerings in downtown Chicago.
At the core of that idea is a plan for a 15- to 20-room boutique hotel that would ideally be erected on the site of the former Youth Center next to the village’s municipal complex on the banks of the Des Plaines River.
In addition, the plan calls for other improvements to increase public access to the waterfront and suggests that a riverfront trail system could be built along the banks of the river within Riverside, connecting the swinging bridge to Swan Pond Park and even the Hofmann Dam tower.
The key to making the plan a reality is financing. The village board also on Monday continued its discussion of the creation of a Tax Increment Financing (TIF) District for the downtown area.
At Monday’s meeting, the board heard from representatives of its financial consulting firm, Kane McKenna Capital Inc., about setting boundaries for the district. Tentatively, the boundaries center on the area between Burlington and Quincy Streets, but also including the riverfront area from the swinging bridge to Barrypoint Road. The proposed boundaries are the east and west are, roughly, Cowley Road and West Avenue.
“It’s really important we adopt this plan,” said Trustee Candice Grace, “so we can have a shared vision of what we can do in the future.”