Riverside residents debate the good and evil of TIF (Tax Increment Financing). One group says we need it to improve our central business district (CBD), another group claims it is the secret plan to take property and develop Swan Pond.

TIF is not good or evil in and of itself, but a financing tool. TIF is used to finance infrastructure as well as incentives in an area targeted for improvement (the district). If the district reaches its development potential, both the targeted area and the community at large and the local taxing districts, such as the village and the school boards, benefit.

TIF is only as good or as evil as the plan it supports.

Olmsted gave us a comprehensive plan which served initial development very well. For the last decade, however, Riverside has been under re-development; allowing such without an agreed upon plan is careless. A sound plan should not only protect Riverside but also guide and manage inevitable change. Harlem Ave. could be a more significant tax generator, but the primary central business district issue is one of quality of life. For this letter I will limit the scope to the CBD.

First we need a vision. I think our officials have ideas in mind, but they need to be formalized, communicated and endorsed by us, the community stakeholders. If the vision is endorsed it can be defined in a plan. Then we can evaluate the tools to finance the plan.

Such a plan’s goals might include, for example:

 Develop low density/high quality condominiums for Riverside’s empty nesters. These units should be on the second and third floors above retail, including restaurants. Such developments shall be self contained regarding parking. By low density, I mean neutral impact on our school districts.

 Keep these developments within the current boundaries of the CBD

 Repair the infrastructure within the area and enhance the public grounds:

1. Restore Centennial Park to a town square,

2. Prevent use of any of Centennial Park for parking,

3. Soften key pedestrian routes such as East Avenue and part of Pine Avenue with pavers,

4. Repair Swan Pond’s stone stairs and walk area along the river

 Reinvest in adaptive reuse of our historic train station to attract the highest possible single user, such as a full service restaurant (there is an abundance of parking nearby and the waiting (dining) room is exquisite).

 Identify higher-use single users for spaces such as First American Bank, which could become a destination specialty book store.

 Increase parking within the CBD by reallocating use and by adding angle parking

Village officials should:

 Define the CBD and Guthrie Park and Swan Pond etc. as the Village Commons so residents know why the parks are included in a “development area.” Then say what the proposed development might include and must exclude.

 Show stakeholders what the government’s vision looks like so we can buy in. It’s our town! Let us participate in a visual preference survey. Let us rally around a great vision instead of suffering anxiety over an ever rising pile of bricks and mortar while we wonder if the 45-foot height limitation is taller or shorter than the crane in the CBD. (See http://www.nelessen.org/ for an example of the visual preference survey process.)

 Remain business friendly with reasonable zoning; eliminate the perceived need to throw money or variances at developers.

 Attract and recruit pre-qualified developers who will displace the slumlords, not our friends and neighbors.

I believe many of the above items are on the minds of the village staff and the Trustees and have been included in various documents. They need to be formally introduced, discussed and refined to generate broad public acceptance and support. The results should be shared through a visual preference survey and documented in a comprehensive plan. Then we can see if TIF is in fact our appropriate tool for the village we all call home. And hopefully avoid another local rift that will push us back from where we have worked so hard to be.

 Jerry Buttimer is a former Riverside trustee, former Economic Development commissioner and served on the Riverside Transit-Oriented Development Study committee.