Although Riverside won’t be hiring someone to direct economic development efforts, the village will be getting a team of planning experts – gratis – to lead a comprehensive planning effort for the central business district in 2012.

Riverside is one of 64 communities chosen by the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP) to be part of that agency’s Technical Assistance Program, which was developed to help implement CMAP’s Go To 2040 regional comprehensive plan.

The cost of the local planning effort will be paid for by CMAP through a $4.5 million grant the agency received from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Riverside will be assigned a project manager, who will work with a team of planners, in collaboration with the community, to develop a plan for economic development in Riverside.

“The project will deal with the downtown,” said Village Manager Peter Scalera, who submitted an application to CMAP at the beginning of 2011. “I’m envisioning the development of some sort of plan to encourage new business opportunities in the downtown to fill our empty storefronts.”

Scalera sought out CMAP’s expertise after being tasked by the village board last year with determining how much it would cost for the village to hire its own economic development expert. Since he was elected in 2009, Trustee Lonnie Sacchi has advocated for hiring someone to lead economic development in Riverside.

During the village board’s budget discussions last fall, Sacchi again called for such a person to be hired, and the board agreed to set aside $40,000 in the 2011 budget for such a hire.

However, after making inquiries to planning firms, Scalera said the cost for such expertise would have been much higher than that figure. Sacchi said that while hiring a staffer is still his preferred option, there’s no way that can happen right now.

“Because of the uncertainty of the state distributive fund, I don’t think it would be wise to hire anyone for anything,” Sacchi said, referring to Gov. Pat Quinn’s plan to reduce the amount of state income tax money Illinois shares with municipalities.

“It’s still the key to eventually getting something done finally downtown,” Sacchi said. “It’s still my preferred option.”

The parameters of the CMAP project in Riverside are still being developed, said Scalera and Robert Dean, deputy executive director of local planning for CMAP. Later this fall the CMAP team of four or five people will begin talking with village officials and stakeholders to develop those parameters. The project manager for Riverside may or may not be based in the village, depending on what Riverside would prefer to do.

The project will officially kick off in early 2012 with a public meeting, Dean said, and should take about nine months to complete.

“The point of all this is to advance Go To 2040,” said Dean, “but because land use is controlled locally, we need to start to work directly with local communities.”

Dean added that the process will seek to coalesce the village’s planning goals with those of Go To 2040, “so they can be consistent with regional ideas, but work locally. There’s no one-size-fits-all solution.”

So far CMAP has started 18 Local Technical Assistance projects throughout the Chicago region. The agency is assisting Berwyn, Elmwood Park and Blue Island, for example, in developing comprehensive plans. Lake Zurich seeks a water conservation plan, while Park Forest is crafting a sustainability plan.

The agency chose to assist Riverside because of its historical significance and also because the village’s size makes it hard for such planning efforts to be done in-house.

“I think the history of Riverside as one of the oldest master-planned communities is very interesting to us,” said Dean. “It’s a good opportunity for us to get involved. Another part is trying to assist smaller communities that don’t have a planning staff.”

Michael Gorman, Riverside’s village president, was appointed to CMAP’s board of directors in January.

Riverside has undertaken some planning efforts in the past. In 2005, Metra funded a transit-oriented development (TOD) plan, which focused on commercial and residential development along Riverside’s commuter rail corridor.

The village adopted the plan in 2006, but it faced criticism for favoring too-dense development. But after a bitter battle over a proposed downtown TIF district in 2006 and 2007, the TOD plan was shelved.

Dean said CMAP wants an actionable plan at the end of the nine-month process.

“We’re interested in getting to implementation,” Dean said. “The plan will prioritize action they can take to do what they want to do, so this is not an academic exercise.”