Riverside trustees on Thursday will begin discussing its approach to business development in downtown Riverside, taking their cues from the recently adopted comprehensive plan by the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP).
The effort, which will involve the village board and advisory commissions, is an attempt to kick start economic development — a goal that has been identified for decades by Riverside residents with mixed success.
Village President Ben Sells thinks the time for moving forward on the CMAP plan is now. The matter is slated for discussion at the village board’s meeting on July 11 at 7 p.m. at the Riverside Township Hall, 27 Riverside Road.
“We’ve all been saying the exact same thing for decades,” said Sells. “Let’s see if we really want it.”
Sells called this opportunity a “golden moment,” with broad areas of agreement between members of the village board, administrative staff and Riverside Chamber of Commerce.
“Now’s the time to get some of this stuff to happen,” said Sells.
In a pair of memos to the village board dated July 5, Sells outlined his understanding of what the issue is — to give people a reason to come to Riverside and to make it as easy for them as possible to do so.
Sells said he and Village Manager Peter Scalera outlined the priorities contained in the memos. The priorities are drawn largely from the CMAP plan, though there are some new wrinkles.
The first phase of implementation would include such things as a review of permitted special use designations in the business district, updating the village’s sign laws and marketing the village and its vacant properties to developers. Those efforts could include assistance from the village’s Economic Development Commission, Preservation Commission and Chamber of Commerce.
Phase One would also include determining a way to improve way-finding in Riverside with signs at key intersections, researching the possibility of a left-turn only lane on Ogden and Joliet avenues in Lyons, creating a visitor center in the train station and improving recreational connections to the riverfront.
Such improvements talked about in Sells’ memo include extending the walking path in Indian Gardens and emphasizing that area’s historic connection to Native Americans and the Chicago Portage, and establishing a kayak/canoe rental facility and nature center at the Scout Cabin.
Other Phase One items include evaluating the riverfront area behind the Youth Center and police department for a walking path and opening up river views along the Des Plaines.
Community initiatives outlined by Sells include developing a “shop local” campaign, supporting more community events and actively promoting tourism to leveraging train access from Chicago, supporting bed-and-breakfast establishments and increasing bike and walking tours.
Many of the Phase One initiatives can be accomplished within a year, Sells states in one of the memos.
“It is, of course, up to the [village board] to decide whether projects should be moved up or down, or whether other projects should be added or some deleted,” Sells wrote. “The village has had numerous studies done over the years with consistent results. I believe we know as residents and elected officials what needs doing. All that remains is to act.”
The memos also reveal that Riverside has obtained federal funding to resurface East Burlington Street from Longcommon to Harlem Avenue in 2014. That, according to Sell, presents a historic opportunity to reshape the streetscape of downtown Riverside to make it more pedestrian- and bike-friendly and to incorporate sustainable building practices into a project to widen the south side sidewalk on Burlington Street.
Sells has directed the village engineering firm to apply for an Illinois Transportation Enhancement Program (ITEP) grant by the Aug. 12 deadline for those applications. In the memo, Sells says that the village is not committing to anything by applying and that, should the village win the grant, a more detailed plan can be developed.
The plan could include such details as permeable pavement for sidewalks and parking areas in line with the village’s stated priority of pursuing green solutions to village infrastructure projects.
“It’s an exciting opportunity,” said Sells in a separate interview, “though I think it’s probably unlikely. I just want to plant in the minds of trustees what if we don’t get it. If we’re serious about doing it, we should do it while we’re re-doing the street.”
The Burlington streetscape improvements are mentioned as a Phase Two initiative, which also briefly mentions determining the highest and best use of the Youth Center property on Riverside Road.
In all reality, said Sells, any decisions on future use for that property will likely come via a village-wide referendum.