On the heels of an announcement that Riverside will receive three-quarters of a million dollars to remake East Burlington Street in downtown Riverside, Village Manager Peter Scalera told the Board of Trustees last week that he’s hired an urban planner to lead the Riverside Building Department.
Riverside has never employed a person with this type of background before. In the past, the Building Department was more of your standard-issue outfit — it reacted to projects as they came in. The director and sometimes a part-time inspector (the village hasn’t employed one of those for years) would be out in the field dealing with the myriad of issues inspectors handle.
And while the building director would deal with new business owners and developers when it came to hashing out code issues or building permits, the director of the department wasn’t actively fielding inquiries from prospective developers and business owners.
With the new structure, Riverside’s building director — officially, the title is community development director — will serve more as a liaison between those prospective developers and business owners and the village, guiding them through the development process.
And because of the urban planning background the new director has, she’ll be able to help Riverside move toward the vision for downtown Riverside that’s laid out in the comprehensive downtown plan completed last year by the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP).
This focus on economic development is something Riverside leaders have long told the business community and residents that they’ve wanted but something they never actively tried to accomplish.
We suspect one reason for this foot-dragging is that more development in downtown Riverside also frightens some residents, who believe more development might fundamentally change Riverside.
But one doesn’t necessarily follow the other, and to someone who has a planning background in place — along with an actual written plan for the downtown that doesn’t overreach — the words “Riverside” and “vibrant downtown” don’t have to be mutually exclusive.
This is a step in the right direction for Riverside.