Four months after receiving word that Riverside would be receiving a $754,660 grant to make over East Burlington Street, preliminary plans were unveiled last week for a select group of village officials and business owners to gain input and suggestions on potential changes.
Riverside President Ben Sells told the Landmark on Friday that the hope is to have a public unveiling of a revised plan on Sept. 17, but added he’s in no hurry to push the plan through. With construction not contemplated until summer 2015, he said, there’s still time to tweak the plan.
“It’s still very much a work in progress,” Sells said. “I don’t feel any pressure to rush this. If it takes another year to plan it, it takes another year to plan it.”
The state grant represents about 80 percent of the total cost of the project. The village will contribute the remaining 20 percent.
Members of the Riverside Chamber of Commerce executive board, key Burlington Street property owners and the heads of Riverside’s advisory commissions offered input, praise and concerns regarding the plan during an informal forum with village officials on Aug. 26.
“Overall we see it as a much, much needed upgrade to make it more pedestrian friendly,” said David Moravecek, president of the Riverside Chamber of Commerce. “I like the concept that encourages people to walk the downtown area. It may attract new tenants.”
Several members of the Riverside Planning and Zoning Commission also got a glimpse at the plan after canceling their Aug. 27 meeting due to the lack of a quorum.
Many of those getting a look said they were optimistic that the village was moving in the right direction with the plan, which would dramatically alter the streetscape on East Burlington Street from Longcommon Road east to the village’s green parking lot at 61-63 E. Burlington St.
“I think it’s going to improve the downtown significantly,” said Scott Zimmer, the owner of The Chew Chew restaurant, who pitched the idea of making the street more pedestrian friendly five years ago. “I think it still needs to go through a few more evaluations, but it’s refreshing that our input is being requested.”
One of the most radical aspects of the plan — and one which may eventually end up being scrapped — is the elimination of all street parking along the south side of East Burlington Street in the central business district.
Those 21 parking spaces would be removed in order to widen the south sidewalk to incorporate large raised planting beds with built-in seating, trees and to make room for more outdoor dining spaces.
Permeable pavers would be installed in the parkway areas between new, gray concrete sidewalks and the curbs. Tentatively the pavers would be a contrasting red brick color. Permeable pavers also tentatively are called for in the parking spaces on the north side of Burlington Street.
“The big question is parking; I’m having a real difficult time with that,” Sells said.
Some have suggested keeping some of the parking spaces on the south side of the street, but the result would create a kind of saw-tooth pattern to the design and wouldn’t provide much more parking in any case.
“Having that saw-tooth look doesn’t make any sense,” said Mike Sedivy, chairman of the Riverside Planning and Zoning Commission.
Sells agreed that a saw-tooth design wasn’t optimal. However, losing what amounts to roughly 60 percent of the on-street parking in the central business district in order to accommodate what may turn out to be a handful of outdoor dining tables isn’t very attractive, he said.
“Given the realities of our seasons, is it worth losing that much parking?” Sells asked.
Beyond the concerns about parking, some raised concerns over other aspects of the plan’s design. Tom Lupfer, the chairman of the Riverside Economic Development Commission, said he would have preferred being shown a range of design options instead of what he considered “a final product at this beginning stage.”
Lupfer expressed support for the concept of making East Burlington Street more pedestrian friendly, but he pointed to concerns about the large cast concrete planting beds shown in the plan.
“The planters are too big of an element for Olmsted to be happy with,” said Lupfer, referring to Frederick Law Olmsted, who designed Riverside in 1869. “There are more sensitive ways to get greenery in the downtown.”
Sells said he thought the planters would be a beautiful addition to the downtown, but admitted that if the south-side parking remained intact, the planters would have to be reduced in scale.
“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to remake the central business district, and it’s a big deal,” said Lupfer. “You want as much community input as you can to do it right.”
Sells said he’s willing to be patient in order to get the best plan possible for Riverside.
“We want to make sure we get all the design elements correct the first time,” Sells said. “We have to be careful we don’t get something that’s a fad.”