If there’s a groundswell of opposition to the proposed makeover of East Burlington Street in downtown Riverside, it wasn’t much in evidence in the days following the big reveal of the plans on Nov. 12.
While there was one resident who called for the village president to slow down the process and form a blue-ribbon committee to review more proposals, most of the 50 or so people — which included residents and members of four village advisory committees — appeared to generally support the streetscape concept, which calls for brick paver sidewalks and parkways with a curving concrete ribbon unifying the design; raised, self-irrigating perennial and annual planters; high-visibility crosswalks; and new benches, water fountains and bike racks.
“I feel we’ve gotten it right,” said Village President Ben Sells. “This is a plan I’m more than willing to stand beside.”
Also in the days following the plan’s unveiling, Dianna LaMantia, the chairwoman of the village’s Landscape Advisory Commission also expressed concern about some of the plan’s details.
In an email to fellow LAC commissioners and members of the village board and other advisory commissions last Friday, LaMantia urged the village to re-examine some elements of the plan, including the brick paver sidewalks, planters and other details.
In a separate interview Monday, LaMantia told the Landmark that she doesn’t want to abandon the plan, but she thinks it can be refined.
“It’s good,” she said. “It’s not good enough.”
For the first time last week, the general public was able to glimpse several computer-generated drawings of the plan, including detailed examples of how the elements would be incorporated. The present design is the result of several revisions of a plan initially shown to advisory commissions and representatives of the Riverside Chamber of Commerce back in August.
Sells said the plan has been simplified throughout the revision process, scaling back the palette of materials and colors, emphasizing more natural looking materials and moving away from generic pre-cast elements.
While several people in attendance during the special meeting of the village board Wednesday night questioned various details of the plan — such as the choice of pavers and crosswalk locations —former Economic Development Commission Chairman Tom Lupfer voiced pointed criticism of the plan.
Lupfer, a landscape designer who butted heads with Sells over the summer regarding his former commission’s role in implementing changes in the central business district, called for the formation of a special committee that would issue a request for proposals and independently choose a design before the village moved forward.
In a PowerPoint presentation, Lupfer called for a design that had large pedestrian bump-outs, maximized parking, chose good materials and didn’t compete with buildings. Above all, he said, the design should be simple.
“This is too important to leave to one designer,” Lupfer said.
The proposed design is the work of Doug Gotham, a landscape architect employed by Christopher B. Burke Engineering Ltd., which serves as the village’s engineering firm. Burke was instrumental in completing the application that led to the village winning a $754,660 grant from the Illinois Transportation Enhancement Program, which is largely funding the work.
But Sells brushed off Lupfer’s suggestion after Wednesday’s meeting, saying that the plan already had been vetted by numerous village commissions since August. The lack of opposition to the plan at the meeting, he said, showed that the village had worked to craft something residents would accept.
“We really have done our homework on this,” Sells said. “Everything he said we should be doing is what we’re doing. The whole ‘keep it simple’ is the whole design effort. It’s gotten more straightforward and simple as we’ve moved along.”
LaMantia said that while the LAC and other commissions had been given a courtesy presentation of the plan prior to its unveiling last week, no commission had been able to do a serious review of the plan.
“We got an informal presentation,” LaMantia said. “It was a courtesy, but it wasn’t something we studied or officially commented on.”
The plan is likely to be tweaked slightly before final designs are submitted to the Illinois Department of Transportation, which is handling the bid process. Sells said it’s likely that the final plan would include the suggestion by LaMantia to include a crosswalk connecting the green parking lot at the east end of the downtown with the parkway in front of Riverside Foods.
Designers may also rethink removing all of the trees from the parkway in front of Riverside Foods. There’s also an open question on the final concrete choice for the ribbon that flows throughout the plan.
“I think we’re still looking at materials and color selection for that,” Sells said.
Burke Engineering plans on handing off final plans to IDOT by Jan. 23, 2015 and putting the project out for bids next June. The start date for construction is now pegged at Aug. 1 with a projected completion date of Nov. 20, 2015.