Riverside officials rolled out the fifth refinement of the East Burlington Street streetscape design last week, a plan that drew both jeers and praise from residents at the Dec. 18 meeting of the village’s board of trustees.

The latest plan from Christopher B. Burke Engineering Ltd., the firm the village is using to do the design work, is more muted than the design rolled out to the community in November. 

It uses a more limited palette of both colors and materials, reduces the number of planters and avoids geometric forms in favor of more organic ones. Planters have been lowered to 18 inches high from 30 inches and they are to be constructed of limestone only, avoiding contrasting brick bands that some criticized as kitschy.

In addition, the latest design restores two parking spaces on the south side of East Burlington Street near Longcommon Road (outside of Empanadus and Sylvester Realty) that were eliminated in earlier versions.

The design also now includes a crosswalk closer to the St. Mary School parking lot, calls for additional trees and eliminates the contrasting concrete “ribbon” that meandered throughout the design on both sides of the street.

Instead, 10-by-10-inch brick pavers will form the ribbon that separates the impermeable sidewalks from the permeable parkway areas.

Village President Ben Sells said that while the design is largely in its final form, it could be simplified further by removing the large circular planter on the north corner of Burlington Street and Longcommon Road.

Because the other planters in the plan are more free-form in appearance, the rigidly geometric corner planter now seems out of place.

“That’s the only remaining design question,” Sells told the Landmark on Friday.

Sonya Abt, the village’s community development director, stated that all plans and agreements with the Illinois Department of Transportation must be submitted to IDOT by April 10 or the village would risk missing the June 2015 bid cycle.

Missing that cycle would mean the project would not break ground next year. However, Abt said that the $754,660 grant the village is using to pay for the bulk of the streetscape project would be available to the village through October 2016. A separate grant for resurfacing East Burlington Street, which the village received in 2012, would have to be reapplied for in 2016.

That news prompted Riverside resident Tom Lupfer, a critic of the design and the vetting process, to call on officials to slow down, ask for other design proposals and delay construction until 2016.

“We need to stop and do this right,” Lupfer said. “There’s no reasonable understanding that we can lose this funding.

“Slow it down, open it up and do it right.”

Resident Jane Archer also criticized the plan, saying it “falls well short of what we could have.” She also criticized what she called “a lack of process” with respect to the design.

Riverside applied for the grant in August 2013 and was awarded the grant in early 2014. Burke began the design phase in June and rolled out its first version in August. At that time, representatives from the chamber of commerce and advisory commissions were invited to a meeting to view the plans and provide input.

Based on those suggestions, Burke came back with a revised plan in October and the plan was once again shown to advisory commissions, where additional input was gathered. The plan was also submitted to Birmingham, Michigan-based Gibbs Planning Group for additional review.

A third version of the plan based on that input was presented to the Riverside Planning and Zoning Commission in October, which made further suggestions that were incorporated into a fourth design rolled out to residents in mid-November at a town hall meeting.

However, the plan drew praise from the Riverside Township Chamber of Commerce and from a former critic, Greg Randall, a local architect.

“The improvements made in the design tell us that [Burke Engineering’s landscape architects] are design professionals and we should stick with them, because they are listening,” Randall said.

The latest plan also drew praise from two former members of the Riverside Landscape Advisory Commission, Jacqueline Payne and Terri Lynne-Culloden.

“I think Burke did an excellent job,” Payne said. “The ribbon element is outstanding. It’s a reference to Riverside history and Olmsted’s design. At the same time it references the river.”

Aberdeen Marsh-Ozga, a member of the Riverside Preservation Commission and the Frederick Law Olmsted Society, said she hoped the village would keep the Olmsted Society’s streetscape committee in the loop about the design process and seek their input as final drawings are completed.

Sells, in a separate interview on Friday, said that the village board has no plans to delay the streetscape project, even though funding will be in place for another year.

“As far as the board is concerned, it’s moving forward and it’s going to happen in 2015,” Sells said. “I don’t understand the point of waiting just because you can wait.”

This story has been changed to correct the location of Gibbs Planning Group.

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