Riverside village trustees on Oct. 1 voted 6-0 to allow Village Manager Jessica Frances to grant demolition and building permit fee waivers to new businesses locating in Riverside — provided those businesses meet six criteria.
In addition, the resolution passed at that night’s meeting of the village board allows the granting of waivers only through the end of 2016 and caps the amount of money that can be waived for any single business at $10,000.
“I think the board wanted to have some sort of parameters so it was not open-ended,” said Frances in a phone interview following the vote. “The board can look at it after a little more than a year and see if it’s effective or whether they want to continue it.”
A previous draft of the resolution had directed Frances to waive demolition and permit fees for any new business seeking to open in the village through the end of 2016. But some trustees felt that initial draft was too broad.
In the end, trustees agreed that one of the six requirements for a business to qualify for the waiver is that it needs to provide new revenue to the village either in the form of sales taxes or places-for-eating taxes.
The waiver can be granted to businesses located in either the downtown district or on Harlem Avenue, but any business to be located in the downtown district must conform to the comprehensive plan completed by the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP) in 2013.
Other requirements for attaining the fee waivers include providing job opportunities for residents, drawing more customers to the business district and “otherwise provid[ing] some public benefit.”
Should a business fulfill some of the requirements, the village board agreed that the business might still qualify for the incentive, but the village manager should bring the matter to the village board for further evaluation.
The point of granting the village manager the discretion to award the fee waivers was to gain a competitive advantage over other communities vying for the same businesses. While all of the trustees agreed such incentives were important, not all of them agreed on how much latitude to give the village manager in awarding them.
Trustee Doug Pollock, although he eventually voted in favor of the measure, argued that the applications for such waivers should be given more scrutiny by the board and that allowing wide latitude to hand out the incentives had the potential to put the manager in a bad position.
“It’s not the kind of discretion that’s fair to give to staff,’ Pollock said. “I think it’s putting staff in a very vulnerable position of being accused of being arbitrary if they say no to somebody.”
Trustee Ellen Hamilton, on the other hand, said she favored giving the waivers to any business that wanted to enter Riverside and said she didn’t think the village board ought to be reviewing every application.
“I would go so far as to say, ‘So what if every business that comes in in the next year and half gets fee waivers,'” Hamilton said. “We will have more businesses, and the fee waivers are for a limited amount of time.”
Trustee Scott Lumsden also weighed in in favor of the fee waivers, saying the measure provided a tangible reason for businesses to choose Riverside over other communities.
“This is about providing some incentive to incentivize people to look at Riverside and come to Riverside,” Lumsden said.
Frances likely will get the chance to use her discretion to grant fee waivers in short order. Scott Zimmer, owner of The Chew Chew restaurant on East Burlington Street, has submitted plans for a new storefront restaurant next door to his business.
His architect is revising those plans based on comments from the village. Once those plans are finalized, he’ll be seeking building permits for the work.
At that time, said Frances, Zimmer likely would be seeking the fee waivers and, based on the criteria, the waivers would likely be granted.