A long-anticipated update of Riverside’s commercial zoning code is about to get under way after village trustees voted unanimously on July 16 to create and confirm the members of an ad hoc steering committee for the project.

Riverside in 2018 applied for a Community Planning Grant from the Regional Transportation Authority (RTA) to address zoning in commercial areas along the Burlington Northern-Santa Fe Railroad corridor. 

The RTA awarded the grant in 2019 and has since selected two firms to serve as planning consultants for the zoning update, Savoy Consulting Group and Egret and Ox Planning, which are in the process of creating a project schedule and gathering data and documents.

The village’s steering committee for the commercial zoning update includes two members of the Riverside Planning and Zoning Commission, Jill Mateo and Jennifer Henaghan; Village Trustee Doug Pollock, who is the village board’s liaison to that commission; and Riverside resident Jeff Cermak, a commercial real estate investment consultant with 30 years in the business.

“We’re looking to have a kickoff meeting in the next couple of weeks,” said Sonya Abt, the village’s community development director and staff liaison for the project.

The transit-oriented zoning update –- hence RTA’s interest and grant award — is expected to focus mainly on the downtown commercial district and Harlem Avenue commercial area near the railroad corridor.

But, the update will also look at the village’s multifamily building district, the R-3 district just west of the downtown, bounded by the BNSF tracks on the south, Park Place on the north, Kimbark Avenue on the east and the Des Plaines River on the west.

“It’s more looking at the downtown area and Harlem Avenue and addressing development patterns to see if our bulk regulations reflect how development is happening now,” Abt said.

The village embarks on the zoning update at a time when some significant commercial parcels have been on and off the market downtown and are newly available near the Harlem/Burlington intersection.

Village trustees also recently amended the zoning code to provide for planned unit developments, which are typically larger commercial, residential or mixed-use projects that normally wouldn’t fit into strict zoning rules.

The planned unit development process ideally provides a way for such projects to be built while satisfying overall planning goals for a particular district and/or the village as a whole.

It will take months for a preliminary draft of the update to be completed, and the ongoing pandemic will make it a bit trickier to ensure the public can provide feedback and input.

“We’re hoping this fall we’ll be able to try and have meetings to get public input, either in person or on Zoom,” said Abt, who added the consultants hired to guide the update will be creating a project website where the public can view documents and updates on where things are in the process.