The village of Riverside’s Community Development Department, which includes all things related to building permits and inspections, code enforcement and property redevelopment, finds itself in a state of flux with all three of its employees either gone or soon to depart.
Last week, Village Manager Jessica Frances announced that the department’s director, Sonya Abt, is leaving her post on Feb. 25 after landing a new job as community development director in Montgomery, a village of about 20,000 people in Kane and Kendall counties.
Abt was hired in Riverside in 2014 and has been involved in a variety of village planning, zoning and economic development initiatives, including the creation of three business districts along Harlem Avenue, an ongoing revision of the zoning code to support transit-oriented development along the rail line, leading the multiphase downtown streetscape improvement plan, updating the village’s sign code and amending the zoning code to allow for planned unit developments.
“Anyone who has looked around this village for the last seven years or so has seen the really substantial changes that have been made in the village,” said Village President Ben Sells at the Feb. 25 meeting of the village board where Abt’s departure was announced. “And Director Abt has been an integral part of that from the beginning.”
Frances told the Landmark that she had known about Abt’s decision to leave Riverside for about a month, however there does not appear to be an immediate plan to replace her permanently.
Abt’s departure leaves the Community Development Department without any full-time employees. Building inspector Jose Rivera, who was also hired in 2014, retired in December and the department’s full-time analyst recently resigned.
Asked about her plans for the department, Frances told the Landmark, “There will be more to announce in the future. I don’t have a plan that I’m ready to unveil yet.”
Since Rivera’s departure in December, the village has been using Rick Dandan, a former municipal building inspector who now runs his own firm, Lakeside Consultants and Code Services, to perform inspections. Dandan’s services were used in the past as a backup when Rivera was unavailable, said Frances.
For more complex plan review and planning issues, Frances has hired Courtney Kashima of Muse Community and Design on a part-time basis.
Muse has done similar municipal planning consulting in LaGrange and Forest Park. The firm specializes in urban planning and public engagement. According to the firm’s website, Muse is “well-versed in land use, zoning, mobility, economic development, historic preservation and more.”
Abt, who has a background in urban planning and studied Riverside as a student, came to the village after 11 years as village planner in northwest suburban Bartlett.