By Bob Uphues
After an eight-month vacancy, the village planner's office inside Brookfield Village Hall is once again occupied with the recent hiring of Elyse Vukelich, who started in her new post on Feb. 4.
Vukelich, 27, comes to Brookfield from the village of Franklin Park, where she served as that town's planner for a little more than a year. She replaces Emily Egan, who left last June to become assistant city planner in Elmhurst after serving as Brookfield's planner for about three years.
Her starting salary is $59,000, according to Village Manager Timothy Wiberg.
"I'm drawn to the inner-ring suburbs, places that have good proximity to the city, access to the forest preserves and good transit options," said Vukelich, a Downers Grove native who now lives in Chicago. "So much has happened in terms of planning here in the last couple of years – the comprehensive plan and station area plans – there's a good foundation of things they've approved. I'm excited to help implement the comprehensive plan's strategies and objectives."
Like her predecessor, Vukelich is a graduate of the University of Illinois-Chicago's Master of Urban Planning and Policy program. She completed her master's at UIC in 2016 and spent the next year as a planning intern with the village of Orland Park before landing a job on the planning staff in Franklin Park.
For the past year-plus, Vukelich has served as the staff liaison to the Franklin Park Zoning Board of Appeals, Plan Commission and Economic Development Commission, writing reports on zoning changes, special use applications, variances and appeals.
She was also responsible for reviewing building and business occupancy permits and had a hand in writing a pair of grants that netted millions for Franklin Park, including a $24 million grant from the Illinois Department of Transportation to improve a heavily trafficked thoroughfare in an industrial area and a grant to erect grade-crossing gates near the village's Metra station in order for the village to qualify for a quiet zone, where train horns would not blow.
"That was a huge priority of residents," Vukelich said.
Although she did her undergraduate work at the College of Wooster in English and history, Vukelich said she was drawn to planning after taking an urban history class, where she studied Daniel Burnham's plan for Chicago, among other things.
"Chicago is such a great playground for studying urban planning," said Vukelich. "The city is a textbook and I was very intrigued by it."
Nicholas Greifer, the village of Brookfield's director of community and economic development, said he interviewed a handful of finalists for the position, but liked the fact that Vukelich had some municipal government experience under her belt.
"We were looking for someone who had some experience, and people going through UIC's program have good skill sets coming out of grad school," Greifer said.
Greifer also was impressed by Vukelich's communications skills and enthusiasm.
"I think communication in government is always important, so that was something we were looking for," Greifer said. "She brings a lot of soft skills, intangibles, like enthusiasm. That will be helpful when working with the planning and zoning commission. I think she'll bring a lot of positive energy to that group."
As for Vukelich's focus, Greifer said that implementation of Brookfield's new comprehensive plan is at the top of the list. With pedestrian improvements made at the downtown Metra station last year, Greifer said he'd like to see something similar at Congress Park.
"In the next 18 months I want to investigate new grants for Congress Park," Greifer said. "Even just addressing the pedestrian tunnel would be a big step forward. It's not a big ticket item, but it could be cost effective."
Other projects likely to come across Vukelich's desk in the coming months will be a pair of development applications from developer Michael Gatto for a residential building on Grant Avenue and a mixed-use development on Grand Boulevard, a revised plan for a development proposed by Tartan Builders in the 8900 block of Burlington Avenue and a planned development application from the Brookfield Public Library.
"I'm just kind of jumping head first into things," Vukelich said.