Developing a theme

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If there is a theme developing this year in both Riverside and Brookfield, it's got to be development. Every week, it seems, there are new proposals for significant development in the central business districts in both villages.

Two weeks ago, a proposal for the old Henninger Pharmacy sailed through the Riverside Zoning Board of Appeals before getting slowed a bit by the village board. This week, Riverside's Plan Commission considered a significant addition to the village's oldest commercial building, while Brookfield residents are trying to decide what to make of a bold new proposal that would remake the current village hall site.

This is just the beginning. After being leap-frogged by developers in recent years, Riverside and Brookfield are being targeted for redevelopment.

What both villages?"i.e. governments and residents?"need to do is to embrace development but make sure that it fits in with the vision each village has conceived for itself. This may not be easy, and it may not always be pleasant, but it has to be done. Development is essential, but it also needs strict guidelines that correspond with long-range goals.

Just how difficult that process can be was illustrated over the past year in Brookfield with respect to the former Buresh's Lobster House property on 31st Street. It also shows what can be accomplished when people approach a development issue with a singular focus while keeping open the lines of communication with developers.

When it was first conceptualized, the development slated for the Lobster House property was a condo building of some 70 units. It never made its way to the presentation stage, and input knocked the proposal down to 46 units before it came to the village for approval.

Initially, the village's Plan Commission gave that plan tacit approval. Neighbors, incensed, banded together and pushed for significant changes to the plan in keeping with the village's zoning code.

All along, they repeated they were not anti-development; they were against the density of a project they felt was being forced on them.

Throughout an entire year, the neighbors stuck to their guns and focused on convincing the developer to change the plan. Eventually, the two sides struck a deal. The final plan is still denser than the zoning code calls for, but it's a far cry from the intense density first proposed.

And both sides still win. The developer will still profit, while the neighbors retain the character of their neighborhood.

Credit, too, must go to architect John Schiess, who engaged in that ongoing conversation with residents near the Lobster House. It's our hope that other developers would seek the same kind of resident input and try to accommodate the serious concerns neighbors will invariably have with new development.

Development may be inevitable, but it doesn't have to be intolerable.

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