Planning group begins downtown Riverside study

? Community leaders and residents last week began work on a process that will result in a master plan for Riverside's downtown.

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Could Riverside cash in on its historic status? That issue and many others will be on the table throughout the year as the village works its way through a process that will lead to a master plan for the village's downtown business district.

That journey kicked off last week with a meeting of the Transit Oriented Development Steering Committee. It was the first step in a nine-month process that will result in a plan for Riverside's Central Business District (CBD), which will address everything from land use to design to parking and public transportation.

And a critical component of the plan will be suggestions for funding the kind of changes that the plan envisions for the CBD.

One of the ways to provide an ongoing source of revenue might be to market the village as a tourist destination along the lines of Oak Park.

"Chicago is one of the biggest tourism markets in the country," said Richard Wilson, the project manager for the study. Wilson is principal urban planner for URS/TPAP, the company hired by the village as a consultant for the project. The study is being funded in large part by a grant from the RTA, with matching funds coming from the village.

"Why wouldn't people arriving in Chicago ... see an invitation to Riverside? I'll bet there's some strategy somewhere to reach those tourism markets."

Whether encouraging tourism will be the final result of the study is up for debate. But debate is exactly what members of the steering committee are looking for from residents.

"The steering committee will serve as the bridge to the community," said Village Manager Kathleen Rush. "It'll be our springboard for feedback on some of these ideas. One of your roles is to encourage people to attend these meetings, because this has to be shaped by the residents of the community."

With resident input, the group hopes to have a working document ready for village board examination by the end of the year.

"By the end of November, we hope to have a fully realized concept plan, with good direction on financing and implementation," said Wilson.

In addition to Wilson and a team of planners from URS/TPAP, the steering committee includes local representatives from a number of local organizations and Riverside residents. Representing the village administration and board will be Rush and trustees Candice Grace and John Scully. They will be joined by two members of the Plan Commission, William Cooney and David Lesniak; two from the Economic Development Commission, William Kernan and Jack Wilk; and representatives from the village's Landscape and Preservation commissions.

In addition, the steering committee includes former trustee Jerry Buttimer; Art Canavera, owner of Riverside Plumbing, representing the Riverside Township Chamber of Commerce; and residents Thomas Barr, Mark Bennett and Mary Carol Murphy.

The first opportunity residents will get give input will be June 9 at the first public workshop. Although all of the meetings of the steering committee are open to the public, at the public workshop in June consultants will engage residents for specific comments.

"We want to identify clearly what's important to people," Wilson said. "What is the downtown; who should it serve? After that first public workshop, the consulting group will formulate a concept plan for the downtown area. Then in July (tentatively Saturday, July 16) the public will be asked to participate in a design "charette," a three- to four-hour meeting that will lead to a final plan.

"It's the opportunity for everyone to pitch in and be demanding about what they'd like to see," Rush said.

The resulting final plan will be adopted by the village board, said Rush. Although the village board adopted a new zoning code for the CBD in 2003, it's possible that the code could be revisited to make it conform with the transit-oriented development plan.

"We might kick it back to the Plan Commission and fine-tune the zoning code, so there are no conflicts between the two," Rush said. "We might end up tweaking the zoning document to give that plan some teeth."

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