Every couple of years, this newspaper sends out questionnaires to candidates for local office. It's part of the rite of passage for those seeking to be elected to posts in which they'll set important policies for school districts, municipal governments, libraries, townships and more.
In North Riverside during the past couple of go-rounds, we've asked candidates about their views on the need for the village to create and adopt a comprehensive plan, the type of document that can assist in guiding development and redevelopment.
It's something, obviously, that we felt was important for a prospective village official to consider, given the state of the retail sales industry these days.
The response to that question was not what we'd expected. In 2017, there was outright opposition to seeking help from a group like the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP), which offers technical assistance grants to help municipalities do everything from updating their zoning codes to full-blown comprehensive planning efforts.
In 2019, candidates appeared to agree some sort of look at economic development planning was a good idea, but the overall reaction to our question was pretty tepid.
Earlier this year, the village of North Riverside hired a consultant to analyze the village's prospects for economic redevelopment. Among the most important steps for the village to take? Get going on a comprehensive planning effort.
This is something for which the village should seek expert help from CMAP through their Local Technical Assistance program. While the village board also created an economic development advisory committee, we don't think that group necessarily possesses the planning expertise to lead such an effort, though members of the group could be part of a steering committee advising consultants hired in partnership with CMAP.
Likewise, the village could seek assistance from CMAP in amending its zoning code to make it suitable for attracting appropriate contemporary commercial redevelopment. The two efforts would complement one another, with the zoning redo perhaps following the adoption of a comprehensive plan.
If North Riverside wants an example of why such an exercise is so important, it can look to its neighbors, Brookfield and Riverside, which sought and received assistance through CMAP and continues to work with the planning agency to fine-tune it.
In Riverside, those planning documents have guided decisions for making the downtown more pedestrian and visitor friendly, for greater connectivity to the river and for making the village more business and development friendly.
In Brookfield, the comprehensive plan has complemented recently update zoning along the railroad tracks and is guiding the kind of transit-oriented development now occurring there.
To be sure, North Riverside's challenges are different than Riverside and Brookfield. But with the changing nature of large-scale retail, we see the potential for redevelopment — commercial and otherwise — in North Riverside to be great.
But guiding principles need to be in place to ensure the redevelopment that does occur makes sense and maintains the village's residential character while taking advantage of opportunities that could arise on the east end or at the National Guard armory.
Things are changing. North Riverside needs to be able to adapt in a cohesive way.