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Sometimes you look at a town from 30,000 feet in the air. Sometimes you look at it in 500 foot increments. Forest Park, wisely, is doing both at the moment.
A week ago the village council voted in a six month ban on new wig stores and beauty supply houses. That's a precursor to a new ordinance that will place strict limits on how many such businesses can locate anywhere in the village. Notable here is that the limits now apply to oft overlooked Roosevelt Road, as well as Madison Street.
Commissioner Chris Harris opposed the measure on the theory that in this tough economy any business is a good business. We disagree and our point of reference is Madison Street itself. In the early 1980s, the street was largely filled with businesses but it was a failed business district nonetheless. Endless taverns filled storefronts. Dismal junk shops posing as antique stores filled other spaces. Medical offices boarded up display windows. Any business is not a good business and taking some short term hits for long-term purpose is what zoning and planning is all about.
Meanwhile on the macro planning level, the village is days away from the deadline for proposals from consultants to front the Comprehensive Planning process. This is the big picture planning process that looks at the broad issues and long timelines for implementing solutions. The village last undertook a Comprehensive Plan 12 years ago Ð not that long ago as these things typically go. But some solid money came the village's way through a federal grant and a portion will be devoted to funding a $100,000 effort.
In a news article today, Village Administrator Tim Gillian offers up an overview of key issues that have changed in the past dozen years that will certainly be addressed in the new plan.
Housing is always central to a Comprehensive Plan. What vision does Forest Park have for its housing stock in the years ahead? There will be limited new construction and what is the demographic target for it? As the national collapse of the housing market gradually lifts what will that mean for the village?
Transportation is a strength of Forest Park's that we don't think has been widely appreciated. As the appeal of exurbia wanes with gas prices, job contractions and long commutes, older burgs such as Forest Park have new appeal. Two el lines, Metra and the Ike are huge resources. But what should Forest Park's take on the expansion of the Eisenhower be? So far, we believe, leaders have been too passive in deferring to IDOT, which gives not a fig about Forest Park.
Education, high school education, is always the elephant in the room in Forest Park. Has the Proviso Math and Science Academy finally offered villagers a public option for grades 9-12? Is that how it is perceived? What is the impact on housing and the village's psyche if it is a legit alternative? Can anyone count on anything out of that deeply troubled school district?
Shopping is always a moving target. Strong and varied retail provides jobs, choices for residents, a destination for visitors, sales and property taxes. But what is online shopping going to do to bricks and mortar retail in the next 10 years? How do small communities respond to that threat?
Finally, we return, as we always will, to the public input portion of the planning process. Gillian is right about new technology and social media allowing many intriguing ways to gather wider input into the process. All good. But not enough. Putting sincere people of varied views in a room and fostering a candid discussion is also essential to this process. The powers that be need to be ready to listen. The critics need to be ready to contribute.