By Nona Tepper
Members of the Forest Park Plan Commission and Zoning Board of Appeals received training from representatives of the American Planning Association on June 18.
Professional planners reviewed processes, such as how to comply with the open meetings act, review development proposals, and discussing the limits of each commission. The plan commission reviews development proposals and oversees new construction, while the zoning board reviews developers' zoning questions and appeals. Courtney Kashima, planning consultant for the village, said representatives also reviewed the role of elected officials and the village board, and how those entities should interact with the review processes.
"Some communities might get themselves into trouble by getting overly restrictive on signage," Kashima said. "It's a municipality's right to regulate signage, but some take it too far. If they wanted everyone to have purple signs — it's a silly but extreme example — they could not do that."
Since the village has also seen three recent development proposals, she said, the training came at an opportune time. The vacant lot at Harlem, 7201 Madison St., will soon become a retail strip center; the longtime home of Kevil's bar and restaurant, 7228 Circle Ave., will become a five-story, mixed-use development; and 7625 Madison, formerly occupied by the Irish taverns Brian Boru's and Molly Malone's, will become a four-story, mixed-used development.
"They've seen an uptick in development proposals, especially along Madison, and I think it's a lot for Forest Park," she said. "I think what's great is people show up and are interested in new development, like neighbors and residents. There's kind of an art to running a good public hearing, and that's something we always include in our training."
Steve Glinke, director of Forest Park's Department of Public Health and Safety, said this was the first time the two commissions met with professional planners since 2012. He said the five members of the plan commission, and six on the zoning board, are civic volunteers who might not have training in urban planning issues.
"I think, frequently, board members are not always given direction on what the expectation of the position is and I think this is probably going to fire up the group and make the process a little more engaging," Glinke said. "I thought it was really interesting and time well spent."