Though at this point in the game all talks about building a parking structure or other parking improvements to Forest Park’s downtown area are preliminary in nature, recent talks certainly seem to be headed in the right direction.
The Business Improvement District Committee, which in the past has received some criticism for prioritizing business concerns over those of residents, had local residents first on its agenda during its meeting last Wednesday.
The committee decided, with only a couple of dissenting voices, to hold off on bringing additional homes that might be affected by eventual parking changes into the downtown business district. If they had been included in the district at this point, the zoning change would have turned the 15 or so affected homes into legal non-conforming properties.
Though some of the homes might have already been classified under this designation, those that were not would have then required variances from the village for any additions or renovations, and would not have been able to be rebuilt in case of disaster.
The move would have created a backlash of criticism from homeowners concerned both about current changes and future possibilities, such as the use of eminent domain rights to acquire properties. Some of the concerns would have been rational and some would have been a bit premature, but all would have added unneeded controversy to a process designed to benefit everyone who resides in or visits the village.
When eyeing the long-term future of the village, it is easy to treat existing properties like a Monopoly board and neglect the concerns of current residents, and the committee deserves credit for resisting this temptation.
In addition to preventing an inevitable barrage of criticism, decisions such as these establish trust with residents which might pay off later on when the village receives the results of the upcoming engineering study on downtown parking.
At that point, it is almost certain some residents will have to be inconvenienced either permanently or temporarily, during the construction of additional parking lots or structures. Though some will surely speak out in protest, they will at least have some evidence that the village did all it could to inconvenience the smallest number of residents possible.
One can only imagine the kind of backlash that would have ensued had the zoning of all the properties in question been changed and then the village ended up not needing any of them once the results of the study came back.
It was also reassuring to hear that the committee members had not prematurely committed to the construction of a garage as the only option for solving Madison Street’s parking problems. While everyone seems committed to avoiding what Village Administrator Michael Sturino called a “white elephant,” it is difficult to imagine a parking garage of any significant size that would not create something of an eyesore, whether for Madison Street shoppers or residents in surrounding areas. Though we’re certainly not opposed to the idea of a garage, it’s good to know that other options remain on the table.
We hope that the committee, as well as the Zoning Board of Appeals and the village council in the future, will keep paying attention to potential concerns from area residents as this process continues in the coming months and years.