The village commissioners who shot down a proposal by Mayor Anthony Calderone to charge an impact fee on proposed condo conversions that don’t provide enough parking spaces all need to do reality checks.

I’ve argued pointedly that politics shouldn’t be allowed to sidetrack public debate in Forest Park, and have bluntly criticized the mayor for both his attitude and actions. But when you’re right, you’re right, and Anthony Calderone is most assuredly right to suggest that developers unable to provide adequate parking with their buildings be required to pay a reasonable impact fee. In advocating such a fee, Calderone is simply being fiscally responsible.

Why the village council would allow an opportunity to assure ourselves of revenue to deal with an exceedingly expensive obligation such as parking slip away is beyond me. This village’s parking deficit is going to be a whooping expense in the not too distant future, one that all of us taxpayers will have to eat if our government doesn’t take a more careful, measured approach to assessing how much parking is required for a given project, and who must fairly pay for that expense.

Some were concerned that an impact fee would scare away development, but that doesn’t wash. Other towns have levied impact fees for condo conversions without driving away developers. Riverside charges $5,000 per parking space under code requirements, and River Forest Village requires a $15,260 fee for each space a condo conversion is short.

Now, you can argue that Forest Park isn’t River Forest or Riverside, that those villages have much higher household incomes, etc. But that doesn’t change the fact that they’re faced with roughly the same costs for providing municipal parking as we are. Contractors don’t base their cost estimates for a municipal parking garage on which town they’re asked to build in. In addition, the impact fees, whatever the actual figure, are not tacked on to individual units, but rather are charged to the developer, who then spreads the cost over all the units.

This isn’t a diatribe against developers, by the way. There are good and bad developers. Some- like John Scheiss, who will announce a development deal on the Roos Building condo re-development tomorrow, are admirably responsive to the concerns of the neighborhoods they build in. There are others, though, who act more like speculative predators. They see little more than money and couldn’t care less what their actions do to a neighborhood.

They may not care, but our government should. Because one way or another, someone’s going to pay, and it shouldn’t just be taxpayers.

Let’s be clear here. Impact fees are meant to be coercive. They’re meant to force developers to consider the impact of their plans on the surrounding area and the village in general. A developer can handle the need for parking one of several ways. They can buy extra land to provide parking. They can provide parking space in the existing development footprint, which requires building either smaller residential units or less units, lowering their profit margin. Or they can pay an impact fee to the village and legally and ethically wash their hands of the responsibility, letting the village handle the problem. All are fair solutions.

What’s not fair or acceptable is to simply let someone else- the village, taxpayers, neighbors- bear the burden of an eminently foreseeable problem that is manageable with some planning and a fair financial burden placed on developers. Economists call that “externalizing costs,” that is, sticking someone else with the bill.

The $2,000 to $5,000 per parking space that Calderone suggested ” let’s split the difference and call it $3,500 for arguments sake” would amount to roughly two percent of the cost of a unit at the condo conversion planned at 7428 Washington (“The Washington”), and just over one percent per unit per parking space short for Robert Marani’s nine condo project just approved by the Zoning Board at Circle and Madison.

Sorry, but that’s not too much to ask developers to bear. And it’s not as if developers don’t realize the importance of parking.

“Includes one parking space!!!” the signage for The Washington reads. The project’s developer wouldn’t have taken the time to put that information, complete with not one but three exclamation points, on the sign if they didn’t think it was significant. They know it’s a quality of life issue.

No developer would dream of constructing, say, a $600,000 spec house in Forest Park with no garage, and then tell potential buyers, “Hey, folks, maybe the village can help you find a place for your three cars. What’cha think?” Why then would we consider allowing condo developers here to do what basically amounts to the same thing?

Forest Park’s growing parking deficit is a potential noose around the neck of its future development. Calderone is wise to recommend addressing it now rather than waiting any longer. Our village commissioners should give his impact fee suggestion the open and thorough hearing it deserves, and not just voice their own unsubstantiated opinions regarding the effects of those fees. If they have concerns, let’s see their reasoning and facts that support that reasoning.

Parking is like plumbing in some regards. It isn’t sexy, but it’s essential. Most of us don’t give either issue a second thought- until there’s a problem. That’s when we learn the hard way that the nicest house money can buy isn’t worth- well, you know- without decent plumbing. And the nicest, most attractive, upscale retail or living environment won’t work well if people can’t find convenient parking due to cars always being parked up and down the street for blocks.

I don’t want to see us learn the hard way that we’ve overlooked the essential nature of parking. Both plumbing and parking back ups stink in their own way, and both are easily avoidable with a little forethought and planning.