Friday is the village’s deadline for proposals to craft a Forest Park Comprehensive Plan for the next 10 years – or longer. The previous plan was written 12 years ago. The village has received some inquiries from consultants, municipal planners and the like for the past couple of weeks, said Village Administrator Tim Gillian.
“Some people have been taking pictures around the village. We’ve fielded questions from interested parties.”
The village will pay $100,000 for the plan, which replaces the one developed in 2001 by Trkla, Pettigrew, Allen & Payne, Inc. of Chicago, a firm that no longer exists, said Gillian. Part of the costs will be covered by HUD funds received by the village as part of a regional grant in November.
The 2001 plan is available on the home page of the village’s website.
“Twelve years later, the technology is so much different,” said Gillian. “There’s such an increased capability for mapping and data gathering now. We can gather very accurate data that may not have been available 12 years ago. Or if it was, it was hard to get to.”
Gillian says the changes in the past 12 years include housing, transportation, education choices and shopping habits.
The village had some recent help predicting future housing patterns from the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP). In a report given to the village last month, CMAP presented a likely development scenario where the village would build three-story mixed-use retail/residential rental units in the space that is now the Blue Line village parking lot. A multistory parking garage for commuters would be included, according to the CMAP report. The ground floors could include coffee shops, cleaners, postal services or other commuter-oriented businesses, says the proposal.
Gillian agrees. “We have plenty of affordable housing in Forest Park. What CMAP told us is if we were going to build, go with something on the higher end.”
CMAP also confirmed that the village will look more attractive to potential residents of the future because of its transit options. “Our community has ability to be so transit oriented. We’ve got the Eisenhower, the Blue Line, the Green Line, Metra. People’s habits are changing with prices of fuel. They’re looking for easier ways to commute, or going down to one car.”
Education is also an area covered by the old plan. When the last plan was written, Forest Park’s higher education choices were limited to Proviso East and West high schools. “Negative perceptions of the high school persist within the Forest Park community,” says the 2001 document. “There is a concern long-term residents are leaving the community when their children reach high school age or opt to send their children to parochial schools.” But the economy has changed since 2001. With home sales stagnant, many residents who might formerly have thought about leaving before high school are now unable to sell their homes.
The plan listed an action item: “Continuing efforts to achieve a public high school meeting the needs and enjoying the confidence of the Forest Park community.”
But education options are also different from 2001. Proviso Math and Science Academy opened in Forest Park in 2005. The magnet school had a rocky first couple of years with hiring, firing and re-hiring of principals and a culling of experienced teachers after budget cuts. Still, it presents a public school option that was unavailable to Forest Parkers in 2001 although anxiety among parents still exists regarding entrance requirements, which have shifted over the years.
“The high school certainly has a large impact on the community,” said Gillian. “It affects people’s decisions to stay in town or move out of town. It affects property values. There will have to be some mention of it in the [new] comprehensive plan.”
Gillian also said shopping is different in Forest Park since 2001. “Merchandising is cyclical. There are fads. It’s gone from large indoor malls, back to strip-centers, then to downtown areas, back to large malls.
“Ultra Foods is [in the Forest Park Mall] now. That mall is different than it was 10-12 years ago,” Gillian said.
“We’re seeing a bit of resurgence of downtown business districts. Madison is starting to fill up again. We’re making significant changes on Roosevelt Road. It goes back to transportation: People aren’t driving to go shopping if they can find it locally.”
Commissioner Rory Hoskins has suggested that the village connect with an Urban Enterprise Zone that exists in Maywood. The zones give hiring and tax incentives to businesses willing to develop in low-income areas. Maywood’s Enterprise Zone has been in existence since 1988.
“Apparently you can annex yourself onto existing enterprise zones,” said Gillian. “As to whether it’s been beneficial, it hasn’t been thus far in Maywood,” he observed. “We’ve offered incentives through our existing TIF areas to relocate to Forest Park.”
As for annexing the Enterprise Zone, Gillian said, “Planners will give us an idea of whether or not it makes sense.”
Hearing different voices will be a big part of the new plan, said Gillian. That’s why he’s going to look carefully at how planners will be finding stakeholders.
“That’s another thing that’s changed since the last plan, the ability to reach people via social media. It’s easier to get to the residents to seek input. Like online newsletters, surveys and things of that sort.”
Gillian envisions “iPads at the train stations, getting quick input on information from ordinary people.” The winning planners will need to explain how they’ll reach stakeholders from churches and other community organizations.
“We look at how they answer the question: If you had it perfect, how would you get to as many residents in town who want to participate?” Gillian said.