Is Forest Park geographically suited for an office space development? How can the village hear under-represented groups in planning? Does the village want more rental units? And how should the Altenheim property survey be conducted?
These were some of the questions posed by two planning consultant companies in a presentation to a joint meeting of the village council and the Forest Park Plan Commission, Aug. 6.
Images Inc., of Wheaton, and Teska Associates, of Evanston, presented their pitches for a $100,000 contract to craft the village’s next comprehensive plan.
Images Inc., an Illinois-certified Woman Business Enterprise company, gave much of their presentation about outreach to, and input from, “unrepresented populations” in the village, including the 52 percent of the population who are renters. The company uses tools such as iPads and digital questionnaires, as well as personal interviews with ordinary citizens – “Like the barber. He knows everything” – Project Manager Carrie Hansen said. Images Inc. has done PR for the Illinois Department of Transportation, the CTA and Pace. They have been in charge of open houses and public information sessions for IDOT’s I-290 Expressway Phase 1 study since 2009. The company, whose website slogan is “context sensitive solutions” said one of their strengths was impartiality. “We bring an outlook of having no agenda,” Hansen said.
Teska Associates are veterans of the comprehensive plan world, having crafted dozens of them for other Illinois communities. The group, a consortium of housing, development, and design companies, said a comprehensive plan “starts with a vision.” Bridget Lane, Teska’s business economics expert, who recently moved to Forest Park, said the village was prime for an office tower for commuters in the city and suburbs. The company uses 3-D “Plan It” devices to allow citizens to move scale-sized blocks into hypothetical village plans. Teska’s crisp presentation emphasized their experience working as a team as they displayed slides of town projects they’ve worked on in Lombard, Villa Park, Olympia Fields and other suburban towns.
Commissioner Tom Mannix questioned whether either firm would use scientific surveys to ensure that a fair representation of residents was sampled. He wondered if citizens he referred to as “squeaky wheels” would have a disproportionate influence if consultants did not accurately poll residents “who don’t show up to meetings.” Mayor Anthony Calderone later agreed, saying that a planning company should have experience, “weeding out the vocal minority.”
After the presentations, Mannix also noted that Images Inc. had only done one previous comprehensive plan, as a business, although team members had done planning in previous jobs. A “new downtown” created in New Lenox with help from Images Inc. was considered a “complete drain on all the town’s municipal resources,” he said, pointing out that the village needed to do due diligence in vetting the companies before a decision was made.
Commissioner Mark Hosty criticized Teska’s plan for leaning too heavily on business development and not enough on housing. Regarding an April Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning survey on the concentration of upscale rental housing, Hosty said, “We already have too much rental in Forest Park.”
Neither proposal dealt adequately with the Altenheim survey, it was agreed, during the discussion following the presentations. Calderone suggested that the Altenheim survey did not necessarily have to be included in the comprehensive planning work.
“Maybe we should do it ourselves,” he said. Commissioner Chris Harris, who has championed the survey, disapproved of that notion. He and Tim Gillian pointed out that the citizen survey was included in the request for proposals.
When Harris, who held a Town Hall meeting about the Altenheim in March, said the public was wondering when they would get a resident survey about the village-owned public property, Calderone countered with, “The public in this case is 30, 40 or 50 people.”
Fenwick High School delivered a Letter of Intent to Calderone in May, indicating that the school wanted to buy the property for a high school sports stadium. Calderone at the time said the school would get no answer until the citizen survey was complete.
The plan commission will call a special meeting to discuss the plans sometime in the next couple of weeks, at which point they will present their recommendations to the village council.