A “tight-knit community,” is how consultants managing Forest Park’s Comprehensive Plan describe Forest Park. Images, Inc. updated the www.pictureforestpark.net website July 19, adding reports based on two meetings with residents.

What were the conclusions? Proximity to transportation and a vibrant small business strip help make the town great, but a lack of a public high school, too many rental properties and patches of developmental blight are challenges the town will have to face in the future, the consultants reported.

In the first report, Images Inc. summarized the 16 “Key Person Interviews” held in the last weeks of May at Village Hall.

A “Bucktown” feel to Madison Street is one of the plusses that make Forest Park a great place to live. Proximity to Chicago transportation was also highlighted by interviewees as one of the things that make Forest Park attractive to newcomers and keeps the town going.

But the interviews also showed that the town faced weaknesses: the lack of a high school was cited as causing resident turnover, and a perceived “unwillingness to adapt to a changing student body,” was a challenge facing the village.

The comprehensive plan will guide land-use decisions in the village for the next 20 years. To that end, key person interviews said the empty car dealership on Roosevelt Road and Desplaines Avenue, along with other vacant or underused parcels needed to be marketed and developed.

When asked to brainstorm three new projects that would improve Forest Park, those interviewed suggested the construction of a new community center with a draw for arts/cultural activities, developing the Altenheim property so it returns to the tax rolls and creating more parking areas.

The Key Person document also mentioned developing plans for the Park District’s Roos [mislabeled as the ‘Bruce’] parcel and developing Harrison between Desplaines and Circle Avenues.

Steering committee meets

Also added to the website was a summary document from the first Steering Committee meeting, which was held at the community center July 9.

At the workshop, the committee was broken into three groups which brainstormed two lists. The first was “issues and concerns” and the second “goals and objectives.”

Problems pinpointed by stakeholders included flooding and sewer management, property maintenance enforcement/housing management and accountability, safety, and transportation.

Lack of high school options and the closing of private schools were listed as concerns, as was the lack of light manufacturing and the maintenance of older homes in a systematic way. Participants also mentioned walking and bike safety near CTA lines, parking issues, and the lack of a shopping shuttle. Drugs, crime and perceptions of safety were also on the lists of issues and concerns.

The second workshop set goals and objectives for the village in the next 20 years. This is where participants got to envision changes they’d like to see.

The groups tossed out ideas such as connected multiple business districts, making green and sustainable infrastructure and building code decisions, making transportation modes linkable by bicycle, walking and shuttles. Making all CTA stations wheelchair accessible was also suggested.

“Managing growth” was listed as a way to improve Forest Park’s housing stock and make owners of rental properties accountable. Enforcing building codes equitably and offering incentives to invest were suggested.

Stakeholders emphasized a sewer overhaul, and all infrastructure, upgraded on a continual basis.

The fate of the Altenheim property should be determined soon, stakeholders agreed, with varying opinions on whether a park, senior housing, playing fields or a community recreation complex with green space was best. Participants said it was ideal to get the property back on the village tax rolls.

The abandoned auto dealership at Desplaines and Roosevelt Road was also a topic. Stakeholders wanted its development to be a priority to get the parcel generating tax revenue.

Stakeholders also suggested marketing Forest Park with “an inclusive strategy” and focusing on neighborhoods, especially on the south side, for economic development. Working with the county on a housing stabilization policy was suggested as a way to maintain and preserve property values. Building multi-story mixed-use buildings in denser areas was also suggested.

The participants encouraged better lighting as a way to improve safety and reduce drug crime.

Education-wise, participants ran a spectrum. Some suggested increasing the visibility of private schools while others suggested “promoting educational investment” and others suggested developing better communication with Proviso Township High School District 209 and having a public voice in D209’s management.

Likewise, participants focused on the park district’s development of the Roos parcel and suggested prioritizing green space, a wellness center at the former Roos property, more active spaces for fitness, programs for youth and more dog-related infrastructure.

The list of stakeholders was George Ashman, Steven Bachman, Rachell Entler, Bill Kirchner, Michael O’Connor, John Carlisle, Marsha East, Matt Hegna, Amber Ladeira, Mary Rueda, Marty Tellalian, Ellen Chavez, Robert Cox, Sharon Daly, Kara Hakos, Elsie Norberg, and Erin Paulsen.

Images, Inc. will be chewing on the ideas thrown out as it prepares more outreach activities to get ideas and concerns from other residents over the next 18 months.

Jean Lotus loves community journalism. She covers news, features, two school boards, village council, crime, park district and writes obits for Forest Park Review. She also covers the police beat for...