Expand the library. Develop Roosevelt Road. Improve village safety. Collaborate with neighboring villages on bordering thoroughfares and village services. Vote in Home Rule. These are some of the ideas Forest Park village commissioners scribbled on post-it notes at a Comprehensive Plan workshop Oct. 28 led by Carrie Hansen of Images, Inc.
The workshop participants were the five members of the village council, along with Plan Commission members Paul Barbahen, Kevin Harnett, Diane Brown, Sam Tarara and Jeff Chin.
As they did in July, when 17 volunteer “stakeholders” met at the Community Center, the groups threw out ideas Monday night in areas such as housing stock, schools, transportation, safety, development and zoning.
The ideas were to be incorporated into the consultant group’s upcoming “visioning” workshop Nov. 20 and will help tweak the citizen survey Hansen said would come out in December.
Of the participants, only Mayor Anthony Calderone Village Administrator Tim Gillian and Commissioner Mark Hosty lived through the previous crafting of the comprehensive plan in 2001. Images, Inc. will evaluate the village’s former plan and see which ideas worked and which did not in the intervening dozen years, Hansen said.
Hansen organized the sticky notes on a white board and grouped them by category.
Participants were quick to speak their minds.
“Find a way out of Proviso,” was the first sticky note read, written by Hosty.
Proviso Township High School District 209 and also the tax bite of Forest Park District 91 were both discussed by Hosty and others who focused on the economic implications of school-linked tax levies on Forest Park’s housing affordability.
Hosty said as a Realtor he found houses in Forest Park harder to sell because the tax burden had increased to almost on par with Oak Park. He cited a lack of “accountability” for the Forest Park schools which have high per-pupil educational costs.
“Two school board members have left town because of the high school issue,” Hosty said. John Tricoci resigned in September and Glenn Garlisch left in 2010.
But schools weren’t the only issue on the table.
Hosty also said he supported redevelopment on Roosevelt Road, especially the Army Navy Reserve building and the empty Gleason Chevy parcel at Roosevelt and DesPlaines Avenue. Hosty supported developing the village-owned Altenheim property in a public-private partnership for recreational use. Hosty also said he supported Home Rule as a means to enforce housing maintenance and accountability for renters. He also said he’d propose consolidating village services such as fire protection and public works with other neighboring villages, over the next 10 years.
Commissioner Tom Mannix championed an infrastructure overhaul, focusing on sewers. He also said he supported the I-290 highway expansion and rebuild. Mannix also said he wanted to explore sharing services with neighboring communities Oak Park, River Forest and North Riverside.
“Make Circle Avenue dog park 24 hour — with lights,” read Carrie Hansen off of one of Mannix’s sticky notes. As the group laughed, Mannix said he wrote that one to annoy regular board audience member Jerry Webster, who lives near the dog park. Mannix also said he supported Home Rule.
Commissioner Rory Hoskins championed an expanded library. “It’s my understanding the building was engineered to build on one story up,” Hoskins said. He said the current facility was packed with students after school. “A nice library is part of a great community,” he said.
Hoskins also suggested tearing down the derelict village-owned buildings on the Altenheim site and trying to use Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) money to develop the property.
School children of Forest Park should get a voice in the use of the park district’s Roos parcel plans, Hoskins said.
Commissioner Chris Harris said his priorities were bike and pedestrian safety in the village, correcting the mixed hodgepodge of buildings on the north side of Roosevelt Road and finding a way to redevelop and reinvent the village’s “aging housing stock.” Harris supported preserving green space in the village and said the village should look at the CTA Blue Line railyard as a parcel of land that would become available if CTA extended the line west to Mannheim Road as has been proposed.
Plan Commission Chair Barbahen appeared to still hold to one of the tenets of the 2001 comprehensive plan: Maintain the predominant single-family residential character of the village and encourage the de-conversion of multi-family structures originally designed as single-family homes. He said he supported the conversion of rental units to condos because home-ownership leads to people taking better care of their residences. Calderone said the village had a brief period when it gave grants to people de-converting multi-units to single-families. Barbahen also recommended signage to point out the village’s landmarks and commercial zones.
Kevin Zimmerman said he would like to see more police on bicycles in the neighborhoods and a focus on reinvigorating civic pride by marketing Forest Park. Sam Tarara agreed that police should be more visible, especially at Thornton’s gas station and the CTA stops. New commission member Diane Brown suggested more parking and Jeff Chin jumped on the marketing idea with “attract yuppies.” He said attracting young professionals was the way to build the community.
Working with neighbors
An idea of collaborating with Oak Park, which also received a grant and is currently writing a comprehensive plan, was something Calderone said he had discussed with Oak Park Village President Anan Abu-Taleb just that morning. Calderone said he thought the two villages should meet to discuss Harlem Avenue, which borders both, and talk about how to create a unified look and feel for the strip. Hosty suggested zoning Harlem “B” for business, so single family homes on the strip could be replaced with consistent development.
Calderone also spoke to the Proviso issue, saying the village had spent some $70,000 on consultants around 2001 to explore the idea of changing the boundaries of the school district.
He said the district had been poorly performing for almost 40 years and wondered if it really had an effect on the housing prices in Forest Park.
“Despite the fact that we had a ridiculously underperforming high school, until the crash our real estate kept pace with our neighbors in Oak Park and River Forest,” Calderone said.
“Would housing be better with a good high school?” he asked. But Calderone asserted quality public education was a priority for every Forest Parker. “Even if [the high school district] doesn’t affect housing prices, we should still demand a quality public education,” he said.
Hansen said she had interviewed Dr. Nettie Collins-Hart, D 209 school superintendent, and representatives from the D91 schools.
“It’s very difficult to change school district boundaries,” Hansen said. She said the schools were “open to a conversation with any Forest Parkers that were interested.”
Maybe now was the time to engage in those conversations, said Hansen.
The next Images, Inc. event will be the Nov. 20 “visioning” session, followed by the rollout of the community survey sometime in December, Hansen said.