Danger zone: Visioning workshop participants said Roosevelt Road was dangerous to cross by bike and on foot. (Courtesy Images, Inc.)

The website is called “Pictureforestpark.net” and that’s exactly what facilitators wanted residents to do at a “visioning” workshop for Forest Park’s comprehensive plan, Nov. 20, at the park district administration building.

Consultants were seeking a visceral reaction. Participants were asked to rate, from 1 to 5, photos of public, retail and residential spaces.

The Images Inc. consultants focused on photos representing three areas: land use and development, transportation and mobility, and public facilities and spaces. About 10 people participated in the afternoon session and about 20 in the evening.

Images Inc. reps told the group all the photos were available on the website, and they were free to upload photos of their own ideas.

In land use and development, residents were asked about three categories: multi-use developments, commercial and residential. Multi-unit choices were similar to the existing Madison Commons development with retail on the ground floor and residential apartments above. Some participants liked the photo of a “town plaza” type of downtown with a market and park in the middle. A photo taken near the CTA Fullerton stop prompted business owner Connie Brown to remark that transit-oriented residential buildings “create their own little business districts.”

The multi-use development plan presented by the Chicago Metropolitan Planning Council (CMAP) to the village council this spring suggests the village should strive to develop the municipal parking lot near the CTA Blue Line and promote the creation of a multi-use set of buildings with high-end rental units above storefronts.

Choosing images of commercial strips, participants seemed to like least an image of a big-box or strip mall parking lot. The village has properties along Roosevelt Road poised for redevelopment by crafting a new TIF district along Roosevelt Road that will include the hodgepodge of residential and small storefronts on the north side of the street, as well as the long-vacant Gleason Chevy lot on the northwest corner of Roosevelt Road and Desplaines Avenue. Participants seemed to prefer commercial strips with more amenities, such as fountains and landscaping, on a human scale.

Residential future

Participants looked at photos of multi-unit and single-family residential buildings. Participant Stephan Certok, a Chicago Realtor, said the village needed to take a page from the city of Elgin which encouraged subdivided single-family houses to be reconverted to encourage more home ownership instead of renting. Much conversation was generated by an image of a 5,000 square foot multi-pillared “McMansion” style house similar to the residential teardowns in Hinsdale. Participants seemed most comfortable with a photo of a typical Forest Park block of modest single-family houses.

“This is the only thing I’ve given [the lowest score],” said participant Amber Ladeira, pointing to a photo of an existing Forest Park low-rise multi-unit building from the 1960s.

Parks and public amenities

When participants looked at public spaces, they considered photos of streetscaping, signs, parks/recreation and open space.

Library Trustee Trudy Roznos said one photo looked like a closed-off mall similar to Oak Park’s Lake Street mall in the 1980s.

“I’d lie down in front of the bulldozers rather than close off a street,” Roznos said. “It’s just terrible for local businesses.” Some participants said keeping sidewalks and streets at “human scale” with landscaping was preferred, while others said sidewalks should be wider to accommodate more pedestrians, wheelchairs and strollers.

Looking at photos of different signage got participants talking about how passengers exiting the CTA Blue Line at the Circle Avenue bridge had no signage, causing potential confusion when people got off the train.

Moving on to photos of parks and recreation space, people said more green space was needed in the landlocked village. Pocket parks were praised, with participants suggesting more seating. A dog park south of Roosevelt Road was suggested by Jill Wagner who said she didn’t use the “Forest Bark” dog park, even though she liked it, because it was not in her neighborhood. A photo of an ice rink was remarked on, as was a photo of picnic tables at a public park, which participants pointed out were missing in Forest Park.

Images of open space included a band shell, benches and paths, water features and decorative gardens. Participants were asked to look at the “type of use” and “overall aesthetic.” Participants commented that labor- and maintenance-intensive features like fountains and band shells were expensive to maintain.

Transportation, walkability, cycling

Photos representing transportation and bike/walkability were a hot topic for discussion. Agreed was that the current CTA Blue Line terminus was dirty and dangerous for cyclists and pedestrians to approach. A photo of a landscaped, human-scale brick-street transit station met with approval. Villagers seemed to agree that there was enough parking already in the village.

“I don’t think we could support a parking deck,” said one participant.

Discussion of pedestrian safety on Roosevelt Road was prompted by a photo of a lone man pushing a shopping cart in the intersection of Roosevelt and Desplaines.

Former village commissioner Marty Tellalian said pedestrian safety islands or medians would make the journey across Roosevelt Road safer. The village would have to work with the Illinois Dept. of Transportation, said Village Administrator Tim Gillian, since IDOT was in charge of Roosevelt. Participants seemed to approve of pedestrian crosswalks already put in place with the “Complete Streets” plan developed in recent years with help from the Active Transportation Alliance. Plan Commissioner Jeff Chin said the village should be aware of natural paths of human movement when thinking about land use. Bike paths and photos of bicycle racks got approval from residents, although crossing Roosevelt Road by bike was called “scary” by one participant who said she drove from the south side of town to Madison Street rather than risk her life crossing Roosevelt.

What’s next?

Images Inc. staff encouraged more residents to participate in the photo preference survey and asked Forest Parkers to upload photos themselves of features they’d like to see in Forest Park. The website will be open for contributions through December.

Consultants said the next step was a community survey “in about two weeks” that should be available on the Pictureforestpark.net website.

They also said the next meeting would be a gathering of high school students. Fenwick students were among those being asked for their opinion, they said.

Images staff said following the high school students survey and community survey, they would create a draft plan which would then be presented to the village council.

Web extra

Participate in the visioning workshop online www.pictureforestpark.net

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...