Promised for almost two years, a community survey has finally been released by the Village of Forest Park. Developed as part of the village’s comprehensive plan update by Naperville-based Images Inc., the village sent a link to the survey in an email blast to residents Monday.
The Survey Monkey online instrument asks residents 43 questions about land use, transportation and business development in the village. A similar format for business owners has extra questions.
The survey also asks the participant’s race, age and income, as well as whether a renter or property owner.
That didn’t sit well with Public Property Commissioner Chris Harris, who first asked for a community survey to gauge resident preferences for potential uses for the village-owned Altenheim property. He took the survey Monday night and said he had some problems with it.
“The survey is finally out; that’s a positive,” Harris said, “but this is basically a draft we saw two months ago. We were supposed to have discussed these questions.”
Part of the problem, Harris thinks was a regime change at Images Inc., formerly of Wheaton, now based in Naperville. According to Harris, the village council was informed in November that Carrie Hansen, the project leader for the comprehensive plan abruptly left Images to take a new job with a competitor.
“Now I guess there are a couple of people heading the project, now that the person who was steering the ship is gone,” Harris said.
If the commissioners or plan commission had discussed them, Harris thinks some of the items on the survey would have been edited out.
For example, Harris doesn’t think the village should be inquiring whether participants are renters or own property, and how long they’ve lived in Forest Park.
“There’s this notion from the powers-that-be that more weight can be held on the opinions of people who have been here longer,” Harris said. “To me, you want new, vibrant people moving into the community who have new opinions.”
Harris thinks it’s odd that the survey asks which geographic section of Forest Park the participants live in, how much money they earn and their race. Participants are also asked the ages of their children and if they attend private or public schools.
“Are these answers going to be weighted based on whether you rent or own? I hope not,” said Harris, adding that most of the questions can be answered by the last U.S. Census.
Harris observed that the questions about village-owned public property — the Altenheim and the empty lot at 512 Desplaines Ave. — are skewed by questions asking if participants would be willing to pay a special yearly tax for the privilege of leaving the properties as green space.
Harris believes asking that question immediately after the “Altenheim question” will make participants shy away from asking for green space for the property — “especially after the park district just passed a referendum [in 2010] to raise money for the Roos parcel.”
“We’ve almost already paid for the Altenheim,” said Harris, noting that the debt service on the 8-acre property, purchased in 2001, amounts to about $367,000 a year or $1,000 a day. The debt will be retired in about eight years.
As for the 512 Desplaines lot, formerly occupied by a burned down three-flat that remained an eyesore for years, Harris wondered why the survey asks if participants would be willing to pay a special yearly fee to leave the space vacant. “We don’t pay fees for any other tot lot conversions,” he pointed out.
The survey also asks participants their opinions about parking, Roosevelt Road improvements, mass transit stations in Forest Park, what types of residential construction should be prioritized (condo, townhouse, multi-unit apartments, single family).
Participants are also asked to prioritize what they would like as infrastructure improvements, including sewer overhauls, transit makeovers, parking, resurfacing roads, paving alleys and bike paths.
All in all, Harris said it took him 30-45 minutes to finish the survey. He thinks that’s too long.
“Can you imagine the consultants standing on the train platform with an iPad asking, ‘Can you take this survey?’ and be 45 minutes late for work?”
But Harris said he’s glad the survey has finally seen the light of day.
“After two years of fighting for some kind of survey, I guess this is what we get,” he said. “I just wish we could have fine-tuned it a little bit before it was released.”
Residents and business owners can take the survey online or pick up paper copies at Forest Park Village Hall or the Forest Park Public Library.
Find a link to the survey at www.pictureforestpark.net.