A planner on retainer with the village of Forest Park presented a proposal for engaging the public in development of the 11-acre Altenheim property at the regular village council meeting on Nov. 22, a possible precursor to a long-awaited plan for the village-owned land.
The presentation Monday night did not, however, lead to any concrete action or lay out any definitive next steps. Mayor Rory Hoskins said whatever comes next would be decided by the village council, which asked no questions of Courtney Kashima during or after her presentation. (Commissioner Ryan Nero was absent from the Nov. 22 meeting).
Kashima, the founding principal of Muse Community and Design, has been working with the village on several projects since December 2017 but only began looking into the Altenheim property earlier this year, once the village received a grant to demolish the still-standing buildings there. That demolition has since been completed.
In her presentation, titled Altenheim Engagement, Kashima urged commissioners to “establish a vision with the community,” one that would align the desires of all stakeholders, including the village, neighbors, the operators of The Altenheim retirement community, potential private developers and the general public.
“This is really about getting a conversation going,” Kashima said, “so we can collectively decide what happens in terms of a process for the Altenheim site.”
Kashima’s proposal centered around the idea that identifying what village leaders and the public envisioned for the property was a critical first step in the process. She said “community engagement” could begin with a steering committee made up of village officials and the public, something that she recommended begin as early as next month.
But the morning after the meeting, Hoskins noted that Kashima’s plan was a suggestion and not a set course of action, and that no timeline had been adopted by the village council.
“It’s up to the council,” Hoskins said of what comes next. “My preference is not necessarily to delegate our decision-maker responsibility, but in the end any decision is going to be made by this council.”
In Kashima’s plan, community engagement is followed by the creation of a public- private partnership based on a “shared vision” for developing the property.
“What we’re talking about is a form of a public-private partnership where the village owns the property, is interested in not only having the property developed and returned to the tax rolls but could also be achieving other public policy goals yet to be determined,” Kashima said.
She said “anything from improving stormwater to providing open space” could fit into that public-private partnership, as could the relocation of village buildings, something she said has been done in other, similar projects. As part of the public-private partnership, Kashima also recommended the village solicit a request for qualifications from developers, not a request for proposals, a change she said is designed to search out a partner in the project who shares the same developmental goals.
Kashima also said that building a successful public-private partnership depends on trust and transparency between the community and village officials, and she stressed the importance of communicating how the development was progressing.
“I’d love to answer your questions on a recommended process, centered around some specific community engagement recommendations and just reassuring you that these types of developments don’t happen very often,” Kashima told the council. “There are lots of decisions to be made. That’s typical. It takes time. That’s typical.”
“I think there’s a lot of interest and excitement because the buildings have come down, so it seems like a really exciting moment to think about the how village wants to be strategic and smart in developing the site and achieving those larger public policy goals.”
Kashima’s recommended timeline include the establishment of a steering committee in December, stakeholder interviews and focus groups in January, a “large public meeting” to craft the property vision in February, a brief “vision plan” to be released in March and draft requests for qualifications created in April.
What the actual next steps entail remains in the hands of the village council.