Eighteen months after the previous village board voted down a public participatory planning procedure, Oak Park trustees took preliminary steps Monday night to approve a similar measure, with final approval scheduled for February.
The procedure would apply to village-owned properties being considered for development, or projects where the village is a co-developer, such as the Whiteco project at Harlem Avenue and Ontario Street, and has as its core goal getting input from citizens?#34;especially those living close to the proposed development.
The process would require the village to publish its intent to develop a site, hold a "town hall" meeting and solicit public input, and then work that input, plus staff research on the site, into a Request for Proposals (RFP), essentially a bid process that developers can respond to.
Originally, a group of citizens created "Protocols for Citizen Participation in Development and Planning," which came before the board in March 2004 at the urging of trustees Robert Milstein and Galen Gockel.
The village received multiple letters supporting participatory planning, with Bill Planek, owner of Greenplan Management, being one of the few dissenters. Planek wrote in an e-mail that enacting a procedure would "halt development," ignore commissions and their citizen input, and "asks the village to disclose private-property-owner intentions.
"The board cannot allow the will of the community to be hijacked by an out-of-control political effort to circumvent the duly elected board and appointed commissions and derail the future of our fine village," Planek wrote.
At a study session Monday night, Trustee Ray Johnson warned his colleagues that the economic climate is always shifting, and a participatory planning procedure could hamstring Oak Park in attracting development.
Johnson said community input was important, but forcing every project to go through set steps would be "cumbersome," and the steps wouldn't always apply. For example, the village owns property on Madison Street, where a master plan study is underway. Asking citizens for the same input twice would be redundant, he said.
The process would create uncertainty, which would push developers to nearby villages, like Berwyn or Elmwood Park, he said.
"Before we do anything, I strongly suggest we understand what our neighbors are doing" about participatory planning in their communities, Johnson said.
Citizen input doesn't necessarily mean better developments, Johnson said. Most residents, by nature, are focused on their own interests, rather than on what would be best for the community.
But the rest of the board disagreed as they addressed Johnson's concerns.
"I see this as a way of minimizing that uncertainty," said President David Pope.
"What this does is exactly what communication is supposed to do, and that's reduce uncertainty," Milstein said.
Pope, Milstein and Gockel voted for the participatory planning issue in June 2004, losing to the then-board majority.
Trustees Greg Marsey and Geoff Baker spoke in support of participatory planning in '04, before they were trustees, and continued that support Monday night.
"The reason why [Whiteco] is still a parking lot is the way it was handled," Marsey said. "We're still haggling about that project." Marsey added that master plans, like the one on Madison, don't offer the specificity needed for participatory planning on a certain property.
"This seems like something that should have already been done," Baker said.
Trustee Martha Brock joined the majority in supporting the measure. Being a study session, no official votes were taken. A final decision is expected at the Feb. 6 board meeting.
Board reviews goals from mid-year
The village board reviewed the 55 goals it created and prioritized last July in the second part of a study session Monday night. A color-coded scorecard of the goals showed a majority had either been acted on, or had been intentionally put off until the future.
Broadly, the goals involve working more collaboratively with other taxing bodies, developing improvements for business districts, and addressing specific issues such as sustainable practices, congestion, and housing, all of which are on the board's calendar.
President David Pope suggested the board, in addressing the clean indoor air issue, adjust its focus from the question of whether the board would adopt an ordinance to what that ordinance should look like. That proposal did not have the support of the full board, however. The matter was scheduled to come before the board in late February, but will likely now have to be pushed back, at least until March.
The board added the goals of hiring a new village manager, creating housing that would be lost if the YMCA moves to Forest Park and closes its Single Resident Occupancy housing, and holding a follow-up on a previous protocols discussion.