By Anna Lothson
Oak Park's 22-year-old comprehensive plan is showing its age, but with the help of village staff, a private consulting firm, residents and the village board a new vision will begin to take shape.
The village's last guide was created in 1990 and, according to Village Planner Craig Failor, it's passed well beyond its useful life. Although the plan was anticipated to last 20 years, he said an ideal situation would call for reviewing the plan annually and doing updates every five years — two measures that have been overlooked.
Oak Park village officials took the first official step forward when the board hired Houseal Lavigne Associates to lead it through the process and design the formal blueprints. The process will take about 18 months to complete and will include a series of meetings for business leaders and community members to gather necessary input.
"It's a guiding document that the elected officials will use to determine how the community develops in the future," Failor said. "It provides the community expectations of how it develops and what the village can achieve those goals."
This includes tasks and goals like planning, street development, public safety, sustainability efforts and environmental and historic preservation, to name a few of the routes the discussions can go. The importance of the document, however, doesn't mean it designates specific details for how one project, neighborhood, or even how one certain street will be designed.
"It's a high-level guide," Failor said. "It doesn't get into specifics."
The comprehensive plan, designated as Envision Oak Park, enables the board to develop policies from "high-level documents" that would provide direction for staff.
The public meetings are designed to gather input so the consulting group can complete a plan that can be presented back the village board for final approval. The consulting group is being paid through a $200,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
The first public meeting was held Oct. 16, but turnout was low. Failor said it's important for residents to understand that their input is needed in the process. The Tuesday meeting dates start with business stakeholders in the morning, while the community meetings are held toward the evening.
The next community meeting will be held on Tuesday, Oct. 30 from 1 to 2:30 p.m. at the Oak Park Arms ballroom, 406 S. Oak Park Ave. and again that same day at Unity Temple, 875 Lake St., from 7 to 8:30 p.m. The village planning staff is also offering do-it-yourself workshop kits to allow residents, groups, organizations and institutions to facilitate their own workshops and discussions.
"We really can't do the plan without the community's input — it's for the community," Failor said. "It's really important for people to get involved."
Starting the week of Monday, Nov. 5, a series of eight neighborhood meetings will be held at various schools around Oak Park. For more information on specific locations, visit the projects website: www.envisionoakpark.com. The eight meetings, one for each of the attendance areas of the village's elementary schools, will allow for a more detailed discussion of neighborhood issues and concerns.
Failor said the goal is to have enough community input by the end of November to move forward so the village board and its commissions can discuss the next steps at the start of the new year.
After that, the plan wills start to take shape, though the consultant will periodically come back to the board and the public for updates.
"We want to check to make sure we're going down the right path," Failor said.