Questions for Oak Park's new comprehensive plan

Opinion: Columns

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By John Murtagh

A comprehensive plan determines community goals and objectives for community (land use) development. In 1990 Oak Park's elected officials, staff, commission, and volunteer residents wrote the current comprehensive plan. Commonly known as Plan 90, it was a simple document. It had five themes: Housing, Transportation and Parking, Public Facilities and Services, Economic Development, and Citizen Participation. Each theme had a goal or goals with objectives. Simply put, a goal is a destination; an objective is the route to get there.

Plan 90 focused on economic development: "To expand the village's tax base in order to maintain a high level of services, programs, and facilities." That statement established the destination (goal), i.e. increased revenue. The route (objective) chosen to the destination was commercial development, more effective land use, increased private investment, tourism, new business, business retention, improved retail mix, etc.

The goal and objectives were good. The execution was poor. The village had a destination and a route but lacked a map. Planning became a process of big ideas funded by TIFs and endorsed by consultants. Projects were approved, modified, restudied, discussed endlessly, but mortar was not poured. The 2013 village board's prime goal is an echo of Plan 90, "To expand the village's tax base in order to maintain a high level of services, programs, and facilities." The village was back where it started, but this time the money to pour mortar was gone.

A new plan

At the June 18, 2012 village board meeting, it was announced that Houseal Lavigne Associates had been selected to prepare an update/revision (or as one board member said, a tweaking) to the comprehensive plan. It was also announced that a steering committee would be made up of eight staff members, two plan commission members, two board members, two residents, and business representatives. The board voted 7-0 on both resolutions.

Seventeen months later at the Nov. 3 board meeting, a resolution accepting the chapter structure and their components of the Draft Village of Oak Park Comprehensive Plan was presented to the village board by Houseal Lavigne Associates. The 12,000-word draft contained 11 chapters, 50 goals, and 240 objectives. The board voted 7-0 to continue the work though it was evident that there were reservations. Clearly, tweaking was dead.

The reservations were appropriate. At the meeting, it was revealed that the comprehensive plan is actually a HUD-sponsored and -funded consolidated plan, which includes five communities — Oak Park, Bellwood, Berwyn, Forest Park, and Maywood, or as I call them The Ike 5. They all received a portion of the HUD grant to create new consolidated plans — Oak Park received $200 thousand while the other four collaborators received $100 thousand each.

All five were expected to provide matching funds in staff hours. For Oak Park, it has been hundreds of staff hours.

According to HUD's process, The Ike 5 members will each prepare a new consolidated plan using the same plan formats. Ike 5 representatives will then collaborate in consolidating the plans into a regional plan that will be put into a HUD database, so they can make regional decisions.

One of the most important parts of any collaboration is ensuring that the benefits outweigh disadvantages. HUD's stated goals are to provide decent housing (for all), developing suitable living environments, and expanding economic opportunities, particularly for low- and moderate-income persons. That is an honorable goal, but how do the Oak Park non-federal government components fit in?

The land of "home rule" is taking a large, confusing step when it needs simplicity of vision. It is totally appropriate for residents to ask what Oak Park's return on investment will be. It is totally appropriate for residents to ask if the new plan will enhance property values and reduce taxes. It is totally appropriate for residents to ask how much of the village's independence in planning will be subsumed by the federal government.

Reader Comments

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John Butch Murtagh from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: November 26th, 2013 10:06 PM

Hi Mike - Appreciate your comments. My understanding is that the five municipalities will be using a HUD combined comprehensive plan template to create a consolidated plan.


Posted: November 26th, 2013 4:34 PM

John, you seem to be confusing a comprehensive plan with a HUD consolidated plan. In your piece, you keep referring to the Comp Plan as the "consolidated plan." There is a big difference between the two, and until you understand the nuances of each, you will not be able to properly critique the current Oak Park process and draft documents.

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