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By Anna Lothson
Comprehensive: complete, inclusive, broad or widespread. No matter how you define it, designing a comprehensive plan can't happen without community input.
That's the message village officials have been trying to push for months. Dozens of community meetings have been held and data has been collected, but leaders want more.
That's why the Envision Oak Park Workshop next Wednesday, 7:30-9 p.m. at the 19th Century Charitable Association, 178 Forest Ave., will try to spark discussions about the future of the village.
"If you care about shopping in Oak Park; if you care about parking in Oak Park; if you care about the height of buildings in Oak Park; if you care about the quality of recreation opportunities — all the issues that we know people care about — if you care about your neighborhood; if you care about safety … this is the meeting for you," Trustee Colette Lueck said. "Everybody cares about one of those things."
And the list goes on.
Village President David Pope said there's been a "fair amount" of input through community meetings. That information has been augmented with do-it-yourself kits that people have brought to other gatherings. But like all decisions in a community, Pope said, the Comprehensive Plan is too important not to get everyone, who wants a say, involved.
"We are a community that is not short on opinions," he said. "Not everybody has the time to serve on a board or commission. But everybody can show up on Feb. 20 and make sure their opinions are heard about where we ought to be going as a community."
Otherwise, there's the potential that people will later find themselves playing catch-up when a major community decision is made. Pope said the meeting gives people a chance to voice their thoughts when it counts most.
"Collectively, we are far better able to articulate a really compelling vision for the community, the more folks we get in the room," he continued. "There is so much talent here. We can get so much more perspective."
Although the plan is in its conceptual stage, Pope said it's about to move into the next phase, the actual planning, which could be done as soon as the end of the year. The categories the plan addresses include: land use and building environment; arts and culture; parks, open space and environmental features; neighborhoods, housing and diversity; education; community health and safety; transportation and infrastructure; community life and engagement; economic health and vitality; sustainability; and governmental access.
Plan Commission Chair Linda Bolte said the plan is global enough so it doesn't set pre-determined zoning rules that would make it impossible to build outside a specific set of guidelines. Making it too precise would make it overly complicated, she said.
Bolte explained that from the categories mentioned above, the next round of discussions will include how the village defines its core values and how projects should be prioritized.
Next Wednesday's meeting will allow people to actively participate with keypad polling devices that will bring up instant results so attendees are able to see where the group stands on certain issues. The crowds will then be broken up into working groups so residents have the chance to focus on areas they have the most interest in. For more information about the Comprehensive Plan process, visit envisionoakpark.com.
Lueck thinks the reason some haven't been engaged is that the concept of a Comprehensive Plan can seem foreign. Often, people view it as a plan that sits on a shelf and never comes to fruition. But the new vision is not like the 1990 version the village currently relies on.
"The current plan is more of a conceptual plan. I love the current plan. I think it's stood the test of time [but] the [new] plan is more of an action-oriented plan," Lueck said.
There hasn't been a lack of effort on the village's part to get the community involved as four village-wide workshops, three business workshops, eight neighborhood workshops and six student workshops have been held since last fall. Still, many have not gotten involved and Lueck thinks she understands why.
"If you ask someone what is the purpose of the Comprehensive Plan, I'm not sure everyone could answer that," she said. "I think it feels abstract and it doesn't feel like it impacts you day-to-day necessarily. To me, it's the document that guides the future of Oak Park. It creates the priorities, which then leads to where you're going to spend money to support those priorities and make certain things happen. I see it as an incredibly crucial document."