Bold, but respectful, plan for downtown

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Opinion

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The widely recognized failure of the "Oak Park Mall" experiment may have first galvanized citizen distrust of village government's meddling in downtown development.

And in more recent years, anger has brewed around piece-meal development, the ever angst-ridden planning process and substantial TIF subsidies.

To address outstanding issues in true Oak Park fashion, the village hired consultants to create a master plan for downtown. And, also in true Oak Park fashion, some of the plan-demanding citizenry are already now enraged by the final plan.

We have joined in criticizing piece-meal development over recent years, and welcome continued debate over recommendations in what we acknowledge is an extremely bold plan for downtown.

A bold plan, however, is what Oak Park needs to solve outstanding major problems, notably continued economic growth, modernization of obsolete retail spaces, traffic congestion and a parking deficit.

Aside from having?#34;by far?#34;the best names of any consulting firm to march through Oak Park, Crandall and Arambula have truly presented village government with a new vision for downtown.

The plan calls for knocking down old buildings to create a new street and re-opening the Marion Street mall?#34;two gaping targets for controversy?#34;but improving traffic circulation in grid-locked downtown is critical. If these options will help, even if buildings are knocked down (a recommendation we don't think consultants made lightly), they are worth exploring.

Also key to this plan, says Village Manager Carl Swenson, is a decisive shift in what the village spends TIF dollars on?#34;a shift from underwriting development with TIF subsidies, to investing in public infrastructure that will further entice development.

If adopted, village officials say, it will also create what they call "certainty": Developers and citizens alike will have a document informing them what to expect.

For this to truly happen, however, the plan can't just sit of a shelf as a "guiding" document. The village board must take a formal vote calling the plan its policy, and make accompanying changes to the village's zoning code (as they should do with other shelf-sitting plans).

And this is by no means to say recommendations in the plan shouldn't be thoroughly debated. Village boards will eventually vote on every recommendation, be it re-opening the mall or adding more trees to Lake Street.

Largely by calling for the extension of the TIF (something made much more palatable by the carve out agreement), the plan requires citizens to put faith in village government to guide development downtown. Given some past performances, that may be hard to swallow. But it's the best option on the table to be sure a good plan moves forward, and we get the kind of development Oak Park deserves.

Better the election be contested

One place we do expect to see divergence of opinion yield a positive process is in the upcoming River Forest presidential election.

It's good to see long-time trustee Dale Rider take on Frank Paris. Contested elections always are valuable. Whether you love Paris, or hate him, he is a singular force in River Forest.

And robust debate will do a great service to this already enlivened community.

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