Smart economic development means not falling behind

Opinion

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Oak Park First, One View

Oak Parkers know that without smart planning and investment, a beautiful vintage home can quickly become outdated. The same is true of our village. When it comes to economic development, Oak Park First rejects the narrow do-nothing approach that others propose, because we believe doing nothing means falling behind.

The cost of maintaining excellence in our schools, libraries, parks, and village services, and of rehabbing our aging infrastructure requires responsible leadership from elected officials to expand the tax base through smart planning and investment.

We think smart economic development means:

Continue to improve our downtown area guided by citizen input and master plans based on sound urban planning principles. We have made great progress in downtown Oak Park, but we must not abandon it now. We support the Crandall-Arambula plan and believe that it provides the basis for an exciting new vision for downtown Oak Park. We think the most responsible way to finance the public investment needed to leverage the private investment anticipated in the plan is through the downtown TIF. The other alternatives are issuing bonds, which would lead to a property tax increase, or diverting money from the current village budget, which would result in cuts in village services.

We recognize that not every aspect of the master plan will be implemented. We pledge to be sensitive to issues of historic preservation, overall costs, and unanticipated issues that may arise. We pledge to protect existing businesses from the impact of redevelopment construction, because we want them to be a part of the new downtown Oak Park.

Revitalize our 11 neighborhood commercial districts and implement already approved development plans. We believe a renewed downtown and revitalized commercial districts are not mutually exclusive. Indeed, we think a renewed downtown will help revitalize other districts that are in fairly close proximity, via a spillover effect. Approved development plans already exist for several commercial districts, and less detailed character plans exist for the others. We want to begin implementation in the former, and complete the planning process in the latter. We want to explore developing public-private partnerships between the village and business- and property-owners in commercial districts.

Use of tax increment financing revenues for public improvements are needed to attract private investment, while continuing to seek creative ways to share the increased tax proceeds with our schools and other taxing bodies so they can benefit immediately from redevelopment. The innovative "carve-out" agreement between the village and Districts 97 and 200 releases downtown TIF money to the schools and other taxing bodies each year, so they can receive tax revenue that otherwise would go to TIF-related expenditures. In 2004, Districts 97 and 200 received approximately $1.2 million in new income from properties released from the downtown TIF.

Use of the streamlined planned development process, when appropriate, because it allows the village and its citizens to influence larger developments in ways that are not possible when developments are built according to underlying zoning restrictions.

We support the planned development process because it allows for community input, via public comment and citizen commissions, which helps ensure that the community benefits from larger new developments.

We also recognize that the planned development process should proceed in a fair and judicious manner, and should not be used as an opportunity to filibuster. We will support the Plan Commission's efforts to streamline the process so that it allows fair, but not unlimited, public comment.

Continue to develop policies and programs to retain and expand opportunities for small businesses in Oak Park. TIF Financing; Retail Rehab Grants; Projecting Sign Program; Planter Program; Retail Employee Program; Free Shuttle. Initiate the Retail Support Program; Business Association Development; Support retail analysis throughout business districts to evaluate need; Coordinate closer working relations between the three separate business districts in the downtown TIF.

Encourage architecturally interesting projects while being sensitive to preserving recognized historic buildings. Crandall-Arambula proposes some design review guidelines, which will be utilized as a starting point for these discussions. Initiate a new enabling ordinance to guarantee that citizen commissions are fully included in the guidelines.

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