A presentation on River Forest's proposed North Avenue Tax Increment Financing (TIF) District April 24 drew an audience of 40 residents, most of whom were concerned with the impact the proposed district would have on their homes.
The presentation at Williard School follows three similar presentations in February, one for businesses and two for residents.
Village Administrator Eric Palm followed his 30-minute Powerpoint presentation by taking questions that ranged from areas as broad as an overall vision for the North Avenue corridor to as specific as what could happen to the townhouse complex where an audience member lives.
The tone of the questions and comments that accompanied many of them was polite and respectful although some audience members appeared to be frustrated when Palm was unable to provide specifics regarding aspects of the proposed district such as when and where redevelopment would start.
Palm was supported by the presence of Village Trustees Carmella Corsini, Mike Gibbs, Patty Henek and Respicio Vasquez in the audience, along with three representatives from Kane McKenna and Associates, the village's financial consultant, and Village Attorney Greg Smith in the front row.
"Nothing was raised that surprised me," Palm said after the meeting, noting that the turnout was better than it was for the February presentations. "There were a lot of good questions and a lot of good feedback. This is why we have these meetings."
If approved, the North Avenue TIF District would stretch from Harlem Avenue to Thatcher Road, along the north border of the town and adjoining Elmwood Park. A 2010 Corridor Plan found that 35,000 cars travel down the proposed TIF route daily, making North Avenue the most heavily trafficked corridor in River Forest.
The plan, developed by the Chicago-based urban planning firm Houseal Lavigne Associates, noted that shallow lot depths, adjacent residential neighborhoods, existing built-out development pattern and access issues present a challenge to development of North Avenue.
According to the village, the goal of the TIF district would be to increase the village's property tax base and stabilize property taxes on homeowners.
In his presentation, Palm offered perspective by pointing to the success of the Lake Street TIF District the village used in the 1980s and 1990s and citing specific actions taken by River Forest in the Madison Street TIF District created in 2016.
"We want as much control as possible," he said.
He stressed that the village has no intent to use eminent domain to push the commercial corridor into the residential neighborhoods; River Forest does not have a developer waiting in the wings to undertake any new projects along North Avenue; and the proposed TIF District would offer opportunities to existing businesses as well as to new developments.
"There are no plans to take anybody's home or people's property," Palm said in response of one of the many questions and comments regarding the fate of the more than 75 existing homes in the proposed TIF district and their current residents.
"We have no intent to end affordable housing," he also said.
Other topics addressed during the hour-long question-and-answer session included resident input; the belief of village officials that they need more tools in their economic development toolbox to succeed; and an overall vision for North Avenue.
"I'm all ears," Palm said regarding resident input. "If residents have ideas we want to hear them."
He explained that residents would continue to have the same input on proposed zoning changes under the proposed TIF District. He also encouraged those at the presentation to remain involved with the process by attending village board meetings, the joint review board meeting on May 31 and the public hearing on July 9.
In response to a question regarding a lack of interest by developers in North Avenue, Palm said the village "needs to be competitive with our neighbors" regarding economic development, referring specifically to Chicago, Elmwood Park and Oak Park.
Regarding an overall vision, Palm pointed to the village's comprehensive plan but acknowledged that officials have yet to create a specific plan for North Avenue.
However, he was able to say, "The goal is not to become downtown Oak Park."
The TIF redevelopment project and plan, eligibility study and housing impact study can all be found online at www.vrf.us/northtif.
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