Citing concerns ranging from crime to traffic to loitering at Madison Street gas stations, nearly 100 residents crowded the Longfellow Park rec center Sunday to give a host of village officials a roster of worries.
"My main concern is the safety of the neighborhood," said Arlene Pedraza, a resident of the area bounded by Madison, Jackson, Cuyler and Highland. "I don't want to be afraid to be out in my own neighborhood."
Pedraza, one of the organizers of the meeting, said nearly every household in the neighborhood was represented. The village government was also out in force with Village Manager Carl Swenson, Deputy Police Chief Anthony Ambrose and Trustee Martha Brock listening and promising thorough follow-up.
Recent criminal incidents, high traffic speeds, noise violations, garbage collection concerns at the CVS Pharmacy on Madison and Ridgeland as well as at several Cuyler Avenue apartment buildings were cited by neighbors. Economic development issues along Madison Street were also raised.
Residents asked village officials to investigate their concerns about the neighborhood and present possible solutions to the problems at another meeting in mid-July.
The police department's Ambrose encouraged residents to help prevent crime by keeping in touch with their neighbors and keeping garage doors closed. He also said the police department would set up a traffic mission to help prevent speeding on Ridgeland Avenue, Adams Street, Madison Street and Jackson Boulevard.
Ambrose said Monday that the Sunday meeting followed a smaller community meeting in May which addressed concerns over two street robberies in the neighborhoods. While no arrests have been made in those cases, he said, there has not been another robbery since May 11. "We've had more police in the area. We're always working together with citizens."
Many residents were concerned Sunday about excessive traffic and cars speeding through the area because of the children who are often on the streets on their way to school or playing in the parks.
"Traffic is a major concern and everyone will jump on the band wagon. But what we're trying to eliminate is any possible problem," said Mary Jane Lemaire, a resident of the area and one of the meeting's organizers, along with Pedraza and Cathy Blevins.
Lemaire, a lifelong resident of the neighborhood, complained about what she called the "decline of Madison Street" from Austin Boulevard to Ridgeland Avenue. "There is a big gap between the residents and village hall," she said. "We want businesses that bring prestige to the area," she said noting a preponderance of fast food eateries and beauty shops. Others at the meeting cited incidents of loitering at gas stations and trash from the CVS Pharmacy dumpsters spilling out into the streets.
Village officials presented plans to improve Madison Street. Literature distributed at the meeting reported on the current repaving of Madison Street and on new landscaping being installed on all 20 medians along the corridor from Austin Boulevard to Oak Park Avenue. The Madison Street Business Association is also currently developing a light pole banner program.
In regards to the current and future plans to improve Madison Street, Village Trustee Martha Brock encouraged residents to be more proactive about holding the village board accountable to follow through on their claims.
"I believe the most important thing is that you get involved in this process," she told residents at the meeting. "When you are engaged and involved in this process, that is how democracy works."
Brock encouraged residents to allow the new board to take some time to understand the issues they raised before they could determine the best way to address the communities' concerns.
"It is a new day in the village," she said.
Six village staff members and Trustee Martha Brock attended Sunday's meeting. Staff members were:
Village Manager Carl Swenson
Deputy Police Chief Anthony Ambrose
Supt. of Street Services Jim Maiworm
Environmental Health Supervisor Mike Charley
Business Services Division Manager Loretta Daly
Neighborhood Programs Manager Cedric Melton