By Anna Lothson
The very name, comprehensive plan, implies breadth, depth and complexity. This was evident during the Oak Park village board meeting, Sept. 3, when trustees received an update about the progress.
As explained by John Houseal, principal and co-founder of Houseal Lavigne Associates, the consulting group Oak Park hired to head the project, a comprehensive plan is intended to be broad, overarching, and designed to provide a foundation for future decision-making. It has been described as a roadmap for the next 10-15 years but is not intended to dictate zoning regulations.
Community outreach has been completed, which consisted of four village-wide workshops, eight neighborhood workshops, three business workshops, six student workshops, a boards and commission workshop, and 19 do-it-yourself workshops.
Next on the list will be establishing a strategy and benchmarks before the group presents the final plan for review and adoption. But before that happens, the board must approve the vision.
That won't happen just yet as a majority agreed with a 6-1 vote to send discussion on the comprehensive plan to a special meeting before taking a formal vote to adopt the vision.
After Houseal gave a brief presentation, discussion from the board table began with Trustee Colette Lueck, who was both optimistic and skeptical about the concept.
Lueck pointed to the detailed language of the plan, which outlines specific projects or facilities named in the vision that may never be physically feasible. She pointed to an example in the draft plan: setting a goal for the village to purchase historic land/properties as needed in order to preserve its future.
"I don't want to put it out there that the board wants to do that," Lueck said. Her concern was about the implications of public accountability as it relates to specific projects.
Houseal acknowledged Lueck's point, and reminded the board that details are changeable and will need some cleaning up before the plan is formally adopted.
"You want to put the board in a position to accept the vision. We want to be careful. It comes down to the wording," he said, and suggested the next step involves "going through [the document] with a fine-toothed comb."
He assured trustees that it wasn't premature to accept the plan with the understanding that it's a work in progress. The consulting group intends to come back to the board with a revised vision after each section has been reviewed.
"We're not looking at word-smithing now," Houseal reiterated.
Despite this, Trustee Ray Johnson and the other board members were cautious about moving forward with a blueprint that appeared too broad to maintain focus.
Johnson stressed the need for a plan that's implementable before accepting it as the framework for Oak Park.
Trustees asked how this plan compares to others constructed by the consulting firm, and Houseal generated laughs among the board with his comments about the village's uniqueness. This level of detail is not typical of compressive plans, he said, noting that more may be required to meet Oak Park's demands, he said.
"The norm of what most do is irrelevant to Oak Park. ... Oak Park is unique. Most don't have plans like Oak Park," Houseal said.
Trustee Peter Barber said he liked the plan's overall concept but was concerned about "taking it on face value."
"We tend to take things and make them more complicated than they really are," Barber said. He followed up this comment by posing a series of questions to Houseal about the intent of the plan, asking if it should be a guidebook or a rulebook.
Houseal said the plan can serve both purposes, but if the board wants the plan to be seen as more of a rulebook, the consulting team would need more time to dive into details. He continued to stress the purpose of a compressive plan to the board.
"It helps inform decision-making. It's not regulatory," he said. "It's not a commitment to doing any one of these things."
Trustees Bob Tucker and Adam Salzman said they were OK accepting the plan as is with the understanding it is a work in progress. President Anan Abu-Taleb, however, criticized the lack of direction and asked for the consulting group to include a mission statement.
After the board determined the issue had been vetted enough for the evening, the conclusion from a majority was to bring the topic to a special meeting to dig deeper into the subject. All except Lueck agreed to this.
"I thought tonight was the time to discuss. I'm not so sure why we need to continue to another meeting," Lueck said. "It's a work in progress. It's not a final document. I don't know why we need more discussion."
Her colleagues disagreed, suggesting it wasn't necessary to accept the vision just yet. This left the vote to host a special meeting on the comprehensive plan at 6-1.