Intense lobbying has begun as supporters and detractors of the Roosevelt Middle School exterior renovation project gear up for what could be contentious public hearings, starting Thursday before a River Forest village commission. 

Another hearing will take place next month, if needed. 

Both sides are circulating documents, either in the form of petitions or email, asking residents to support their respective positions before the Development Review Board. 

This is the first time the DRB will conduct hearings on the project, which has been in the works for three years. At least three iterations have been drafted, changed or shelved, with parking being the key issue in each.

The current application before the DRB was approved in December 2013 and then shelved this past March. The plan calls for 36 spaces — 20 in the north lot, 11 short-term spots in a reconfigured lot by the auditorium, and five in Circle Drive. Playground and recess space also would be expanded and longstanding storm-water issues would be addressed.

Laying the groundwork for presenting their case, opponents have circulated a petition, asking that more onsite parking be offered than is currently in the plan. While they favor addressing storm-water issues, opponents like Patty Henek and Kristen Coe note that the proposal does not work for the community at large, especially for the library, and they want the number of spaces in the north lot to remain at 36. The petition will be given to the DRB Thursday. Wednesday Journal’s efforts to get a copy have been unsuccessful. 

Also offering its own response is the library. During an unusual session late last week solely devoted to discussing the DRB meeting, library officials voted to refute the school district’s case by requesting the status of an interested party. As a party with a stake in the outcome, the library could offer up its own testimony and question District 90 officials. 

Proponents, meanwhile, have combined email lists, sending their friends a letter detailing how the project would address longstanding concerns over pedestrian safety in the north lot. This proposal would provide recess space and expand the playground, allowing for recess throughout the school year.  

Recurring flooding and ongoing seepage in the basement will be addressed as well. Backers of the plan, including Suzanne Morrison, Gerri Humbert, Anna Schaider, Becca Kaufman, Keary Cragan, Mary Vanker and Markus Sleuwen, are asking residents to add their names to a letter to the village, write one of their own or make a comment during the hearing.

Also presenting letters of support will be the PTOs of Roosevelt, Lincoln and Willard schools, as well as Green4Good, the district’s environmental group.

Intense lobbying over a project is not new in River Forest, said Frank Martin, chairman of the DRB. Resident participation was strong when CVS asked to build a pharmacy at North and Thatcher avenues, when Concordia University proposed installing lights on their track, and when the park district sought to install lights at Keystone Park. Most recently, pressure from residents may have led EMSL to withdraw its plans to locate an industrial testing lab on Madison Street.

The idea of a petition isn’t unique either, Martin said. Regardless, individuals and groups will have the opportunity to speak during the hearing.

“We make an announcement before every DRB that the meeting ends at 10 p.m. If there are individuals or groups that want to make a presentation, and haven’t, they’ll have the opportunity to do so at the next hearing. Everyone who wants to address the DRB will be able to do so,” Martin said.

Gaining village approval — first before the Development Review Board and then from trustees — is necessary because D90 is seeking an amendment to a planned development permit granted in 1997 on renovations to the school’s gymnasium.

If you go

  • The first hearing is 7:30 p.m., Thursday Nov. 20 at Willard School, 1250 Ashland Ave. 
  • A second hearing, if needed, is set for 7:30 p.m., Thursday Dec. 4, also at Willard.  

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