The River Forest Village Board of Trustees, at its June 12 meeting, unanimously approved an amendment to a pair of ordinances, adding about 15 residential properties to a Tax Incremental Financing (TIF) district along the village’s northern border that began in early 2015.
The amendment sets the boundaries of the TIF district, which stretches from Thatcher Avenue along the North Avenue commercial corridor east to Harlem Avenue, and tees up the village’s outside consultant, Kane McKenna, to begin producing three state-mandated reports. Those reports should be ready in the next two to three months, Village Administrator Eric Palm said. The North Avenue TIF effort, which could be finalized by the end of 2017, comes about six months after trustees authorized a TIF on the village’s southern boundary along Madison Street. TIFs are a common, although sometimes controversial, tool used by municipalities to spur economic development in specific parts of a community.
“We don’t have that many opportunities for increasing the commercial tax base,” Palm said June 15. “… The hope is, through the TIF district, you can reinvest in those areas and create more value for all the taxpayers in town.”
The approved TIF zone — which can be reduced but not expanded — includes commercial properties abutting North Avenue but also several residential lots to the south. Those lots, Palm said, offer the village added flexibility in working out possible future developments. With shallow lots along North Avenue, Palm said, it’s helpful to have options if, for instance, a developer needs added parking or the village wants to create a berm to separate commercial and residential space, as it did near the CVS at Thatcher and North Avenue.
Palm was careful to note that the TIF agreement will not allow the village to use eminent domain to seize residential properties south of the TIF. That was a common worry among residents during the Madison Street TIF process.
“We’re trying to use our lessons we learned down there,” Palm said. “There was a concern that the village would go in and use eminent domain and start wiping out residential areas.”
Properties within the TIF can still be acquired and used for developments but that would have to occur with the consent of both parties in a private sale, Palm said, adding that one of the keys to reducing the property tax burden for River Foresters is to strengthen the village’s commercial base along business strips like North Avenue, Madison Street and Lake Street.
“How do you we relieve that burden? The only way you really relieve the burden on property taxes is by creating more value,” Palm said. “Where do you create the value? You create it in your commercial corridors.”
TIFs freeze property assessments at current levels within their boundaries and then earmark any new property tax revenue accrued over the life of the TIF, usually 23 years, for projects within the district such as new construction, streetscaping, or repairing infrastructure. The idea is to jumpstart economic development that would not occur otherwise.
Meanwhile, the Promenade, a new residential development on the old Hines Lumber site on Madison Street, is moving forward. Sales for the 29 new units began in June. Although a 2010 Corridor Study suggested a possible commercial development for the site, the village board opted for a different option and approved a residential project in 2015.
But, Palm said, the long-vacant property had some quirks. The lot, for instance, narrows as its approaches Madison Street, reducing its sidewalk-facing exposure, and is also located across Madison Street from a cemetery.
“I don’t think [residential] was the village’s first choice,” Palm said, “but we talked to a lot of developers and talked to a lot of people and they said it’s just not a great site for retail.”
Palm said it’s likely the TIF, without any major hiccups during the next steps, will be finalized by late 2017 or early 2018.