The River Forest Board of Trustees resolved at their Aug. 21 meeting to better communicate with residents about the planned North Avenue TIF district. 

Several elected officials, including Trustee Mike Gibbs, acknowledged the recent Madison Street TIF process was a learning experience and advocated community meetings, mailers and up-front communication to avoid any misperceptions or misunderstandings. The North Avenue TIF could be ready for final approval in February 2018, Village Administrator Eric Palm said. 

“I think it is important we get accurate information to them as quickly as possible because inaccurate information spreads like wildfire through those buildings, in the hallways, in the elevator, in the parking lots,” Gibbs said. “We fumbled with Madison Street. We could have done better.”

Palm said the village will be updating its TIF website and sending letters to all business owners and residents in the zone. An FAQ will be put together and several community meetings, including one at the end of September, are in the works. 

“One of the criticisms we got from the Madison process was that this was somewhat hoisted upon them and no one had a chance to be educated or react to it,” Palm said.

Required documents, including the Eligibility Study and Report, the Housing Impact Study, and the Redevelopment Plan and Project, should be presented at the beginning of October. 

He later added that the village wants to “engage with as many people as possible.”  

“I think that’s a great idea,” said Trustee Carmela Corsini. “If we learned our lessons from before, I think more communication, more involvement at the forefront of moving into the process is always better. I love the idea of separating business owners from residents; just kind of calming the fears is really what we are trying to do.”

“I think fundamentally we didn’t communicate well enough the last time,” Trustee Thomas Cargie said, “so I’m glad to see we are addressing that.”

At its June 12 meeting, the board 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. 

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 jump-start economic development that would not occur otherwise. 

TIFs are a common, although sometimes controversial, tool used by municipalities to spur economic development in specific parts of a community. 

As reported by Wednesday Journal, during the Madison Street TIF process, some residents in the proposed TIF zone advocated for specific language regarding eminent domain — the government’s prerogative to seize private land for public use. That TIF was eventually approved in December 2016, the first TIF in River Forest for several decades. 

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