News of property and community developments defined River Forest the past year, with big plans starting in 2018 certain to dominate the headlines this coming year.
The story of the year came in September, when a majority of trustees approved the five-story, mixed-use development at the corner of Lake and Lathrop, after nearly a decade of discussion. Developers Keystone Ventures and Sedgwick Development plan parking and commercial space on the ground floor — which they hope a restaurant, retail shops and bank branch will fill — topped by four floors that would include 30 mostly three- and four-bedroom condos. During several public hearings this fall, residents commented on everything from the building’s height to its design.
A month later, trustees approved another controversial development, a four-story, 125-unit senior living home at the northwest of Chicago and Harlem avenues. Once built, the village expects it to be the third-largest taxpayer in River Forest, with an equalized assessed value (EAV) projected at $6.8 million.
New development also meant the end of an era for a historic yet dilapidated home in the 700 block of River Forest’s William Street, rumored to be designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, on a block the village has declared a local landmark. The block represents the first, and possibly only remaining, Prairie School development in the state. Mayborn Development demolished the home at 747 William St. in March and plans to build a new residential property on the site. Its destruction led some residents to create historic plaques for buildings in the village, in an effort to drive awareness of important structures.
To further promote development, trustees approved a new tax increment financing (TIF) along North Avenue in August, with the TIF boundaries stretching from Harlem to Thatcher.
Along North Avenue another debate brewed, with Keystone Montessori School filing a complaint against the village in March, alleging officials forced the nonprofit school to sign an agreement never to seek a property tax exemption in exchange for a zoning variance. But the Illinois Department of Revenue granted the school a property tax exemption in December — a ruling the village plans to appeal — and the debate over whether the 20-year-old agreement between Keystone and the village is valid will continue into the new year.
Next year, also expect to see continued discussion over the future of the old Civic Center Authority building. In April, the village and other taxing bodies signed an intergovernmental agreement to collaborate on rehabilitating, renovating or redeveloping the building to create a larger community space.
The village and River Forest District 90 schools found another way to collaborate this year, after a third-grader was struck by a car on his way to Lincoln Elementary School in December 2017. River Forest officials and D90 have spent the last year collaborating on a “Safe Routes to School” study to rethink the organization of crossing guards, traffic signals, and to identify the safest routes to school in the village. Officials presented a draft of the master plan in December. In the aftermath of the accident, which occurred while the student crossed Oak and Park Avenues, nearby residents volunteered as crossing guards at the intersection, including Steve Lefko, who has now thrown his name in the ring for the village board of trustees race.
Six challengers have come forward for the three open seats on the board this April. D90 also faces a competitive race for the board of education, where eight challengers have emerged for three open seats.
Local schools did not go unnoticed in 2018.
The majority of River Forest District 90 schools earned “exemplary,” the Illinois State Board of Education’s highest ranking in the annual school report card ranking in November, a feat that only 10 percent of schools in the state achieved.
The accolade recognizes student academic understanding, as well as their growth. Roosevelt students — along with learners at Trinity High School — looked beyond the village’s borders in March, when they marched out of school en masse to raise awareness about school shootings and honor the 17 victims fatally shot at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida.
Trinity students also learned a lesson about intolerance in November, when a swastika was found scratched on a bathroom stall. New President Corinne Lally Benedetto, who officially assumed the role in July, said the Nazi symbol was removed and “any expression of hate or intolerance is absolutely unacceptable in our Trinity community.”