A year like no other, like everywhere else

River Forest Year in Review

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By Maria Maxham

Staff Reporter

River Forest, like the rest of the world, was hit hard by COVID-19 in 2020. Schools closed (and then reopened), businesses shut down (and also reopened), and residents were urged to stay home — except when supporting the schools and businesses.

Early on, the village, River Forest Township, and Township Senior Services stepped up to ensure the health and safety of older adult residents, partnering to make sure seniors in town had the services they needed. The COVID-19 Senior Citizen Response Program (available at 708-613-1642) organizes food and transportation and has a care management team.

COVID-19 was at the forefront of everyone's minds, but race relations were a close second in River Forest this year, with the death of George Floyd opening people's eyes to systemic racism across the United States. Closer to home, though, resident and prominent developer Rob Palley allegedly assaulted, verbally and physically, a Black woman in the parking lot of River Forest's Jewel on Lake Street. The story swept through the village, people angered and sad to learn that here, among their own, such things can happen.

In response, and in a unique agreement, the towns of River Forest and Maywood united, bound by the Twin Cities Covenant, which will "guide the overarching spirit of our distinct towns to think as one and to interact in more collaborative ways." The "ways" include taking a "regional perspective on commercial and residential investment/development."

That covenant is the external component of a two-part plan River Forest has put into motion to address equity in the village, which also includes a partnership with Dominican University using a "Truth, Racial Healing and Transformation" framework.

The internal component of taking on the issue of equity, however, hasn't been as simple. An internal group of 10 to 12 community and village staff members is being formed, but choosing them has been a matter of debate among trustees.

Once established, that internal advisory group will provide guidance, feedback and advice to the village board. The village administrator will create an action plan, that focuses efforts on all village departments, and develop proper data points to measure equality and inclusion. The village may use a consultant with experience in the area of equity to assist in the formation and activities of the group.

Development

After many meetings dating back to 2016, the River Forest Village Board unanimously voted down the Development Review Board's recommendation to approve the Bonnie Brae Place townhome project. Trustees cited concerns about density, parking and traffic in their comments. Adduci said, "None of us is afraid of development, but we want the right one," she said. "I see everything wrong with this. The solution is to build within our zoning code."

The mixed-use condominium development at Lake and Lathrop, meanwhile, is slowly progressing, with environmental remediation being conducted and ComEd wires moved before actual construction begins. 

In June, the village approved an affordable housing plan, though some residents and trustees, including Patty Henek, were frustrated with the outcome. Some feel that the plan isn't strong enough and doesn't accurately reflect the current environment of the village. Henek, along with trustees Katie Brennan and Erika Bachner voted against the plan. 

Village life

The Ad Hoc Deer Management Committee, formed to address the problem of the increasing deer population in the village, met regularly through the year, discussing, in sometimes heated debates, how to word the survey that was sent out to residents. With survey results in hand, the committee is now analyzing the data and researching options.

Another surprisingly hot topic in town this year was platform tennis, with park district board members, platform tennis club members, and residents expressing their feelings about a feasibility study to add more platform tennis courts and whether a hut should be conducted. Those in favor say the money would come from an account funded through memberships. Those opposed don't want public land being used for a private sport. The feasibility study is going forward.

Leadership

Village President Cathy Adduci announced her intention to run for a third term in the April 2021 election. Trustee Patty Henek will oppose her in next April's election to become village president.

Village Administrator Eric Palm announced his departure. He will be taking a job in Hoffman Estates in early February. 

Schools

After some back and forth between in-person and remote learning, responding to COVID-19 levels and based on information from local health authorities, elementary school District 90 in River Forest opened again on Monday, Dec. 14, with in-person instruction for students through grade four returning to the classroom, and middle school students beginning a phased-in approach. The schools are currently on winter break, and after break, full remote instruction will be held until Jan. 15 "to minimize the risk of post-holiday COVID transmission." The plan is to resume the blended in-person instruction on Jan. 19.

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