Erika Bachner

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Below are candidate-submitted answers to a biographical survey the Wednesday Journal sent out to all trustee candidates running in this year's elections. Candidates full, unedited responses are printed. 

Age: 40

Previous elected experience: First time running for elected office

Previous community experience: River Forest Welcoming Village Resolution community leader, Roosevelt School IMPACT/Parent Enrichment Co-Chair, Willard School Executive Board member, Indivisible Co-Lead, Moms Demand Action Oak Park River Forest Leadership, PASO Board Member and Treasurer

Occupation: Healthcare Client Development, Investment Banking

Education: BA, DePaul University

1. Economic development has been a major focus for the village board in recent years. What should the village board's role be in promoting economic development? What are the best tools for doing so and what else can the village board to help recruit new businesses and maintain the ones already here?

The Village Board and its commissions are an integral part to the economic development in River Forest. In our community, we are lucky to have the opportunity to tap into the knowledge of our residents who sit on the Plan Commission, Economic Development Board and Development Review Board. By listening to their guidance, following the Comprehensive Plan guidelines on development and promoting the qualities that make River Forest desirable, we have a path to fostering growth of our businesses.

I have deep expertise in guiding corporate clients, like a Starbucks, through the process of seamless integration into communities similar to River Forest. For businesses that already call River Forest home, I want to make sure that we are providing them the opportunities they need to foster relationships with the community, listen to what challenges they have and work with them to stay and continue to contribute to the Village.

2.      Developments at Lake and Lathrop and Chicago and Harlem, while good for the village's economic and social bottom lines, garnered resident criticism for design, village funds used and more. Do you have an opinion on either of these developments? 

As a general rule, mixed use (restaurant, commercial and residential) is healthy for a thriving community and would benefit our residents and the Village. I believe economic development is truly successful only when the residents are in favor of and enthusiastic about that development and therefore will support once the project is complete.

Regarding the development at Lake and Lathrop, it has potential to be very beneficial to the community.  Some examples include tax revenue to lessen the burden on property owners and adding to the vibrance of the community with the additional business and inviting residents into the heart of River Forest.

It is important to be aware of some of the challenges of this project.  Given the specialized environmental challenges at that site we should acknowledge the willingness of the developer to take on the risk of the clean up as a positive making development possible. 

It would have been an improvement had the developer been more mindful of the community's thoughts and opinions on important topics such as design, e.g. would the building design compliment our beautiful village, what would be the effects of shadows on the neighboring area, and how would this development affect traffic and congestion.

I commend the current Village Board for conducting traffic studies and also the willingness to conduct additional traffic studies in order to remediate potential traffic issues.  As a result of the study, the board required 10 additional commercial parking spots, which is a sign that positive action will be taken as a result of due diligence.

As for senior living facility development at Chicago and Harlem, I believe this to be a great addition to our community. The addition of our first senior living facility provides the opportunity to our families to stay together in our community and age in place.  I have seen opportunities for collaboration between the developer and the community to be stronger, which would have led to the community feeling as though their concerns are heard and they are informed.

As a River Forest Village Board Trustee, I would advocate for closing the developer and resident communication gap through hosting sufficient "listen and learn" sessions as one example.

Economic growth and opportunities for our residents are critical for the success of our village.  I want to see our village grow and make sure that growth is smart for and considerate of our current and future residents.

3.      How would you describe communication in the village and what more, if anything, should the village be doing to engage residents?

From my experience and from listening to residents, I've learned that there are positive aspects to the communications between the village and residents and there are ways that it can be improved.

The positive:

The village has a fantastic website where it's easy to find pertinent information.  It has significantly improved over the last few years and that is a real benefit to the community.

The village has a robust digital outreach program that provides important alerts and messages to the community.

What can be improved:

 

The Board and Commission meetings and materials need to be more accessible to the public. While audio playback of the meetings is available a few days after the meetings, it's important for residents to have access to what is happening at meetings in real-time.

We should offer live streaming of Board and Commission meetings, whether that is through Facebook or another medium (such as cable access). When Board and Commission agendas are posted online, I would like to see these pushed out via email to people who sign up for Village information (e-newsletter).

In addition to regular Village meetings, I think providing more informal but scheduled opportunities for residents to meet with some Trustees is important and would benefit both parties. This could be accomplished by scheduling Trustee "office hours" 1-2x/month at which 2 Trustees are available to chat with residents. It's important for Trustees to be accessible to the community and for the Trustees to hear from residents who they don't typically interact with.

Notification to members of the community in relation to developments in their area need to be clearer.

4.      How important is it to ensure preservation of River Forest's historic homes? What can the village do to safeguard those homes from demolition? How does the question of property rights play into the equation?

Ensuring the preservation of historic River Forest homes is a priority for me.  They enhance the character of our village and provide a connection to our history. The village trustee's role in safeguarding these homes is based in the expertise of our Historic Preservation Commission and following their guidance on whether a historic home is a landmark property.  Education is vital in safeguarding historic homes. Making sure owners and potential homeowners of historic homes understand the importance of the house to the community and why rehab versus demolition is a better option whenever possible -- also providing historic homeowners with information on how to preserve their home.  Educating our community about historic homes significance and why is also important. The Historic Commission has done great work on education by producing an online video series on specific homes and a recent historic homes map that anyone can use to learn about our village and take an informal walking tour of the historic homes.

5.      The village approved a new tax increment financing (TIF) district along Madison Street last year. Do you support a TIF in the area and how would you describe the village's process for communicating the project to residents? 

The North Avenue and Madison Street TIFs (Tax Increment Financings) that have been approved are an exciting opportunity for economic growth and development in our village. I would like to utilize the TIFs to grow our small businesses and bring in new businesses like commercial, retail, and restaurants to enhance our community. I understand the value of listening to residents and taking their needs and suggestions into consideration too, especially given I live next to one of the impacted areas. I believe River Forest is stronger when we have a diverse housing base, including multi-unit housing, apartments, condos, and townhomes, and as such, believe that development and enhancement can happen without permanently displacing moderate income residents. Our village works when businesses and residential areas work to support each other.

I think the village board recognizes that the communication to residents who live in the TIF district or who live near proposed developments was flawed. Communications were sent by mail that developments were under consideration, in nondescript envelopes with noncommittal language. When I sat in board meetings, I would hear residents refer to these mailed communications as being mistaken for junk mail and therefore discarded. The board mandated changes to envelopes to better indicate they are coming from the village, and are discussing requiring content and language to be clear, and be informative with a well-defined call to action.

6.      What other issues involving village government are important to you, and how do you plan to advocate for them?

For me, the safety of residents and visitors is the most important role of a Village Board Trustee and I take that very seriously. There are two ways in particular I see it come to life - thru understanding crime and traffic in our village.

River Forest has been recognized for its high-caliber police department and officers and it is important to recognize this and make sure the police receive the best training possible. In addition, the Village Board must employ the best practices in treating all community members and visitors with dignity and respect.

In relation to traffic safety, the Village Board is reviewing adoption of recommendations to install nearly 70 new stop signs. I am in full support of having right of way signage at most intersections in River Forest, especially in residential areas to avoid accidents. We are a small community and by working together we can ensure everyone feels safe and supported.

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