RIVERSIDE — Karl Krutsch slowly bent down and lifted his daughter up to eye level. She leaned forward in his arms and added a bright green dot to a page on the wall of a conference room at Riverside Township Hall March 19.
Green dots colored the pages hung around the room that gave residents an opportunity to see how the village of Riverside might change in the next 10 years, as called for in a new plan for the Village’s Central Business District. Residents were given the dots to signal their support of a particular item in the plan, ranging from the development of walkways along the Des Plaines River to more restaurants occupying storefronts.
Krutsch said his wife grew up in Riverside — a big reason why the couple decided to move back to town a little over two years ago. They love the village: it’s quaint, quiet and full of history. But, like many Riverside residents, they would like more.
“There’s not much to dislike,” Krutsch said about Riverside. “More restaurants would be nice and some more businesses. I like the plan for the river too.”
In April, Riverside’s Board of Trustees will meet to discuss the plan in detail — what they want to do now and what will remain a longer range goal for the community. The village last adopted a plan for the village in 2006, but by most accounts, the plan was too ambitious.
“With this plan, we’ve tried to have it provide a better match with the community,” said Nora Beck, associate planner at the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP). “We’ve tried to make it obtainable.”
CMAP works with village’s across Chicago’s suburbs to provide land use and transportation planning assistance. Their plan for Riverside calls for attracting new retail and restaurant businesses to the village’s center, provides ideas for the Village to better utilize it’s access to the Des Plaines River and adds bicycle routes through the village that will connect it to regional trails.
Many of the ideas come from residents, or are at least based on what residents said they wanted in a contemporary downtown.
“Overall, residents see the need to make these kinds of investments,” Beck said. “It’s clear from the [public] meetings that people love this place. But many recall how it used to be used, and they want to return to a more downtown feel.”
In its research, CMAP found that many residents were going outside the village to shop, dine and find entertainment. Riverside would like to reverse that, keeping more residents in town with plenty of options to keep the busy, and also attract visitors from other nearby communities.
In response to concerns about parking, for example, the plan calls for shared use of available parking in addition to a newly created lot near the Riverside Metra stop. Banks and churches could provide additional parking during their off hours, Beck said, rather than let that space go unused in the evenings.
Peter Scalera, Riverside’s village manager, said he’s optimistic about this new plan for downtown Riverside. The previous plan, he said, sought to do too much. It was difficult for the village to decide where to start.
“This new plan has a number of proposals that we can start right away and it lays it out in a way that helps [the village board] plan,” Scalera said.
Scalera has been working for the village as its manager for about three now, he said. His position puts him into contact with the board and residents on a regular basis, and from his first day, he said it was clear both desired more from their downtown.
“It’s a beautiful downtown, but it’s also not very inviting,” Scalera said.
Many of the occupied storefronts, he said, are rented by non-retail businesses. Scalera said residents are looking for a downtown with a consistant feel and more retail options. Creating such an environment requires working on making the downtown more attractive to boutiques and restaurants. Scalera said business districts in downtown La Grange, Geneva and St. Charles are good examples.
To do this, the village has plans to better market their vacant storefronts and streamline their development review process. Other options include creating displays of public art in currently empty spaces to beautify downtown Riverside.
But, Scalera said, Riverside has something that nearby communities do not — access to the river.
“It’s an asset not many other communities have,” Scalera said. “[CMAP] will help the village find funding for projects and we’ll try and make it happen.”
The village imagines attracting outsiders to Riverside with its position on regional bike trails and the draw of a vibrant riverwalk. Someone from La Grange, for example, might come to downtown Riverside for lunch by following the trails and then stay to shop, or take a stroll along the river.
CMAP’s plan also calls for creating a new recreation and community center on the former site of the village’s public works building, situated on a prime location along the river. The plan also suggests adding a canoe and kayak livery to the waterfront. With the notching of Hofmann Dam, the river is now navigateable north, opening up miles of waterways for users to enjoy. The plan also suggests adding more connections to Swan Park and making the park more user friendly. Green initiatives, like shoreline habitat restoration, are also suggested.
Residents who attended the open house to show off the plan’s proposals were largely supportive and encouraged by its suggestions, they said.
“I think people are very interested in the plan,” said longtime resident Martha Heine.
Heine attended the open house with friend Diane Ceragiloi and both are active members of Riverside’s community.
“It’s about finding a good match between the history of the village and providing more for residents to do,” Ceragioli said.
Both were most interested in plans that called for the development of activities on the river and at Swan Park.
“I think we can do it,” Heinie said.
Resident Don Shatny, who grew up in Riverside, said he believed attracting restaurants would be tough.
“I’d like to see a nice Italian place with good pizza as much as anyone else,” Shatny said. “But nobody can afford this stuff.”
Ben Sells, Riverside’s uncontested candidate for village president, said he’s
looking toward the future with the plan and is excited to get started.
“We’re all very impressed,” Sells said. “It’s based in reality.”
Sells said he was encouraged by the plan’s call for more cultural events in Riverside.
“It would be so easy for visitors to ride the train down,” he said.
Sells said the village can also attract more visitors by adding better signage directing traffic to the downtown and riverfront along First Avenue and along Harlem Avenue.
Likewise, Doug Pollock, a trustee candidate, said its a great start to a new Riverside.
“I’ve heard [residents] talking about the need for a better downtown for years,” he said. “This is what we need and we’re excited by it.”