River Forest’s Madison Street Quandary

RF Madison StreetWhile Oak Parkers debate potential Madison Street TIF-funded projects (“the bend” and “road diet”), River Forest residents are struggling with their own slice of Madison and questioning the fundamental role of tax increment financing in local economic development.

Should there be a TIF? Should the TIF encompass just properties fronting Madison from Lathrop to Thatcher or should it include up to three additional residential lots north of the Madison Street addresses?  Finally, does inclusion of any property within TIF boundaries make it easier for Village government to use existing powers of eminent domain to acquire those properties in the interest of larger development projects?

Full disclosure – the Chamber of Commerce holds an ex-officio non-voting seat on the River Forest Economic Development Commission.  However, we do not take positions or advocate.  Our role is to further the discussion and present general information relevant to the local economy, which includes both large and small business as well as resident and consumer interests.

Experience suggests that the Village needs a TIF along Madison to spur serious development.  River Forest is at a competitive disadvantage without one, if only because TIFs are so common in Illinois.  The community issue, then, is what type of development makes sense along a strip that abuts a neighborhood.  The Redevelopment Plan, the Corridor Plan and the Comprehensive Plan (available at www.vrf.us) are critical documents in understanding the type of development under consideration.

For now, River Forest does not have a developer waiting in the wings with a project plan for the north side of Madison Street. The TIF area was drawn broadly to allow for the possibility of various projects.  The larger area also gives the Village flexibility to extend TIF-financed improvements into the neighborhood. Yet, the boundaries imply, perhaps prematurely, that residential sites are targeted for redevelopment.  The residents are right to question and get involved.

Eminent domain exists today regardless of the TIF.  The bigger question asks what kind of development fits with the neighborhood and makes sense economically along Madison.  Does a TIF improve or compromise the neighbors’ position vis-à-vis development that seems imminent?  Good question.

This post also appears on the Chamber’s “Geeting Down to Business” blog on www.oakpark.com




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