Homewood village green plan draws residents’ ire
By Ginger Brashinger Correspondent March 5, 2014 5:48PM
Homewood resident Rob Nichols objects to the partial closure of the street on Martin Avenue at a Monday meeting in Homewood. | Ginger Brashinger~For Sun-Times Media
Updated: April 7, 2014 12:53PM
A plan to close off a portion of Homewood’s downtown to make way for a village green drew criticism this week from a group of residents over the level of community input in the project and the plan to pay for it.
More than 30 residents packed the village hall Monday night for a meeting on the planned redesign of a portion of Martin Avenue. The meeting was called after final design plans stalled at a village board meeting last month.
Residents criticized the village’s plan to use $500,000 in special taxing district funds to pay for the project and also complained about the partial closure of Martin Avenue and what they believe was a lack of community input.
The plan now calls for closing Martin Avenue north of Ridge Road for about 100 feet, at which point the street would open to two-way traffic. The former section of the street would become open space and could include an ice rink, fire pit, special lighting, bistro tables and seasonal planters and benches, among other amenities. The design also includes a roundabout.
Some residents Monday said there had been insufficient communication about the project from its November inception to its January approval and that the project was moving too quickly.
Paula Wallrich, the village’s community services director, gave information about the project and explained how it would be financed before opening the meeting to public comment.
Several residents objected to closing the segment of Martin Avenue. Rob Nichols, a 37-year Homewood resident, said he found research that shows many similar street closures have failed elsewhere because “removing street traffic makes a less-inviting environment, cuts off flow of traffic to businesses and actually has often harmed business.”
Nichols used Frankfort’s downtown street closings during special events as an example of an alternative to closing that section of Martin Avenue.
But Wallrich said such occasional street closings are necessary in Frankfort because its downtown is only two blocks long and a permanent closure wouldn’t be feasible. She said cutting off part of Martin Avenue “isn’t (affecting) one of the critical paths” in Homewood’s downtown.
Wallrich also said that leaving the street open to two-way traffic would prevent the “pedestrian safe haven” that could be used for a children’s play area, seating or other amenities as part of the village green.
Other residents had concerns about the project’s cost. Terri Riley said she understood how the project would be financed but said, “what’s the cost of maintaining it long term?”
“If we did nothing, we would still have to maintain the street,” Wallrich said. “My feeling (after speaking with department heads) is that the cost is inconsequential.”