Written by Sharon L. Filkins
It was standing room only when nearly 70 people crowded into the Village Hall Board Room in Worth Oct. 21, to participate in an open house regarding future plans to enhance the area surrounding the Worth Metra station.
Presented by the village’s Economic Development Commission, chaired by Trustee Collen McElroy, in conjunction with the Chicago-based Farr Associates Consulting Group. The event was the first public workshop on the proposed project. McElroy said committee work has been underway in recent months with a number of commission meetings and interviews with local business and property owners to select members for upcoming Focus Groups.
Primarily, the open house was designed to present the concept of a Transit Oriented Development (TOD) project to residents while also getting feedback on what they envisioned for the future of Worth.
By definition, TOD projects are designed to find ways to improve rider access to public transportation, while attracting residential and commercial development to the area. Increased walkability in the area is the goal, which could draw restaurants and shops appealing to commuters.
Doug Farr, president and founding principal of Farr Associates, said that TOD plans are always about whether change is needed, or wanted. The evening’s program was geared to examine the feasibility of the project and whether or not Worth residents were in favor of it.
McElroy thanked the attendees for their show of support by attending the meeting. “We want to overcome the “It’s only Worth, what do you expect?” mentality. By being here, you are demonstrating that you are interested in the future of Worth,” she said.
The planned TOD project is a result of a $75,000 Regional Transportation Agency grant awarded to the village earlier this year. Funding for the $75,000 plan is made up of $40,000 in federal funds from the United Work Program, $20,000 from the RTA’s Community Planning program and $15,000 from the village.
In spite of an initial technological glitch at the beginning of the meeting, which delayed the presentation of a PowerPoint program, Farr kept the energy high in interactive exercises, which kept the crowded room attentive.
“Worth is a very special place. This kind of turnout is very unusual. It clearly indicates that you, the residents, care about this community,” Farr said. He added that in his many years of experience in working with municipalities, he had never seen such a large turnout for a program of this type.
“We are here tonight to get a sense of what you want for Worth and to help you see the full potential of the core area, including the Metra station, the Village Hall and the police and fire stations. We want to define priority areas for improvement.”
He sparked a discussion when he introduced the SWOT exercise, which is comprised of listing the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats of the community.
Interestingly, responses indicated 21 strengths, 15 weaknesses, eight opportunities and seven threats, as perceived by the audience. Listed among the strengths were: location, walkability, diversity, water tower recognition, the Water’s Edge Golf Club, schools, Krapil’s Restaurant and the Chieftain Pub.
Perceived weaknesses included: no town identity, divided by expressways, lack of commercial development, no destination points, ageing population, lack of good signage to identify businesses and no conformity of style for commercial development.
Some opportunities listed were: better coordination between schools and park districts to improve use of facilities and schedules, more communication between elected officials and civic organizations and beautification of village entryways.
Numbered among the threats to development in the community were: lack of major stores, competition from surrounding communities, lack of restaurants, Cook County property taxes and fear of change.
After a polling of the attendees, taken electronically by tabulation devices on which the audience could push buttons to register their responses, it seemed that the majority of people in the room did not want multi-family apartment buildings taller than three stories near the Metra station. The polling question had presented choices of three, four, five, or six stories for proposed multi-family buildings.
The polling indicated that while 90 percent of the audience lived in Worth, 59 percent used the Metra station and 32 percent had never used it.
Other polling questions revealed that there is little new housing construction in Worth, and that the key to improvement would be redevelopment.
Eighty percent of the group voted “No” to single family development in the core area, with a majority voting “Yes” for increased commercial development. On the matter of improvements to the municipal buildings in the core area, 41 percent voted “Yes” and 53 percent voted “No.”
Residents speaking up included Rick Landry, who responded to the complaint about lack of cooperation between the school district and the park district.
“It seems that the two groups could work something out to utilize the wonderful park facilities we have in Worth so that school activities could be held in the parks, or after-school activities could be coordinated,” said Landry. “If we can see the future differently, we can move ahead.”
Peggy Healy, who moved to Worth 11 years ago because of the small-town feeling of the community, said she was happy to be included in this discussion. “It was good to hear realistic options and information.”
David Daujatas said, “It was exciting to be here tonight. We heard a lot of good information and it was great to see the community coming together. It will be great to bring in some new blood.”
In a later conversation, McElroy said she was impressed with the turnout and the support of the community.
“I feel that the residents expressed very good points to consider in the future planning for the village. I think this long-range plan will open the dialog to the potential of Worth. It is important that the residents know that the board is listening.”
Farr also said he sensed hesitancy in the response of the attendees. “The turnout was excellent and people were truly engaged in the discussion and excited. However, it was unclear as to whether the proposed changes were feasible or if they were truly wanted.”
He added that the consensus of the room seemed to be that in order to attract young families to the area there needed to be changes made. “However, the polling we did indicated that the residents want more of what they have, in regard to the type of housing proposed at the Metra station.”
Farr said the meetings will continue with the Economic Development Commission and the planned focus groups. The next presentation scheduled for the public will be in March, 2016.