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[February 11, 2013]
Online community helps shape Rt. 59 future
Feb 11, 2013 (Chicago Tribune - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) -- For the last few months, hundreds of Plainfield residents have been debating, critiquing and even voting on plans for the development of a stretch of Illinois Route 59 near the village's downtown.
But the conversations and debates haven't taken place in board rooms or during village meetings.
Instead, the village has teamed with a Chicago-based design and planning firm to solicit ideas and feedback online about the future of the Route 59 corridor near downtown Plainfield, hoping that an online forum would draw more people into the conversation.
So far, the approach seems to be working, village and company officials say.
As of last week, about 250 people had posted comments about the plans on a website devoted to the project, dubbed "A Vision for Division Street." More than 800 people cast votes on various proposals before voting closed Feb. 1, according to the village and Civic ArtWorks, the company behind the project.
"There's been a lot of discussion about the future of this area because it has changed so dramatically," said Michael Garrigan, Plainfield's village planner. "It's really worked out amazingly well since we launched the site back in September." The project focuses on a stretch of Route 59, or Division Street, from West Main Street to just south of South Joliet Road.
That section of Route 59 is one of the busiest roads in Plainfield -- about 40,000 vehicles travel through the corridor every day, Garrigan said.
The road was widened to five lanes in 2011, improving the flow of traffic but giving it a much different feel than the quieter, narrower streets in the downtown area just to the west.
The road is lined with some tall trees and historic homes but also newer buildings, such as a Walgreens separated from the street by a parking lot.
The challenge facing the village is how to "balance economic development with the village's sense of place and character," Garrigan said.
"The question now is how do we try to recover some of that character " he said. "I think that's the real concern, and I think there's a focus on maintaining and not losing what we already have." The village turned to Civic ArtWorks to help gather input from residents and craft a long-term plan for the development of Route 59 because of the company's web-based approach at collecting feedback and ideas, Garrigan said.
Civic ArtWorks began by soliciting comments from residents about their goals and concerns for the area, said Zach Borders, the company's principal and director of planning and design.
The company then narrowed residents' concerns to four topics -- the configuration of parking for businesses, the layout of the intersection of Main Street and Route 59, potential uses for vacant lots and potential uses for a corner lot near the intersection of Route 59 and Joliet Road.
Descriptions and illustrations of suggested improvements for each of the four topics were posted online so people could vote for their preferences.
Civic ArtWorks will use the results of the voting to help draft final illustrations of plans for the corridor that will be presented at a village meeting next month, Borders said.
The plans won't be binding, but instead will serve as a template for potential future work along Route 59, Borders and Garrigan said.
Residents who shared their ideas online should see the results of their input in the final plans, Borders said.
"We have a significant portion of the community that once the plan comes out, it's almost as if their signatures are on it," he said.
More information about the project is available at civicartworks.com.
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