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updated: 10/13/2012 5:43 PM

Algonquin commissions hear downtown plan ideas

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Preliminary recommendations from consultants developing a downtown plan for Algonquin include attracting more offices and businesses, creating a pedestrian-friendly atmosphere, and adding recreation opportunities along the Fox River to achieve a "vibrant, mixed-use district."

The downtown planning study is funded by a $90,000 federal grant and led by Land Vision Inc., which has offices in Chicago and St. Charles. The study aims to create a vision for downtown Algonquin after the Western Bypass of Route 31 at Route 62 is built. The Illinois Department of Transportation expects to complete the bypass by late next year.

The consultants presented their preliminary findings Thursday night at a joint meeting of four village commissions: planning and zoning, historic, public arts, and economic development.

The study kicked off earlier this year with a survey completed by 480 people, plus interviews with business owners. In July, about 65 residents gave their input during a public workshop.

Downtown's historic, small town feel is a defining element that residents want to preserve, Land Vision Principal Ron Lanz said. A self-guided history tour with building plaques would be a way to promote that, he suggested.

However, residents also want more activity and night life, Lanz said. "Take it up a couple of notches. It doesn't need to completely change the character," he said.

The goal is to create a "true local economy," with more people working within a five-minute drive from downtown that would in turn support local businesses, said Bridget Lane, principal at Business Districts Inc.

Lane suggested creating a downtown recruitment team to include downtown property owners and residents with real estate expertise to lure more downtown businesses and offices north of Algonquin Road.

Also, property owners could consolidate vacant or underdeveloped parcels into either residential or mixed use, the consultants said.

The use of downtown as a public space also needs to be encouraged, such as through youth sports leagues, service organizations and moms' clubs, Lane said. Kayak and canoe rentals, plus transient boat docks along Riverfront Park, also could enhance downtown, the consultants said.

Stacey Meekins, senior planner with Sam Schwartz Engineering, recommended building pedestrian islands on Algonquin Road, and enhancing crossings along Main Street with better markings and signage. Diagonal parking could be implemented, and sidewalks could be widened once the bypass is built and Main Street becomes the jurisdiction of Algonquin, she said.

Some businesses aren't ideal for downtown, such as the Shell gas station, which could be much smaller, and the TMG Self Storage and Mega Home Improvement, Lanz said.

"They don't have to go away tomorrow. But when they decide to go, it's an opportunity to flip that over to something that fits in better," he said.

Neither the consultants nor village officials want to use eminent domain in any way as part of this plan, Lanz said after the meeting.

A second public workshop will be held around the end of November. "Patience, flexibility and perseverance will be needed. These are long term plans," Lanz said.

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