The recent proposal for a downtown on the current Village of Buffalo Grove municipal campus has brought attention to the issue of economic development in what has turned out to be an unusual campaign for village trustee.
Three sitting board members -- Lester Ottenheimer III, Andrew Stein and Beverly Sussman -- are running to retain their seats, while a write-in candidate who was challenged off the ballot by Stein, is trying to unseat one of them.
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The write-in, Jeffrey Battinus, has been vocal in his opposition to the downtown plan, which he says should be shelved.
But in general, he believes that the village should pursue a different course when it comes to economic development.
"We need to offer incentives that are competitive with other markets," he said. These incentives, he added, should also be offered in a manner "that is much more accessible." They should be "very specific incentives, so people know what they are getting, so they don't need to lobby the village on one-off proposals."
Battinus feels that the village should not only partner with the local Buffalo Grove Area Chamber of Commerce, but also the Illinois Chamber of Commerce.
As for the downtown proposal, "Right now it should be shelved. Take a step back, evaluate our business environment, create a more robust, business-friendly environment before we consider a $350 million investment in our infrastructure."
If the board decides the time is now to move forward with downtown development, it should go to referendum, considering that the village purchased the golf course where the project would be located through referendum.
Ottenheimer said it is time for the village to concentrate on important commercial corridors running along major roads.
"The time is right now to push very hard to fill the vacant dealerships on the Dundee corridor. And I think the timing is right now for the village to put a bigger push on developing the Milwaukee Avenue corridor."
He feels that the economic picture has brightened considerably and real estate is picking up, so now is the village's prime opportunity to jump-start those particular areas.
As for a referendum, Ottenheimer said he does not believe that from a technical standpoint that would be a question that would be appropriate for a referendum, based on state law.
"However, barring the state law, I would say, 'Yes. Why not?'"
Stein agreed with Ottenheimer that more of the economic development effort should be focused on major commercial corridors.
"We need to focus on the Dundee (Road) corridor," revitalizing the once thriving row of car dealerships.
"We (also) need to focus on the Milwaukee Avenue corridor," he added, saying he would like to see properties that are adjacent to the village and are still unincorporated voluntarily annex into Buffalo Grove. "Long term we still have to look at the rest of Milwaukee Avenue," including the Land and Lakes landfill area and Berenesa Plaza properties.
"There is so much that can be done right here and right now," he said.
As for a referendum on the downtown, he said, "The whole idea of having a referendum specifically on a downtown is a double-edged sword. If we talk about a downtown, but we're not talking about where it is right now, does it give an unfair disadvantage to somebody who might want to develop private property?"
However, he said, "If it is moving forward on the golf course, then we really need to exhaust all avenues of getting input from the residents, and if that includes holding a referendum to determine if public land should be converted to private use, then, yes, that I would support." Sussman said it is very important for the village to concentrate on economic growth.
With areas like the Dundee Road corridor waiting to be redeveloped, she suggested that the village needs to hire a specialist to handle economic development, even if it someone who is currently on staff but could add this to existing duties.
Sussman also believes it is a priority to make it not only easier for businesses to come to Buffalo Grove, but also to remain in the village.
"I think we have done many things to accomplish this goal," by making changes to the sign code, for example.
The village, she said, has also granted variations to businesses for special uses that have not been done before, including a recreational facility in an industrial area. It is currently considering relaxing parking regulations so an existing business can expand its storage capacity.
Concerning the downtown, she said, "Right now it's just an idea. It's a concept."
There are still some issues that need to be investigated, including flood plain issues, she said.
"I feel very strongly that we can't get ahead of ourselves. There are too many variables involved. This has to be looked at very carefully," while residents need to be informed.
She expressed skepticism about a referendum on the downtown, wondering whether the handful of Buffalo Grove residents likely to vote in a referendum should be making a decision for 40,000 residents.
"Our responsibility (as trustees) is to examine the whole issue and find out if it is worthwhile or not."