Imagine waving a magic wand and choosing where a new park or bridge should be built in the city of Elgin.
Participants in the "Envision Elgin" planning meeting Thursday night were asked to do just that, and they came up with a smorgasbord of ideas for improvements in several categories: residential and commercial areas, transportation, recreation, employment and life in general in Elgin.
"You have the chance to dream big," said John Houseal, principal of Chicago-based Houseal Lavigne Associates, which hosted the meeting attended by 28 people at The Centre of Elgin.
Participants brainstormed in small groups and reported their conclusions at the end of the evening.
Among their ideas:
• A park on what is now wetlands by the College Park subdivision just west of Elgin Community College.
• Smaller housing for seniors near the old Sherman Hospital just north of downtown.
• A new North End bridge extending off Big Timber Road over the Fox River.
• A centralized, "one-stop shop" website for all things Elgin.
• Design standards for homes built after demolishing existing ones, to preserve neighborhoods' character.
• Traffic circles to slow down traffic.
• A community facility on the northwest side.
• Green space along the Fox River by the Gail Borden Public Library for a nature center or large-scale event similar to Ravinia Festival.
• A west-side gateway entrance to Elgin, along with better bike path connections to the west side.
• Incentives for green businesses and homeowners who make green improvements to their homes.
• More reaching out to and interaction with Spanish-speaking residents of the city.
Participants said they enjoyed the process.
"I didn't know it was going to be so much work," property owner Jerri McCue joked. "I thought we were just going to listen."
The process is part of the creation of the city's new comprehensive plan, which will serve to guide the city's land use and development decisions, including zoning ordinances and subdivision regulations. Elgin's last comprehensive plan was adopted in 2005.
Resident Chuck Keysor exhorted city officials to take the new plan seriously and stick to it long-term.
Plans are meant to be concrete blueprints for the future, Houseal said. "Plans can't simply be a document that sits somewhere at city hall behind a desk and are forgotten about," he said.
Several Envision Elgin meetings have been held since November. Also, there have been 248 responses to an English-language online survey for residents, said Houseal senior associate Brandon Nolin. "That's a very good, solid response."
There were also 30 survey responses from business owners, but only nine responses to a Spanish-language survey, he said.
Anyone who missed Thursday's meeting can participate in a similar excercise with an online planning mapper at hlplanning.com/portals/elgin, Nolin said. Twelve maps had been turned in as of last week, he said.