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posted: 11/6/2017 5:30 AM

Elgin finalizing new comprehensive plan, 100 years later

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  • Bill Briska, president of the Elgin Area Historical Society, points to a map of Elgin in 1917, the year the city's first comprehensive plan was completed.

      Bill Briska, president of the Elgin Area Historical Society, points to a map of Elgin in 1917, the year the city's first comprehensive plan was completed.
    Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

  • A map showing existing and proposed development in the "Plan of Elgin" of 1917.

      A map showing existing and proposed development in the "Plan of Elgin" of 1917.
    Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

  • A page from the "Plan of Elgin" of 1917 showing the vision for development along the Fox River.

      A page from the "Plan of Elgin" of 1917 showing the vision for development along the Fox River.
    Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

 
 

Elgin's community development department is working to finalize a comprehensive plan designed to lay out the vision for future development, a century after the completion of the first such plan.

Consultant Houseal Lavigne Associates of Chicago completed a 167-page draft city staff members are working on before presenting it to an advisory committee, possibly before the end of the year, Community Development Director Marc Mylott said.

The plan would next go to the planning and zoning commission for a public hearing, and then to the city council.

The new plan will emphasize planning for urban development downtown, enhancing quality of life in existing neighborhoods, and promoting walkable subdivisions with access to nature on the far west side, Mylott said.

The current plan was completed in 2005. Among other things, it calls for big homes on big lots, but the housing market has gravitated toward smaller spaces in the wake of the recession, Mylott said.

The process started in 2013 when the city hired the consultant for $150,000. An additional $7,500 is set aside for changes and up-to-date numbers, Mylott said.

At the time, city officials said the plan would take a year or more. Mylott said he hoped it would be done by now. He pointed out it took five years to complete the last one.

"We were hopeful that the amount of internal staff time wouldn't be as much as it turned out to be," he said. "I don't say that as criticism of Houseal Lavigne. The amount of legroom they did -- in terms of surveys and public participation and outreach -- has been exhaustive."

Houseal Lavigne didn't return a request for comment.

Seminal ideas

Bill Briska, president of the Elgin Area Historical Society, said much of what was advocated in the "Plan of Elgin" of 1917 came to fruition.

That includes reclaiming the riverfront by acquiring land and preserving its natural beauty; building parks and smaller play lots in neighborhoods; segregating industrial and residential areas to preserve quality of life; creating a "boulevard system" of thoroughfares to aid traffic movement; and relocating government buildings adjacent to downtown, Briska said.

"They were talking about things that really happened, but not necessarily right away," Briska said.

The city then had about 27,000 residents; it now numbers an estimated 112,000.

The plan was done by architect Edward H. Bennett and commissioned by the Elgin Commercial Club with funding from Charles H. Hulburd, president of the Elgin National Watch Co. Bennett worked on the 1909 Chicago plan with architect Daniel H. Burnham.

The era marked the start of modern urban planning, and the Elgin plan incorporated ideas that became seminal to the notion of a well-designed city, Briska said.

For example, it recommended adopting zoning regulations, whose constitutionality was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1926. Before that, development was regulated by nuisance laws; for example, it was OK to build a dump next to a residence but not OK to blow smoke from it onto residential property, Briska said.

The city produced several comprehensive plans over the decades, but never strayed too far from the original, Briska said. "It took 100 years to get there, but you see a lot of thinking from then being implemented today."

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