Old Englewood Village Association
Olde Englewood Ideas
Published in The Englewood Review
by Todd Tracy
Over the Independence Day weekend, part of the news cycle included speeches from various public officials that touched on America’s founding ideas and their authors. Those ideas live on to this day. Why? Because it was the value of those ideas, and the willingness of the people to embrace and implement them, that secured their place in our nation’s history.
Thankfully, we are not building a nation anymore. But building a small community like Englewood, can be just as frustrating because it too depends on good ideas. The Dearborn Street area is slated for significant “improvements,” improvements to the tune of nine million dollars. The underlying justification for the project remains sound and during the public meetings participants were engaged, willing, even excited to move forward.
Some of the publicly debated elements of the project were financing, parking, pedestrian safety, beautification, and the timing of a sister project, the improvement of Dearborn Street Plaza. The public chose the theme, the colors, the materials, the landscaping and they even influenced the construction’s seasonal timing to protect the local business.
Despite the lengthy public approval process for the downtown improvement project, several citizens and merchants have recently contacted the Old Englewood Village Association (OEVA), with their concerns and some interesting new ideas. One of the concerns was parking. It has been suggested that Englewood does not have a parking problem; it has an event parking problem. Since the improvement does not add enough new parking to solve that, then why spend money on more street parking? Some have suggested the real solution would be to limit the size of Dearborn Street events and partner with the existing private parking lot owners in town to accommodate the temporary influx.
Another concern was the timing of the project. Merchants on the street are worried about a one-year construction project that even if delayed or creatively staged, would still impact at least one winter tourist season. Others were concerned about the pending Plaza improvements. The two projects might not overlap, or the access could be limited, which would extend streets disruption for several more months.
The new ideas being kicked around included skipping the proposed irrigation system, leaving the intersections alone instead of replacing them with colorful swirling pavers, updating the street lighting instead of replacing it, and supplementing our street benches instead of replacing them all. Finally, some hoped that relocating a block of two of overhead power lines might be possible.
One of the more interesting ideas was creating a “pedestrian only” area by re-routing the traffic around portions of our downtown. If that were not possible then perhaps changing a block or two into a one-way street would allow more merchant outdoor display, dining, or public seating. If there were some savings from these ideas, then they could be used on other approved projects like parking or connecting some of the nearby creative zoning overlays to the downtown.
All these ideas have the making of a very spirited public debate, however, there are some harsh realities that need to be considered as well. First and foremost, the Englewood Community Redevelopment Area (CRA), made every effort to inform and engage the public of the proposed project. Too few took advantage of the engagement and others have become interested too late. Second, there are some serious financial timing concerns. The CRA faces borrowing restrictions in the last ten years of their thirty-year life span. This means that if the town does not take advantage of this improvement project while it can, it might be decades before the County initiates a similar project. Third; we have ten more years of projects ahead. In those years it would be very possible to adopt and implement some of the community’s new ideas.
There is a public process that gives us all the opportunity to help design and manage public projects within our community. But even great ideas, that come late to that process tend not to be embraced until another opportunity opens. So, when the opportunity to engage happens, please join in, because some of the best ideas, the ones that survive the test of time and improve communities, come from people like you.
To learn more or share your community opinions, please join us this fall as OEVA kicks off their town hall meetings, on the Plaza property if possible. Until then, you can reach us thru the website www.OldeEngelwood.com.
Todd Tracy is the Vice President of the Olde Englewood Village Association.