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Homewood trustees table consideration of downtown speaker expansion

Homewood trustees decided Tuesday, Aug. 8, to take more time to consider a planned expansion of the village’s downtown speaker system after seven residents questioned the current system and the need to expand the project.

The village has had music playing downtown since 16 speakers were installed on utility poles, mainly on Chestnut Road, Martin Avenue and Ridge Road in December 2019. 

Village Manager Napoleon Haney told audience members that “staff was asked in 2019 to try to find some way to bring some additional vitality to our downtown. We wanted to draw more people downtown.”

He said research on what other communities do to enhance downtown experiences suggested music was a fairly common tool. Assistant Village Manager Tyler Hall listed a number of examples of other cities that offer music in downtown areas, including Tinley Park, Bolingbrook, Naperville, Chicago, Pontiac, Oswego, Glen Ellyn, Kirkland and Ottawa. 

Speakers on a pole a the intersection of Martin Avenue and Ridge Road are part of a downtown sound system installed in late 2019. Village trustees tabled a measure Tuesday that would have expanded the current system after residents objected. (Eric Crump/H-F Chronicle)

In a memo to the board, Haney said the additional speakers and a new antenna would compensate for range problems with the current system and enable speakers to be installed on Ridge Road from Dixie Highway to Gottschalk Avenue and on Dixie Highway from Chestnut Road to Olive Road.

Mayor Rich Hofeld said the music was part of an array of amenities and services the village offers for the purpose of adding vitality to the downtown area. He said studies recommend gathering places, water and fire features, lighting, restaurants, art and music, all of which Homewood has. 

“Those are all amenities that make a better downtown,” he said.

Haney said feedback on the music had been positive. But three residents who live on Martin Avenue in downtown Homewood addressed the board to express opposition to the system and its expansion, saying the music is more a nuisance than an enhancement for them.

Dentist Karen O’Donnell, who lives and works in a building on Martin Avenue, questioned the purpose of the speakers, and especially the placement near her building, which is mostly offices and apartments. 

She suggested speakers from the existing system could be moved to Dixie Highway, where there are fewer apartments. 

John Watkins, who also spoke for a neighbor who couldn’t attend the meeting, said the music interferes with people who work from home. It forces them to keep windows closed so the noise doesn’t interfere with business meetings. They say the music also intrudes on leisure activities, like watching television.

The music system plays from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Thursday and on Sunday, and from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday.

“You’re watching a movie and there’s a quiet spot and you hear some country song coming into your apartment,” he said. He advocated removing the speakers. “I feel like these speakers are an unreasonable intrusion in the lives of people who live downtown. it’s basically a disturbance of peace.”

Trustee Anne Colton suggested the item be tabled until the board could consider options and hear from more residents.

“My concern with this really has more to do with how this decision was made. I don’t think we’ve really fully engaged the community. I think we’re missing a step,” she said.

Trustees Lisa Purcell and Julie Willis said they like the music, but both agreed the board needs to consider the views of downtown residents before making a decision.

“I hate hearing people are miserable in their own homes,” Willis said.

Trustee Lauren Roman said she had polled residents on the issue and had gotten positive feedback for the proposed enhancement, but after hearing from residents at the meeting, she had second thoughts.

“I enjoy the music very much, but I’m not forced to listen to it all day long. I was forced to listen to a neighbor’s music for a long time, and it was extremely frustrating, so I can imagine how frustrated you all are,” she said. “Overall, everyone seemed to love it. I started thinking, I didn’t ask anyone that lives downtown.”

The board voted 6-0 in favor of tabling the project.

Colton suggested the issue would be a good subject for a future committee of the whole meeting, an idea she proposed at the July 11 board meeting. Hofeld said the meeting would be scheduled after Labor Day.

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