At the first committee of the whole meeting in at least a decade, Homewood trustees and residents discussed four proposals to upgrade downtown lighting and sound amenities. Lighting projects received generally good reviews; a controversial sound system expansion continued to receive criticism.
The meeting Tuesday, Sept. 19, attracted more than 20 people to village hall in addition to staff and trustees. The meeting started with a presentation by village staff on the proposals and their costs.
Village Manager Napoleon Haney offered reasons why the village invests in downtown amenities like streetscapes, public art, music, lighting and culture and recreation opportunities.
“These are things that make downtown pop, places where you want to go,” he said. “We want to draw developers to our community. We want to showcase our downtown, showcase our community and community identity.”
Assistant Village Manager Tyler Hall presented details about the four projects the village is proposing with the intent of building on the current downtown amenities. The $290,000 price tag for the four combined would be paid for with American Rescue Plan Act funding, about 11.4% of the village’s ARPA allocation.
Finance Director Amy Zukowski explained that there aren’t any restrictions on how the village can use the money. The village’s ARPA allocation of moe than $2.5 million is slated to purchase vehicles, make infrastructure improvements, purchase a building and pay for a business support program, among other projects.
The lighting projects include:
- Expanding the Tivoli lights from Martin Square to Chestnut Road. The lights currently extend from Hickory Road to Martin Square. Cost: $200,000.
- Replacing the decorative exterior lights on village hall, changing from uplighting to downlighting to reduce light pollution. Cost: $50,000.
- Adding lighting to a new passage way created by the construction of the Hartford Building. Cost: $10,000.
- Expanding the downtown sound system by adding 10 speakers on Dixie Highway and Ridge Road. Cost: $30,000.
Most of the comments from the audience were critical of the existing sound system and the proposal to extend it. The expansion project was on the Board of Trustees’ July 25 agenda but was deferred after a number of residents spoke out against it.
The system currently has 14 speakers along Ridge Road and Martin Avenue. If the expansion project is approved, the system would have 24 speakers.
The speakers currently play music from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Prior to the July 25 board meeting, the hours were 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday.
The hours were reduced and four speakers at the Martin and Hickory intersection were deactivated in response to complaints from downtown residents, Hall said, so currently 10 speakers are active.
The speakers can also be used for public safety announcements.
Several downtown residents were at the meeting and reiterated their objections to the current practice of playing music and with the expansion of the system.
Linda Prashuk, who lives in an apartment with a speaker immediately outside her windows, said she understands the village’s interest in providing amenities, but she noted that since the recent COVID-19 pandemic more people are working from home, and the music can interfere with their work.
She suggested the village conduct a survey of downtown residents so the village gets a better sense for their views on the sound system.
“Other people have talked to residents who think the music is great. Not so great if you live right under (the speakers),” she said.
Downtown residents were not the only opponents of expanding the speaker system. Amy Eagle and Jodi Libretti do not live downtown but both asked the board to reconsider the project.
“One reason that people live in the suburbs is for peace,” Libretti said. “I really, really feel for the people who live downtown. I believe people should have the option of having their windows open. Sound can be pleasurable, but it also can be extremely annoying.”
The sound system also had its defenders.
Trustees Jay Heiferman and Vivian Harris-Jones both said they support the amenities package.
“Once in a while I hear people who object to it. I have friends who live in the midst of it and are not happy about it, but I hear lots of people who just absolutely enjoy it,” he said.
Maggie O’Brien agreed. She said she moved out of state for a while, but when she returned to the area, she chose Homewood in part because of its downtown. She said her experience with the music while shopping downtown has been positive.
“I see the emotion about the music so I want to be respectful of that. I think I do come downtown more often and I do spend more money. I love the music,” she said.
She’s also a member of the village Economic Development Committee.
Trustee Anne Colton asked whether the projects were part of more comprehensive planning that would account for one project’s impact on other initiatives and on the downtown area as a whole.
“Are we looking at this as a systems thing? Are we doing urban planning? I want to make sure our decisions are smart ones,” she said.
Economic Development Director Angela Mesaros said the projects were consistent with the 2005 Downtown Master Plan, and she added that the village is in the process of updating that plan using input from residents and guidance from the Regional Transportation Authority and MUSE Consulting.
At the board’s subsequent regular meeting Sept. 26, Colton thanked the residents who attended the committee of the whole meeting and said she would like to see that type of session become a regular part of the board’s calendar.
“I think the great reaction we got from the community tells me we should do it more often,” she said. “I think it needs to be regular because the way to keep communities strong is to keep people engaged.”