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Homewood Planning and Zoning Commission recommends new downtown master plan, comments on parking, traffic issues

Consultants Fiona Kennedy, left, and Kelsey Zlevor introduce the draft Downtown Transit-Oriented Development Master Plan
at the Homewood Planning and Zoning Commission meeting on April 11. The plan will be considered by the Board of Trustees
on April 23. (Eric Crump/H-F Chronicle)

The Homewood Planning and Zoning Commission voted to recommend the new Downtown Transit-Oriented Development Master Plan to the Board of Trustees following a presentation and public hearing on the plan Thursday, April 11.

Kelsey Zlevor, senior associate, and Fiona Kennedy, associate, from Muse Community + Design, provided an overview of the plan. The consulting firm that took the lead in developing the plan funded by the Regional Transportation Authority.

Kennedy outlined various methods the community was involved in during the planning process.

“Community involvement for this plan is really the foundation of where all of the recommendations have stemmed from over the course of 12 months,” she said.

That involvement included four meetings with an 11-member steering committee of volunteers and two focus group meetings. Muse also had representatives at four community gatherings to talk with residents about their preferences and ideas for downtown Homewood, including last summer’s Gotts Chalk the Walk chalk art event, Fall Fest, an open house at GoodSpeed Cycle and a meeting of the Homewood Business Association. 

A graphic from the draft version of a new downtown Homewood master
plan shows the four perspectives that organize the document.
(Provided image)

Zlevor described four perspectives on the downtown area: 

  • Arrival, with a focus on the train station but also looking at other gateways to the area.
  • Navigation, or how people get around downtown once they’ve arrived.
  • Enjoyment, what people do while spending time downtown.
  • Investment, which looks at development and redevelopment opportunities.

The enjoyment section received quite a few recommendations from people who participated in the planning process, Zlevor said. It involved looking at the aesthetics of the downtown area, including signage, branding and identity. Recommendations included improving streetscaping, creating inviting open spaces, expanding public art and building the capacity of the Homewood Business Association.

Following the presentation, the commission opened a public hearing on the draft plan. 

First to speak was Jack Hrymak, chair of the Homewood Appearance Commission. He underscored the streetscaping recommendations in the plan and said it fits with the Appearance Commission’s mission to help make Homewood an attractive community. 

He also noted that signage to help people find parking should be a priority. With the recent opening of new restaurants downtown, demand for parking spots has grown.

“We do have quite a bit of parking in Homewood,” he said. “I think the problem is, there are no signs that lead you there. I think one of the things that we really need to add to this is a plethora of signs throughout the village.”

Lori Tozer asked that downtown residents’ needs be taken into account when considering parking needs. She said a resident she knows won’t leave home on Friday or Saturday evening because when she returns there often are no parking spots available near her apartment.

Parking recommendations in the plan include the possibility of adding meters to Ridge Road, Harwood Avenue and Dixie Highway, which would encourage more use of public lots; increase the opportunities for businesses to enter into shared parking agreements; and decrease the parking minimums in the zoning code for downtown businesses.

An artists rendering from the draft Homewood downtown master plan shows improvements that could be made to the
Dixie Highway viaduct to make it safer and more inviting. (Provided image)

Kennedy noted that police officials expressed concern about enforcement in areas with metered parking.

Hrymak also urged the inclusion of the 183rd Street traffic diet project in the plan. He said he heard the project was in jeopardy because of funding problems, but as a 35-year resident on 183rd Street he has seen traffic continue to get worse.

“I’m encouraging the commission and the village board not to give up on it,” he said. “That’s extremely important to the safety of our town.”

Brian Moss, who lives on the west side of the train tracks, suggested improved safety for cyclists using the viaducts to get to the east side of town. 

Kwame Amuh suggested the plan could emphasize Pace bus routes that residents can use as transportation within Homewood as well as to other destinations in the area. 

Commissioners also offered observations about the plan and recommendations they hoped to see included in the final version. 

Commissioner Liz Castaneda said her daughter recently learned how to ride a bike, so improved cycling infrastructure is important to her family. She, too, expressed support for the 183rd Street traffic diet plan.

Commissioner Dexter Johnson also expressed concern about speeding on 183rd Street. He said traffic volume seems to have increased dramatically in recent years, and he noted that the traffic diet plan would probably back up traffic.

Commissioner Bill O’Brien said he was not sure the traffic diet would be effective, but he focused on the need to improve safety at the 183rd Street intersection with Harwood Avenue. The plan notes that 183rd Street is a common “pain point” for entering the downtown area and proposes a number of changes at the Harwood intersection, including the addition of bike boxes to increase cyclist visibility.

Bike boxes are painted areas in the right lane at an intersection, similar in some ways to a crosswalk for pedestrians.

O’Brien said negotiating the intersection safely is a challenge, but cyclists heading west still have the viaduct as well as two nearby turning opportunities for motorists to get through. He suggested safety improvements need to be made west of Harwood, too. 

Commissioners Michael Cap and Maureen Alfonzo asked Kennedy about the decorative crosswalks that are recommended in the plan, specifically how locations would be selected and what safety advantage they offer. 

Kennedy said the plan does not mandate locations but offers them as options. She said Milwaukee is an example of how to choose where to place decorative crosswalks.

‘They have a really fantastic program where actually community members can designate where they would like those installations to take place,” she said, noting decorative crosswalks increase  pedestrian safety by attracting the attention of drivers, encouraging them to reduce speed and increasing their ability to detect pedestrians. Kennedy said the conventional double white line crosswalks resemble other roadway markings and are more easily disregarded by drivers.

Commissioner Seth Bransky, who served on the plan’s steering committee, emphasized that continued public engagement with the process would be essential to achieving the recommended projects. 

He said the plan should be viewed not as a single thing to enact but more like a menu with a variety of choices to make. 

“Some of these things are gonna be feasible, some of them are not,” Bransky said. “I think what we need to do is make sure that the public understands when and where their voice can be made to champion their pet projects and to get these things moved across the finish line.

“If business owners and other institutions aren’t hearing from the public that the public wants this, then their interest is gonna be low. So it really needs to be a partnership between the village and the public to get these things to happen.”

The plan will now go to the village Board of Trustees for consideration at the Tuesday, April 23, meeting.

The village’s previous downtown master plan was adopted in 2005.

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