Chicago firm to formulate Crestwood’s first-ever citywide comprehensive plan

Houseal Lavigne also developing plan for city of Sunset Hills

A rendering of UrbanStreet's \$100 million proposal for the former Crestwood Plaza mall, which some residents believe could be 'carved out' of the citywide comprehensive plan.

Photo by Lisa

A rendering of UrbanStreet’s \$100 million proposal for the former Crestwood Plaza mall, which some residents believe could be ‘carved out’ of the citywide comprehensive plan.

By Gloria Lloyd

Chicago-based planner Houseal Lavigne Associates will develop Crestwood’s first-ever comprehensive plan, continuing the work the planner already has underway next door in Sunset Hills.

The Crestwood Board of Aldermen voted 6-0 last week to hire Houseal Lavigne for the yearlong process to create the $89,500 comprehensive plan. Ward 3 Alderman Grant Mabie abstained from the vote after his suggested amendments to the hiring ordinance did not gain a second from the board. Ward 4 Alderman Cindy Minor was absent from the July 28 meeting.

Houseal Lavigne is developing a new citywide plan for Sunset Hills, with a final draft expected in October, and the planner is also working on comprehensive plans for University City and Wildwood.

Like many issues in Crestwood these days, discussion on how Houseal Lavigne would approach the new plan centered on the site of the former Crestwood Plaza, where Chicago-based owner UrbanStreet Group proposes a roughly $99.5 million mixed-use redevelopment project with retail, restaurants, a theater and upscale apartments, subsidized by $28 million in tax incentives, including tax-increment financing, or TIF.

How much attention and time Houseal Lavigne devotes to the mall site is up to city officials, and could range from the same overview the comprehensive-plan consultant will give every site in the city to a more detailed, visionary look at what the site could be, Houseal Lavigne planner Drew Awsumb said.

The city issued side-by-side requests for proposals, or RFPs, last year for the mall and the citywide comprehensive plan, and Houseal Lavigne and the city’s longtime planner, Peckham Guyton Albers & Viets, or PGAV, submitted proposals for both.

On the recommendation of Mayor Gregg Roby and City Administrator Mark Sime, in December aldermen hired PGAV to study the mall site for $73,000.

Roby, Sime and City Planner Adam Jones initially recommended hiring PGAV for the larger plan, while advocating against Houseal Lavigne.

However, when aldermen rejected PGAV as the comprehensive planner in June, they said they hoped for two separate looks at the mall site. On that 5-3 vote, Ward 1 Alderman Richard Breeding, Ward 3 Alderman Bill Boston and Minor were in favor of hiring PGAV.

PGAV has not yet presented its study of the mall site to the city, but last week Awsumb gave aldermen a glimpse of how Houseal Lavigne would have handled community feedback on the mall if the company had been hired for both plans.

“The approach was if we would do both projects, we could start to capture and engage the public and the developer, and you guys as decision makers, on what is the realm of possibilities that could occur on the site, from community interest or preferences to market realities,” Awsumb said.

But since PGAV is already conducting the planning Houseal Lavigne would have done, Houseal Lavigne will sit down with PGAV to gauge how to include that firm’s recommendations in the final comprehensive plan, he added.

Since Houseal’s original separate proposal for the comprehensive plan allocated $10,000 of special attention to the mall site, Mabie suggested amending the contract so that the city could save money by reallocating that $10,000 to focus on the industrial park instead, a suggestion that did not get a second.

Most of the public speakers asked aldermen not to “carve out” the mall from the greater comprehensive plan.

“PGAV’s work is not a comprehensive-planning process — it’s not a forward-thinking document,” said resident Martha Duchild, whose husband, Paul, was a Ward 3 alderman when PGAV was hired for the project. “A comprehensive plan has no ‘carve outs.’”

“You had mentioned a careful examination of market realities, discussion of development incentives, engagement, citizen input,” said resident R. Hahn. “I don’t know about you, but is anyone else interested in maybe if we’d hired these people instead of the runaway train of PGAV? Just saying.”

Former Ward 3 Alderman Jerry Miguel suggested aldermen amend the contract to take away the “unilateral authority” it grants the city.

“If this board approves this ordinance the way it’s written, it’s authorizing the city to perform that ‘carve out’ … to do what they wish to do as far as slicing out a piece of apple pie and inserting a piece of cherry pie,” Miguel said.

The contract stipulates that the city can determine the scope of work and adjust the price, but Awsumb said any comprehensive plan will have to deal with the mall site as part of the city, and the $10,000 would only address what level of detail he and his team would devote to the site.

Jones was visibly frustrated as he emphasized that Houseal Lavigne will still look at the mall, but that the $10,000 could be cut out since it is duplicating work already done by PGAV or UrbanStreet.

“I think that you all have been manipulated tonight into understanding that the mall will be ignored in the comprehensive plan … It would not be ignored, it would not be cut out of the pie as Mr. Miguel has said and inserted, I don’t understand that at all,” Jones said. “It’s exactly like the mayor has stated: In that $10,000, it would be redoing work that PGAV has already completed or consultants for the developer have already completed or are in the midst of completing who are just as much of an expert as Houseal Lavigne — although probably moreso because each of the consultants who has been hired by the developer is an expert in the field, engineers or architects that design these developments.”

Ward 4 Alderman Timothy Anderson did not get a second for his suggestion that the Planning and Zoning Commission should approve any changes to the agreement, since by state statute the plan is officially adopted by the planning panel.

Due to that same state statute, former Ward 4 Alderman Steve Nieder, a member of Planning and Zoning, alleged the city illegally circumvented the planning panel.

As proof, Nieder pointed to Sunset Hills, where the Planning and Zoning Commission recommended Houseal Lavigne to the Board of Aldermen, rather than the other way around.

Just as it did in Sunset Hills, over the next year Houseal Lavigne will conduct community-engagement sessions to see what Crestwood residents, city officials and business owners would like to see in their city.

The planners will also examine every inch of the city, Awsumb noted.

“We drive every block, every parcel,” he said.