Robert J. O'Connell

Share on Facebook
Share on Twitter

Below are candidate-submitted answers to a biographical survey the Wednesday Journal sent out to all trustee candidates running in this year's elections. Candidates full, unedited responses are printed. 

Age: 60

Previous elected experience: None

Previous community experience: Chairman, Village of River Forest Economic Development Commission

Occupation: National Real Estate Lead McDonald's USA

Education: BA -Political Science Illinois  Benedictine, now Benedictine University

 1.            Economic development has been a major focus for the village board in recent years. What should the village board's role be in promoting economic development? What are the best tools for doing so and what else can the village board to help recruit new businesses and maintain the ones already here?

As a member of the EDC we have identified several areas of opportunity. Since RF is a landlocked community, we need to evaluate what are the best uses that not only provide goods and services, but also generate taxes.  Helping River Forest's economic development is the main reason that I am running for the village board.  The creation of the TIF districts on North Avenue and Madison Street offer the village an opportunity to add significant commercial properties to its tax rolls, thereby lessening the tax burden on our residents.  With my career-long experience in real estate, I am confident that I can help guide the village board towards ensuring that our TIF districts derive the maximum value to us while maintaining the village's character.

2.      Developments at Lake and Lathrop and Chicago and Harlem, while good for the village's economic and social bottom lines, garnered resident criticism for design, village funds used and more. Do you have an opinion on either of these developments?

To answer the question, I believe that Leadership should listen to the concerns of residents and weigh with an impartial ear on the positives and negatives of any project. As it relates to design, I believe that the design of a project should attempt to fit into the character of the community and the developer should be willing to listen to input, but at the end of the day they need to produce a product that is saleable. Regarding the use of Village funds, Chicago and Harlem is not going to receive any Village Funds. This project is a great example of a win-win.

The Village is working with a developer to redevelop a property that will generate significant real estate taxes for the Village while having minimal impact on Village services. Also the Developer has been willing to listen and work with the Village to address concerns.

 Lake and Lathrop on the other hand has a host of issues associated with it. The environmental issues attributed to that property make it virtually impossible to develop without public assistance. The laws and requirements for clean-up and remediation have gotten so stringent over the years that public private partnerships are almost a necessity.

3.      How would you describe communication in the village and what more, if anything, should the village be doing to engage residents?

This is an area where I have to take my hat off to the current administration. The Village has worked hard to create transparency and communicate with its residents. The monthly newsletter, text messages when there is an incident in the Village, posting meeting dates, agendas for the various Boards and Commissions are all positive steps in accomplishing that goal.

4.      How important is it to ensure preservation of River Forest's historic homes? What can the village do to safeguard those homes from demolition? How does the question of property rights play into the equation?

Along with its nearness to downtown Chicago, the transportation options and its great schools, the thing that draws homebuyers to River Forest is its character.  A significant part of the village's charm is its housing stock, which includes many historically significant homes. Thus, we need a Historic Preservation Ordinance to make sure that architectural treasures in our village were not just torn down. That said, we need to accommodate the individual or couple whose home was their principal asset and who need for whatever reason to sell the home. 

I think that our current Ordinance reflects the proper balance between recognizing the importance that historic homes have to the village while not trampling on the property rights of villagers. All that the ordinance calls for is a pause in the demolition of a historic home.  That way, the HPC might be able to offer alternatives to demolition that results in a win-win for everyone. 

5.      The village approved a new tax increment financing (TIF) district along Madison Street last year. Do you support a TIF in the area and how would you describe the village's process for communicating the project to residents?

I think this is a good example of how the Village communicated with its residents. The Village did not only talk, but also listened to the concerns and took steps to protect the residents. Madison Street is a big opportunity. This is one of the main corridors that will support retail and generate retail sales tax, which helps stabilize the real estate taxes for our residents.

 Prior to moving back to River Forest, I lived in Elmhurst where the City created 4 TIF districts going back to 2009. In the 2017 annual report, those TIF's generated 62 million dollars in receipts. Granted one of those areas is home to two or three car dealerships, but in others areas new residential development was built. 

6.      What other issues involving village government are important to you, and how do you plan to advocate for them?

Stabilizing the tax base is number 1. Bringing businesses not just National retailers, but encouraging and supporting local businesses and entrepreneurs is very important. Also, making sure our Village staff has the proper tools and support to continue to make ours a safe community.

Reader Comments

No Comments - Add Your Comment

Note: This page requires you to login with Facebook to comment.

Comment Policy

Facebook Connect

Answer Book 2018

To view the full print edition of the Wednesday Journal 2018 Answer Book, please click here.

Quick Links

Sign-up to get the latest news updates for Oak Park and River Forest.

MultimediaContact us
Submit Letter To The Editor
Place a Classified Ad