Crystal Lake considers redevelopment plans centered around train stations

Opportunities to create open space for people to congregate downtown, possible festival streets identified

Crystal Lake, with the help of a grant from the Regional Transportation Authority, is looking to put into place a Transit Oriented Development plan, which could mean potential redevelopment at three properties in the city.

The purpose of such a plan, according to documents attached to Tuesday’s meeting agenda, is to create pedestrian-oriented, mixed-use developments centered on train systems using four major principles of mixed land uses, transit, walkability, and density.

Crystal Lake has one train station downtown operated by the city and another one on Pingree Road operated by Metra.

City staff said this gives Crystal Lake an opportunity to “leverage our enviable position of having two Metra train stations in the center of our community.”

At Tuesday’s city council meeting, city officials did not take an official vote on the plan. The next steps are to complete the draft of the plan, have one last steering committee meeting to go over the plan, and host a community open house for public review, before adopting it in summer 2021.

With input from the steering committee and site owners, the three targeted properties to create redevelopment plans are on Walkup Avenue, Woodstock Street and Minnie Street; Main and Brink Street; and the Main Street Crossing.

Walkup/Minnie/Woodstock, city staff said, is a “great location” for commuters, and could be set adjacent to other single-family and multi-family residences. Potential redevelopment at Main/Brink, on the outskirts of downtown, allows for a mix of retail, service, and residential uses, while the Main Street Crossing offers the most flexibility for redevelopment as it includes options for manufacturing, office, multi-family, single-family and commercial components, according to city documents.

Brandon Nolan of Houseal Lavigne, a Chicago-based urban planning and design firm, said in downtown Crystal Lake, they’re focusing on the quarter-mile just around the train station.

“You’ve got a great downtown environment,” Nolan told city council members. “And so this is really about how we reinforce what’s already going well in the downtown.”

The area around the Pingree Road train station, though, has a “different vibe,” Nolan said.

“It’s kind of a commuter spot...so it’s more of a park and ride situation,” he said. “The vision for that is to really kind of leverage and reinvest in that business park environment, and take advantage of some of the opportunities of the larger opportunity sites that we have.”

Houseal Lavigne’s initial plan proposes various strategies in certain areas such as curb extensions, to promote a “more multimodal environment” to be safe for all kinds of transit.

Along with potential redevelopment, associates at Housel Lavigne identified that there could be more opportunities to create open space for people to congregate together in downtown Crystal Lake, and possible shared and festival streets at Railroad Street.

A shared street would consist of making the curb and sidewalks drop down to street level. Planters, benches, or street trees would help define where the public space is, and though cars would still be allowed on the road, drivers would go slower to avoid pedestrians.

For a festival street, the curb and gutter would still be in place, but pavement treatments, street bollards, festival lighting, canopies, would also be placed in the area.

“We were looking at providing a sense of activity, and looking at the intersection of public and private,” Nolan said.

Having shared or festival streets on Railroad could be a way to get some more activity on the north side of the train tracks, he added.

Council Member Mandy Montford said she loved the shared/festival street idea.

“I know when I go to other downtowns that have that, it just feels so welcoming and I want to linger, I want to stay,” Montford said.

Though Council Member Ellen Brady said the concept of shared or festival streets are a great idea, she expressed safety concerns about their placement.

“I’m not sure you want festivals taking place next to active train tracks,” Brady said.

Cassie Buchman

Cassie Buchman

I cover Crystal Lake, Algonquin, Cary, Fox River Grove, Prairie Grove and Oakwood Hills for the Northwest Herald.