Tag Archives: Town of Normal

Normal Planning Commissioners earn their pay

Actually, they don’t receive any pay, but they sure deserved some Thursday evening after spending three full hours listening to Town staff, developers, and the public while weighing the pros and cons on a couple of major zoning matters.

There’s something about the atmosphere of a planning commission meeting that irresistable for a local government junkie like myself. 

It’s raw and people wear their emotions on their sleeves.   There’s always a lot at stake in any zoning hearing.   It’s democracy at its finest.

As an elected official, it’s beneficial to witness it.  

There are things I see at planning commission meetings that, well, don’t ever show up in the minutes: the strength of the arguments, the passion, and the subtleties that someone who has spent more than two decades observing and participating in local government can pick up. 

Planning Commission chair Rick Boser does an outstanding job of maintaining decorum and a sharp sense of humor throughout the proceedings.   I enjoyed watching him run the meeting from the back row of the council chambers.   Rick is an experienced hand on the planning commission and it shows.

Sometimes, it’s a challenge to get the witnesses to stay on the subject matter, or even to face the right direction.   

Planning commissioners Jeff Feid, Kathleen Lorenz, Jill Hutchison, R.C. McBride, Michael McFarland, and Bob Bradley don’t get a lot of recognition, but I appreciate the work they do.    It’s not an easy job, but somebody’s got to do it.    And our community is better off because these quality volunteers have stepped up to do a thankless job.  

Thank you Planning Commission.

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Filed under planning, Uncategorized, Zoning

Pinehurst now pines for the leaf vacuum

We’ve come of age in Pinehurst subdivision.

Based on what I witnessed this past weekend, it seems this is the year when all of the sudden the leaf vacuum matters.

No more taking a back seat to Fell or Broadway or School or even Maplewood.    We’ve got mature trees, too.   OK, not 70 footers with leaves covering every square inch of grass, but we’re getting there. 

I’ve even seen neighbors employ the tarp method of leaf transport from backyard to curb.    IMG_3208

I’ve noticed something else around here.

Maybe it’s our inexperience with massive quantities of leaves, but we don’t seem to be very sure where to pile them for collection.   More often than not, they’re being raked beyond the curb and placed in the gutter, which can plug up storm sewers in the event of heavy rain.   As a reminder to the newly initiated, here are the rules from the Public Works department:

Leaves should be raked to the back of the curb on the grass, or to the shoulder of the roadway. However, if you live in an area where cars are continuously parked in front of your residence, place the leaves at the edge of your driveway or as near to the driveway as possible. Keep leaf piles no higher than three (3) feet for safety. Please do not rake the leaves into the gutter or street.

The equipment used is a vacuum machine that is designed to collect only leaves. Brush and other items are not to be placed in the leaf pile. Items other than leaves will cause clogs and possible equipment malfunction. Mixed piles will not be collected.  

 The truck follows the same route as waste collection, but because of the high volume of leaves, it’s typically behind schedule.    Please be patient.

Town staff estimates the cost of leaf collection to be about $100,000 next fiscal year.    I don’t think the Town Council considered  for a moment eliminating a service which, with each passing fall,  becomes more important  to more citizens of this community.

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Celebrate ISU Homecoming by running Oct. 17 in the Town & Gown 5K Race

Registration is humming along at a record pace for the 2009 Town & Gown 5K run on the Saturday morning of ISU Homecoming.Town Gown 5K Logo

This will be the ninth year for the race that attracted more than 350 runners last year and is growing by leaps and bounds.   About that many runners (at all levels of fitness) are already pre-registered for the race which will start at  7 a.m. sharp on Oct. 17.

I’ll be back out on the course again this year with a stopwatch yelling out one-mile split times (somewhere on Mulberry around Manchester Hall) and to present awards at the conclusion of the race.

After I was first elected, I was determined to find a way to work cooperatively with the university, to find a fun activity that would mark the beginning of the downtown redevelopment ,and to celebrate our community’s strong connection with Illinois State University.    A race through campus and what is now Uptown seemed like a good fit.   

Jay Groves, my friend and co-founder of the race, came up with the idea to hold the event on the morning of ISU Homecoming and it turned out that two laps around the parade route was exactly five kilometers!   The first Town & Gown 5K Run/Walk was born. 

Over the years, hundreds of runners have participated — through rain and shine — hot and cold.

This race would not happen each without the enthusiasm and organizational skills of race director Juliana Duncan and her staff at Illinois State University or without the dedication of Sandy Fedden in the City Manager’s office who wakes up early on a Saturday to deliver the food and drink that she procures.   

We appreciate the involvement of the Normal Police who keep the runners safe and of Mitch Hobbs and his crew at Often Running, who  lend their expertise at the finish line.    These folks make it a well run event which has grown to be one of the bigger races on the local Lake Run Club circuit.

We are fortunate to have so many people pulling together to create an exciting event that has accomplished its original purpose and then some.

Thanks to all of the runners who have pre-registered for this year’s race.  

And for those of you interested in participating, there’s still time to enter.

I’ll see you out there on the course.

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Filed under Illinois State University, NPD, Uncategorized, Uptown Normal

Sweet Corn Sweet Blues fill the streets on Day One

It was great to see so many people yesterday on the new streets of Uptown, chomping on sweet corn and listening to the blues.

That’s what happens when you get perfect weather.  We couldn’t have ordered it up any better. 

A perfect day for Sweet Corn and Sweet Blues drew a sweet crowd to Uptown Normal.

A perfect day for Sweet Corn and Sweet Blues drew a sweet crowd to Uptown Normal.

The College Avenue parking deck was full, the streets were full, and they could barely husk the sweet corn fast enough for long lines of attendees paying a mere $1 for three lip smackin’ fantastic ears.

We took advantage of the opportunity to stop by the Normal CornBelters’ booth and to buy baseball caps to support our new team.  Other purchases were made as well.  It’s amazing how a buck’s worth of sweet corn can end up emptying your wallet.

I recognize that construction crews need to work every available day, but I was surprised to see end loaders and semis working so close to the throng of people atttending the festival.   Hopefully, they’ll take a well deserved day off today.

The festival lasts until the corn runs out.   See you out there.

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Filed under Just About Normal Polls, Uptown Normal

The case against rezoning 1010 South Main St. for serious student housing

When I heard that someone wanted to purchase the University Cinemas at 1010 South Main for redevelopment, I was intrigued.  

While the dollar theater concept seems to be working well in today’ s down economy, as evidenced by all of the cars in the parking lot Sunday night, clearly a small dollar theater could not be a viable long term economic model in today’s era of megaplex theaters, stadium seating, digital surround sound, and the like.  Evidently, the land has been on the market for awhile.  

A single, 550-foot long, four-story building would run the length of the University Cinemas property from the railroad tracks, south to Cullom Street.  Developers 1010 S. Main LLC plan 198 parking spaces in the rear for the 350 bedrooms.   Planners suggest that northbound ISU traffic will leave the area on Cullom and Main Street or using Church and University Streets.   Residents are concerned that apartment residents will find other routes to ISU, through Hovey, Payne Place, Florence, Hester, and Fell.

Serious Student Housing -- A single, 550-foot long, four-story building would run the length of the University Cinemas property from the railroad tracks, south to Cullom Street. Developers 1010 S. Main LLC plan 198 parking spaces in the rear for the 350 bedrooms. Planners suggest that northbound ISU traffic will leave the area on Cullom and Main Street or using Church and University Streets. Residents are concerned that apartment residents will find other routes to ISU, through Hovey, Payne Place, Florence, Hester, and Fell.

Given the location of the property and its Main St. frontage, surely someone would have a creative mixed-use idea for redevelopment — one that would generate economic activity, compliment the neighborhood, and be a catalyst for similar projects.

So, I attended the public hearing with fairly high expectations, listened carefully to the discussion and was underwhelmed by what was being planned. 

As usual, it was a plan designed to fit as many student apartment units onto the property as possible. 

It was not particularly creative and certainly will act as a catalyst, if approved.

What is not surprising is that residents of the surrounding single-family neighborhood also view this as a tipping point event.   Their numerous emails and phone calls have been passionate and rational.  Among other things they are concerned about what will be left if this area is rezoned, opening the door for it to become the next big place for student housing expansion.    Here is an example of the feedback we’ve received:

I have seen on a daily basis the increase of traffic when ISU is in session. I can only suppose if another high density complex were to exist in this area the amount of traffic would increase. I feel the small children living in our neighborhood are at risk already from those who do not feel the need to obey the speed limit through our neighborhood. I also feel allowing another high density complex would have a domino effect for the area immediately surrounding the area. I can forsee homeowners electing to sell and investors buying the property, tearing down homes and putting up yet more complexes. As a home owner I am also concerned with maintaining my property value. I feel that the close proximity of high density apartment will not be beneficial. I am passionate about preserving our older neighborhoods and protecting them from demolition. I am aware that there will always be issues living near campus and I am willing to accept them, but I feel strongly about this issue and felt the need to express my strong opposition.

 

I agree that this proposed rezoning and redevelopment plan represents a turning point for the fragile neighborhood to the east.   The outpouring of neighborhood opposition demonstrates to me that nearby homeowners are fully invested in maintaining what they have, a nice affordable single family area close to ISU, IWU, BroMenn, and Glenn Elementary School.   

The council has invested resources in the area south of Vernon, purchasing and tearing down a problem fraternity, promoting the development of two Habitiat developments, and insisting on quality planning and development on both sides of Vernon. 

On top of that, we have declared the neighborhood south of Vernon  be a “no new student housing zone.”  

A row of five homes along Cullom, just west of University Street at the southeast corner of the proposed development.

A row of five homes along Cullom, just west of University Street at the southeast corner of the proposed development.

I believe rezoning this land and accepting this plan would contradict our efforts to the east.
As part of our 2009 planning retreat, the Normal Town Council asked staff to develop a plan that anticipates the loss of residence halls at the University, but we have yet to see that plan and have yet to discuss in any formal way where this community wants future student housing to be located.
 
Based on the limited discussion I heard at the planning commission meeting, the Council needs to engage planning commissioners in this process as well before we move ahead with a development of this size and likely impact.
This does not have to be an involved planning process that requires outside help.  Everyone involved in Normal Town government understands the issues involved in student-oriented multiple family zoning.  There’s a myriad of informal policies out there.
Before more residence halls go down, and more student-oriented complexes are built, let’s get a formal policy on paper.
 
We want it close to campus doesn’t really capture it for me.
 
Again, my immediate concern is the expansion of the footprint of multiple family housing into new areas.

There is multiple family zoning south of University and Hovey, but no buildings of this magnitude — a proposed 550-ft. long, four-story building with 350 bedrooms inside 2-, 3-, and 4-bedroom units.   Because there is no party deck, volleyball court, or balconies, the developers claim it will appeal to the “serious student,” a claim that invoked laughter in the council chambers when a resident asked how the developers plan to screen for serious students.  

There are plans for on-site security and property maintenance, which now come up so frequently as approval enticements that we ought to make them mandatory for developments over a certain number of residents.

I find it interesting how eager everyone associated with project wants to make it a Main Street Corridor project.  For those who place a very high priority on public acceptance of the stalled Main Street Corridor planning process and form-based code:   Is this what the Main Street Corridor reallyenvisions?  Is this how you want to get off the ground by expanding Normal’s already enormous footprint of student-oriented multiple family housing?

I don’t doubt the sincerity or integrity of the development team or even their desire to build a quality project.  They are attempting to jump through all of the hoops.  I recognize the limitations of the site, but jamming as many beds into one long building doesn’t seen like a proper fit for the property and defintely not for the neighborhood.   I challenge them to come up with alternative that maintains the current zoning.

I think we owe it to this neighborhood to not leap at the first high density multiple family proposal that fits on the site.  

Let’s study the market, figure out where we really want student-oriented multiple family housing, and in what densities.  

Let’s take our time and get it right.

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Filed under Development, Illinois State University, Main Street, planning, Uncategorized, Zoning

Rating agencies keep Normal’s creditworthiness in top 3 percent nationally

The Town of Normal sold two fixed-rate bond issues this week at 3.9 percent, lower even than the projected 4.1 to 4.3 percent range our financial gurus thought we might see.

The Town's putstanding bond rating means local government can borrow money at lower rates.  The Town's bond payments are covered by a combination of a quarter cent sales tax (enacted in 2000 for the purpose of repaying redevelopment bonds), a large portion of the hotel-motel tax, and some food and beverage tax revenue.  Uptown TIF revenue also covers a portion of the bond payments.

The Town's outstanding bond rating means local government can borrow money less expensively. The Town's bond payments are covered by a combination of a quarter cent sales tax (enacted in 2000 for the purpose of repaying redevelopment bonds), a large portion of the hotel-motel tax, and some food and beverage tax revenue. Uptown TIF revenue also covers a portion of annual interest payments.

The lower rates will result in significant savings over the course of the issue which will help fund public portions of Uptown redevelopment . 

The Council voted two weeks ago to turn an older variable rate bond issue into a fixed rate, locking in more than $1 million in accumulated interest savings as a result of rates which were below 1 percent for a time.

A new 2009 issue takes the Town’s general obligation debt to about $80 million for Uptown redevelopment.

The best news was that despite the national economic slowdown, despite lower than anticipated sales and income tax receipts, and despite the less than stellar financial performance of our next door neighbor, all three major bond rating agencies (Standard and Poors, Moody’s and Fitch) left the Town of Normal’s bond rating unchanged.

At AA1, the Town’s bond rating is nearly unmatched among local governments in the United States, ranking in the top three percent of all U.S. municipalities, a testament to local economic conditions and long held conservative financial management philosophy of underestimating revenues and overestimating expenses.

The State of Illinois is borrowing billions to balance its fiscal 2010 budget.  Rating agencies are deciding whether to downgrade the state’s bond ratings, which could have a negative ripple effect throughout the state.

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Filed under Budget, City of Bloomington, Sales tax collections, TIF, Town Council, Uptown Normal

Normal Town Council to consider management recommendations for Beaufort Street Parking Deck

The 500-space parking deck that will serve the Uptown Marriott Hotel and Conference Center and other nearby businesses will have a different set of rules and rates than its larger counterpart to the north.

Uptown Parking Management Committee members, including myself and fellow councilmember Chuck Scott, will present a proposed management plan for the deck that was constructed principally to accommodate hotel guests and conference center attendees.   March 2009 Just About Normal 080

Because of its excellent location near Watterson Towers and off campus housing, we also anticipate a number of others who’ll be interested in parking there.

The committee is recommending rates be set at $1 per hour, with no free first hour or free evening or Sunday hours like the Town offers at the 685-space College Avenue Deck.   

It will cost  $6 for seven to 12 hours of continuous parking and $8 to park for 12 to 24 hours on Beaufort Street.  

Heartland Parking will manage the Beaufort Street Parking Deck in close cooperation with the hotel management and Town of Normal to make sure that the hotel’s daily parking needs are met, including spots for valet parking and special events.   The goal is to permit more daily parking in the deck on days when hotel-conference center use is light. 

Like the College deck, businesses may offer parking validation for customers in the Beaufort deck.

A limited number of monthly parking permits will be offered at $80 per month.   Maybe I’m wrong, but I think that’s a little low for what I suspect will be the likely demand.  We’ll see.

I will move to amend the recommendation to maintain $20 per month parking rates indefinitely in the College Avenue Deck for Uptown businesses that continue to weather street construction.   In the absence of any action, those businesses would soon see their monthly rates double to $40.    

They have made a tremendous investment in Uptown and have demonstrated extraordinary patience during redevelopment.

Thanks to committee members Liz Barnhart, Shari Buckellew, Dottie Bushnell, Stephanie McClellan, Paul Morsbach, Scott Preston, Mike Royce, Dick Runner, Jim Schliefling, Brian Simpson, Joan Steinburg, Mary Strack, Gerry Taylor, and Heather Vanvoorhis for volunteering their time to the cause.  

Thanks to Julie Hile and her staff for their work in keeping us on task and moderating the discussion.

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Filed under Marriott Hotel and Conference Center, Parking, Town Council, Uptown Normal