City Council Meeting 06.26.2012
The Carbondale city council met at the city hall/civic center on Tuesday, June 26, 2012. The council meeting was preceded by a meeting of the local Liquor Control Commission, which began at 7:00 p.m. As usual, I watched both meetings from home on Mediacom channel 16. A summary of both meetings with brief commentary is below.
Liquor Control Commission
The Liquor Control Commission (LCC) agenda was short and uncontroversial. After the roll call (Item 1) and the approval of minutes, (Item 2), the LCC unanimously approved Item 3, the transfer of an existing liquor license from Blue Fish Liquor & Cigars to NeeKee, LLC, Item 4, the renewal of the liquor license for the Ice Box Bar and Grill, and Item 5, the acceptance of fines imposed by the hearing officer against Knoob Enterprises. The Liquor Control Commission meeting adjourned at 7:23 p.m.
After Roll Call and Announcements and Proclamations, the council unanimously approved the consent agenda. Council also unanimously approved item 5.1, a resolution commending a retiring city employee.
Item 5.2 (pdf), a resolution approving a preliminary BPL (planned business) development for The Residences at East Glen was defeated 5-2 with only Mayor Joel Fritzler and council member Corene McDaniel voting in favor. I may return to this item in a future post, but for now I’m going to limit my commentary to this one point: council probably did the right thing here.
I was slightly in favor of this item before council discussion (although I would have preferred to see major changes to the design of the development), but I changed my mind after hearing the discussion. There were several really silly objections raised to this item, but there was one that struck me as worthwhile. The proposed residences would have been limited to people making less than 60% of the median income in the area, thus creating a new area of concentrated income-segregated residences. That seems like a bad idea to me. As I said, I may expand on this in a future post.
Item 5.3 (pdf), an ordinance approving rezoning of 112 and 200 N. Poplar Street from R-2, Medium Density Residential to PA, Professional Administrative Office, passed unanimously after a long discussion. The discussion mostly centered around two things – the nuisance factor (noise, drainage, etc.), and historic preservation. The discussion on historic preservation mostly centered on the house located at 200 N. Poplar, a mostly intact Gothic Revival house.
I’m always reluctant to see nice older buildings torn down and replaced with something less appealing. It looks like SIH is going to work with the city and possibly with Habitat for Humanity to find a lot and move the Gothic Revival home. 112 N. Poplar, a nice older apartment building which is in pretty good shape on the inside, found no friends on the council and will be demolished.
I’m sorry to see it go, although I understand the need for the hospital’s emergency power generation facility and I reluctantly favored this rezoning request. I’m very concerned about the expansion of Memorial Hospital into the surrounding residential neighborhood and I hope this will be the last incursion into that area.
One point that didn’t receive discussion at the council meeting: if I read the relevant code correctly, power generation is not allowed as a permitted use or as a special use in a PA, Professional Administrative Office district (see for yourself here). It is amazing to me that a council as rule obsessed as Carbondale’s often is would allow this to go without notice or comment.
At least one council member, Jane Adams, did notice the odd choice of zoning districts, and mentioned it in a blog post that went out to her email list. I couldn’t find the post online yet, so for now I’ll quote her and insert a link to the full item later:
My major reservation is that it is being rezoned as a Professional Administrative Office District (PA), which doesn’t exactly fit the intended use. But we have no zoning that permits this sort of a generator, which is part of an emergency back-up system that will be crucial in a disaster. I urge staff to look at such issues during the process of revising the City’s zoning ordinance. I welcome input on this rezoning request.
[Update: The entire post is now online here.]
Of course, code can be interpreted liberally or strictly, and I’ve often advocated for a more liberal interpretation allowing a greater diversity of uses. I wonder if council will apply the same flexibility and liberal interpretation of code when it considers other developments in the neighborhood, like the Oakland Avenue Auto Shop. Something tells me we’ll be back to strict interpretation of code when it’s applied to a small business instead of to the city’s second largest employer. I suppose we’ll see.
One other point on this item. There was another ugly exchange between Mayor Fritzler and council member Adams right before the vote. Adams tried to raise a point of privilege, but Mayor Fritzler unilaterally declared that council had discussed the matter enough and called for a vote. When Adams tried to explain that Robert’s Rules of Order permit her to raise the point of privilege, Mayor Fritzler shouted her down.
Fritzler has shown a dictatorial streak before in his running of meetings, which is one more reason that I remain convinced that he’s not up to the job of mayor. I found his behavior unsettling.
Item 5.4 (pdf), an ordinance amending city code to increase the purchasing authority of the City Manager from $10k to $20k became the most controversial and most confusing item of the night. I found the discussion incredibly tedious and arcane and eventually tuned out to reply to some email, so I won’t bother trying to summarize the discussion.
The ordinance was amended in a way that I didn’t fully understand (probably because my attention was divided between the council meeting and my email), and the amended ordinance passed 6-1, with only council member Jane Adams voting against it.
Item 5.5 (pdf), an authorization of Illinois EPA loan requirements for funding the Water Storage Facility Project passed unanimously and almost without comment. This project will construct a 3 million gallon water storage tank at 1080 E. Park St. to replace underground water storage tanks at the old water plant at Wall and Grand. This seems like a good project to me, and the 25% loan forgiveness the city will receive reduces the cost of the project by $1 million.
Item 5.6 (pdf), ordinance and resolutions necessary for the study and creation of a new Tax Increment Financing (TIF) district in the downtown, was, in my view, the most important item on tonight’s agenda. I wrote a post yesterday explaining how a TIF works. This item, which passed unanimously, did not establish a TIF district. It authorized the city manager to contract with a TIF consultant and made the necessary budget adjustments.
A downtown TIF has the potential to vastly improve Carbondale’s downtown, or to drive the final nail in its coffin. Which outcome happens is going to depend on whether or not design standards resulting in good urbanism are applied. I’ll have a post in the near future on what a good downtown should look like, and another one on poor choices for a downtown. Here’s the bottom line for me: if design standards are included, I’ll enthusiastically support a downtown TIF. If they are not, I will strongly oppose it.
Curiously, given the importance of a downtown TIF, there was almost no comment on this item. Council member Chris Wissmann asked two questions – one about whether TIF funds can be used to reimbursed commercial renters displaced by TIF developments and one about how a TIF would affect Main Street funding – and council member Don Monty asked a question about the map of the proposed TIF and why certain properties were left out. Aside from that, Item 5.6 – the most important item on the agenda – received no discussion.
I realize that this is only the first step in a longer process, but I found it strange that council would argue for nearly an hour over whether or not to increase the spending authority of the city manager – which is important, but decidedly of a second or third rank compared to a TIF in the downtown – while barely discussing this item. I hope to see much more discussion at future meetings.
After a few brief council comments, the meeting adjourned at 10:55 p.m.
Comments are welcome.