The Carbondale Observer

News and commentary about Carbondale, Illinois and SIUC

City Council Meeting 08/07/2012

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The Carbondale City Council met at the city hall/civic centerat 7:00 p.m. Tuesday, August 7, 2012. As usual, I watched from home on Mediacom channel 16. A summary and brief comments follow.

A meeting of the Liquor Control Commission (LCC) preceded the city council meeting. The LCC, which is the city council minus Lance Jack (who does not serve on the LCC because he holds a liquor license), approved a class F1 liquor license for the Southern Illinois Irish Festival on October 6-7, 2012, then adjourned.

After roll call and announcements and proclamations, the city council approved most of the consent agenda unanimously, with item 4.5 pulled for discussion. Council member Don Monty pulled item 4.5 (pdf), which unanimously approved an amendment to the final BPL plan for the former Larry’s Pit BBQ (now Subway) building at 1181 Rendleman Road. Monty wanted it noted in the minutes that the city clerk will not record the approval until corrections are made to the application.

Item 5.1, the first item on the general business agenda, was a resolution commending a retiring employee and passed unanimously. Items 5.2 and 5.3, approving fair days for two events sponsored by Main Street and Hangar 9  (a Welcome Fest 0n August 25 and the Carbondale Microbrew & Music Festival on September 29), unanimously – though Lance Jack abstains from voting on liquor issues. Council also approved item 5.4, approving  fair days for the Southern Illinois Irish festival, with council member Corene McDaniel opposed and Jack abstaining.

Item 5.5 (pdf), which authorizes a referendum to determine whether to participate in aggregation of electricity, passed unanimously. If voters approve the referendum in November, the city will study rate aggregation more thoroughly before deciding whether to pass an ordinance implementing the program.

Item 5.6 (pdf), which rezones city-owned property at Glenview and Sycamore to BPL (planned business) to allow the city to build the long-awaited fire station, passed unanimously.

Item 5.7 (pdf), which would have rezoned property on Widdows Lane from AG (general agriculture) to RR (rural residential), was defeated with only council member Chris Wissmann voting in favor. This zoning request was necessary for the property owner to sell a home and one acre of his fifteen acre tract. This was a classic example of our zoning code at work. I’ll explain the situation a little better.

The property owner has fifteen acres on Widdows Lane (off of Springer Ridge Road). The property contains two houses and two accessory buildings – pole barns, I think. The owner wants to sell one acre containing one home and one pole barn, and keep the other fourteen acres, the other house, and the other pole barn. Eventually the owner would like to use the existing buildings on his remaining fourteen acres as an office for his business and build a home for himself on the property.

The neighbors came to speak to the city council and explained that they support his decision to sell the acre and the house, but they’re concerned that rezoning to RR would permit a future owner to develop a subdivision on the property. Their concern is legitimate – rezoning to RR would permit the property owner, current or future, to build a subdivision containing around eight lots – and Widdows Lane is a narrow road. A new subdivision on the property would clog Widdows Road and negatively affect surrounding property owners.

The zoning code is the source of the problem. The owner can’t simply sell the acre, because the minimum size for a lot in an AG district is ten acres. And the owner can’t simply rezone the single acre to RR, which permits a minimum lot size of one acre, because the minimum size of a rural residential district is five acres. If the owner rezones five acres to RR and sells only one, there are still four acres that could possibly be subdivided in the future.

At least one of the neighbors who spoke in opposition to the rezoning said the city should find a way to allow the solution that everyone,  neighbors and property owner, agree is an acceptable outcome – the sale of the single acre. I agree with that reasoning. The city created this mess with our zoning code and it is the city’s responsibility to fix it.

Council member Don Monty pointed out that our codes exist to facilitate our long term planning and that there are reasons for the regulations that created this problem. Fritzler replied with what might have been the best line of his tenure as mayor when he said that laws exist for people; people don’t exist for laws. I agree with Fritzler – laws that prevent good outcomes should be amended or repealed.

Regular readers will know I’m not calling for repeal of our zoning code – zoning is important and necessary – but for amendment and reform. Zoning should protect property owners AND it should permit desirable outcomes. Council member Jane Adams mentioned some good options suggested by the consultants who helped develop Carbondale’s comprehensive plan. A major zoning overhaul is in the works. Will it include these options? It will if council insists on it.

Item 5.8 (pdf), which would have amended city code relating to water and sewer fees, did not receive a vote. Council raised several objections and concerns and asked staff to rework the proposal and bring it back at a future council meeting.

Item 5.9 (pdf), which established fees for vehicles towed as a result of a criminal offense, passed – but unfortunately I wasn’t able to record who voted in favor. This ordinance created a fee of $200 for tows resulting from an ordinance violation and some misdemeanors, and a fine of $400 for tows resulting from DUI, some misdemeanors, and all felonies. The fees are expected to generate around $125,000 per year, which will be dedicated to the purchase of police vehicles and equipment.

After the general business agenda, council received several citizen comments, then moved on to council comments.

Mayor Joel Fritzler that he attended the Carbondale Park District fundraiser for the proposed aquatic center and was impressed with the turnout and enthusiasm for a public pool. Fritzler announced a proposal for the city to commit $100,000, either cash or in-kind, to the campaign for the aquatic center. The Park District must raise $900,000 for the aquatic center or it will lose a roughly 2.5 million dollar federal grant.

Council member Don Monty immediately suggested that if the city donates the $100k, the Park District should annex the Marberry Arboretum into the city limits. Council member Jane Adams added that the Park District should either annex all its properties into the city limits or sign annexation agreements with the city for those parcels that are not contiguous to the city.

Mayor Fritzler described these proposals as strong-arm tactics and argued that since the Park District is a separate taxing body, the city shouldn’t insist that it do anything in return for a $100k grant.

I agree with Monty and Adams on this one. At a minimum, the city boundaries and the Park District boundaries should be coterminous – whether the city gives the Park District $100k or whether it doesn’t. It is possible to make a strong good-government case that the Park District should simply be absorbed into the city government rather than being a separate taxing body.

I’ll leave that discussion for another day, but I would be very disappointed if council passed Fritzler’s proposal without insisting that the Park District either annex or sign annexation agreements for all of its property. Fritzler has resisted amendments to his proposals in the past and council has refused to pass the unamended proposals.

I hope council members will insist on coterminous boundaries and annexation agreements before supporting Fritzler’s plan, and I hope Fritzler has learned to work collaboratively with his colleagues. Fritzler eventually accepted modifications to his proposed changes to the liquor code after it became clear that his proposals wouldn’t pass without modification. Council should make it clear that a refusal to require coterminous boundaries would be a deal breaker.

After council comments, the council adjourned.

Comments are welcome.

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