The Carbondale Observer

News and commentary about Carbondale, Illinois and SIUC

City Council Meeting 10/23/2012

with 5 comments

The Carbondale City Council met at the city hall/civic center at 7:00 p.m. on Tuesday, October 23, 2012. As usual, I watched the meeting from home on Mediacom channel 16. A summary and brief comments follow.

The meeting began with roll call and announcements and proclamations. The city manager announced that city council meetings will soon stream live on the city’s website. City council meetings are one of the main reasons I keep Mediacom, so if streaming works out I may be soon be entirely without cable. Hooray!

After roll call and announcements and proclamations, council held a public hearing on extending the life of the Downtown Special Service Area Number One, also known as the Main Street district, for another five years. One property owner in the district expressed concerns that the southern portion of the Main Street district doesn’t receive much benefit from the organization and another property owner asked if Main Street has specific plans to execute its goals. The Main Street director responded to those comments and then the public hearing was closed.

After the public hearing, council moved on to the consent agenda. In a break with tradition, no council member – not even Don Monty – pulled any item from the consent agenda. A member of the public requested that item 4.5 be pulled. Council approved the rest of the consent agenda unanimously.

Item 4.5 (pdf) was an ordinance authorizing the extension of the Downtown Special Service Area Number One (Main Street) for an additional five years. The audience member who pulled the item was the same one who expressed concern that the southern portion of the district doesn’t receive enough benefit from the district. That person requested that the special service area be extended for less than the proposed five years. Another property owner claimed the city acts “like a banana republic.”

Council member Chris Wissmann urged business owners within the district to get involved with the organization and try to steer the organization’s attention toward potentially under-served sections of the district. Council member Lance Jack, who owns a business at the south end of the district, agreed that most of the energy of Main Street is steered toward the north end of the district. Both Wissmann and Jack expressed support for shortening the length of the extension.

City Manager Kevin Baity conferred with staff and found that action could be delayed until December without causing problems for the Main Street district. The motion to approve the ordinance was withdrawn and the item will return at a future council meeting.

This is a perfect example of Carbondale’s government making easy things difficult, as Main Street should have been approved without reservation or hesitation. There will always be one or two people opposed to anything. If council proposed a resolution praising sunshine, someone would turn out to speak in favor of rain. Isolated opposition should not halt positive programs.

After withdrawing item 4.5, council moved on to the general business agenda.

Item 5.1 (pdf) commended a city employee for service to the city and passed unanimously and without discussion. The employee in question gave a nice speech after receiving his commendation.

Item 5.2 (pdf) was an ordinance authorizing the City Manager to enter into an economic development agreement with Intertape Polymer and authorizing the Mayor to execute a deed transferring real property. The ordinance transferred land adjacent to the existing Intertape Polymer facility for free and provided a no interest, forgivable loan in the amount of $194,500. The total incentive package is valued at $246,500.

Intertape agreed to increase employment by 37 jobs while maintaining the existing 68 jobs. The loan is for five years and will be forgiven based on employee retention and job creation contained in the agreement. The result is that Intertape operations will be consolidated in Carbondale. The other option is that Intertape would close its plant in Carbondale and consolidate elsewhere. With the total incentive of $246,500, that works out to $6,662.16 per new job.

The ordinance passed unanimously.

People should remember this when they hear the claim that Carbondale is unfriendly to business. Carbondale isn’t unfriendly to business; on the contrary, Carbondale has shown a willingness – even an eagerness – to subsidize business. Carbondale’s residents and businesses do suffer from both over-regulation and poorly designed regulations, but Carbondale’s government is quite friendly to business if “friendly” means “willing to provide subsidies.”

Item 5.3 (pdf), a resolution approving an amendment to the preliminary PUD plan for Liberty Village, was potentially controversial. The resolution allows the construction of a 120 bed nursing home, which will replace the Jackson County Rehab & Care facility in Murphysboro.

The potential controversy related to opposition to the development by homeowners in the area. No controversy emerged at the meeting, however, because the developer met in advance with the neighborhood association in the area and agreed to modify the site plan to address homeowner concerns. The homeowners then withdrew their opposition. The resolution passed unanimously after unanimous approval of an amendment sponsored by council member Don Monty.

The Monty amendment stipulated that the nursing home building not exceed 62,000 square feet, that the development not exceed a 4.2 Land Use Intensity, and that the resolution applies only to the area used for the nursing home while leaving the remainder of the PUD plan unchanged.

I will comment briefly on this. I agree with council members Chris Wissmann, Don Monty, Jane Adams, and Lee Fronabarger in their praise of the process used to approve this development. Instead of mindless NIMBYism and developer intransigence, the neighbors and the developer worked together to reach a win-win outcome. A development was allowed to proceed and neighbors’ concerns were addressed. This is what we want.

I could take issue with the specific solutions the neighbors and the developer settled on (berms are particularly silly, and I’m a bit suspicious of the entire concept of “buffering”), but the specific solutions aren’t the point. This development set a precedent for a useful process and that ought to be followed in the future. If this process becomes standard, our residents might build a “best practices” knowledge base and we might get better solutions.

I should also point out that Mayor Joel Fritzler deserves some credit for this outcome, as he encouraged the developers to work with the neighborhood residents to achieve a positive outcome. I’ve criticized Fritzler when I thought he deserved it, but fairness requires me to praise him when I think he deserves it. In this case, Fritzler deserves praise. He could have written off the concerns expressed by  the residents, but he chose to help them reach an agreement with the developer. That is the kind of behavior we want from our mayor.

Item 5.4 (pdf), a resolution approving a special use permit license for Warehouse Liquor’s annual Fall Wine Festival, passed unanimously and without discussion. Council member Lance Jack did not vote, as he owns a business (Fat Patties) that holds a liquor license.

Item 5.5 (pdf), an ordinance establishing the date, time, and place for a Public Hearing on Proposed TIF # 2 (the downtown TIF), passed unanimously. Council member Lance Jack did not vote because he owns a business that is surrounded by, but not included in, the proposed downtown TIF. The Public Hearing will be held at 7:00 p.m. on December 11, 2012 at the city hall/civic center.

Item 5.6 (pdf), an ordinance establishing the date, time, and place for a Public Hearing on Proposed TIF # 3 (the Oakland Avenue TIF), passed unanimously. The Public Hearing will be held at 7:00 p.m. on December 11, 2012 at the city hall/civic center.

You may have noticed that the two public hearings are technically scheduled for the same time. Council member Corene McDaniel noticed the same thing and asked for clarification. City Manager Kevin Baity explained that all public hearings are added to the city council agenda and scheduled for 7:00 p.m. to ensure that anyone who wants to attend arrives on time. The hearings will be held consecutively, not concurrently.

Item 5.7 (pdf), an ordinance amending the Carbondale Revised Code as it relates to catering licenses, passed unanimously after unanimous approval of an amendment suggested by council member Chris Wissmann. Council member Lance Jack did not vote on the ordinance or the amendment because he owns a business that holds a liquor license.

This ordinance allows caterers working events at specific locations on the SIUC campus to apply for a liquor license allowing the sale of beer and wine by the glass. The Wissmann amendment specified that licenses are available for the entire Communications Building and for the the old Glove Factory art gallery.

After approving item 5.7, council moved on to citizen comments and questions. Only two members of the public spoke. Council then moved on to council comments.

Council member Don Monty drew attention to TIF #2 as a way to address some of the concerns mentioned during discussion of the Main Street district. Monty also suggested that the city take a formal position on hydraulic fracking – a suggestion that council members Jack and Wissmann and Mayor Fritzler agreed with.  Monty also suggested that the funding request process for community organizations be made more clear this year.

Council adjourned at 9:48 p.m.

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5 Responses

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  1. Could you expand on what your suspicians about buffering are? Thanks Mary

    Anonymous

    October 24, 2012 at 11:53 am

    • Mary – Thanks for the comment. I’d be happy to expand. I wanted to explain in the post, but I didn’t want to dilute my praise of the process with a criticism of the result. I make an effort to be as positive as possible.

      I probably didn’t phrase that as well as I could have. I should have written that I’m suspicious of the impulse behind buffering. To help me explain, consider another context in which we hear about buffers and buffer zones: international relations.

      A few examples: Amid the chaos of the current Syrian civil war, some are calling for a buffer zone near the Turkish border. After World War II, Joseph Stalin chose to maintain control over eastern Europe as a buffer against the capitalist West. A demilitarized buffer zone has existed between North and South Korea for nearly sixty years. The buffer zone is seen as necessary to separate hostile forces.

      The same impulse is at work when buffer zones are used in an urban context. The urge to buffer comes out of the suburban sprawl development pattern in which it is considered axiomatic that all uses should be separate from one another and linked only by travel in cars. In the sprawl development pattern, retail uses should be separate from office uses, both should be separate from residential uses, and all of the above should be separate from civic uses.

      And it doesn’t stop there. Even within use categories, sprawl advocates want separation. Single family houses must be separated from duplexes and triplexes, and those must be separated from apartments and condos. The separation continues until the result is tedious, single-use suburbanism. It results in wasteful use of land, which results in more trips in cars, and that results in greater carbon emissions. It is unsustainable, expensive, and it is an unpleasant environment for human beings (although it is great for cars).

      Buffering comes in to the picture where the single-use zones meet. The thought that a duplex or small apartment building or, worst of all, a retail store or office might be next to a single family home fills the suburban heart with fear and loathing. The solution: separate these implacably hostile uses with a buffer, usually a berm, a fence, or a row of trees.

      Berms, of course, are used as part of security around sensitive military sites, and fences (or walls) have been infamously used (as in cold war Berlin or present day Israel) to prevent the movement of populations. The comparison to the urban application is apt. Buffering used in an urban context is meant to prevent the conflict which different uses are assumed to produce.

      I question the assumption that having multiple uses side by side is necessarily bad. I concede that most industrial uses should be separated from most other uses. But the best places in the world are places where mixed uses exist side by side. In these places, people live, work, and shop all in the same area. They walk between destinations. And those places have some of the highest property values in the world.

      Along with an exception for industrial uses, I can think of at least two other areas where buffers are appropriate. One exception is for a buffer between cars and pedestrians. Ideally, we would have on-street parking and a row of street trees as a buffer to protect pedestrians from motorists. The other exception that comes immediately to mind is the use of buffers to protect sensitive ecological features like streams and lakes from runoff from roadways or agricultural areas.

      In general, though, I think mixing uses and increasing density and intensity of land use in developed areas – while keeping development entirely out of natural areas – produces a better human habitat than the standard suburban sprawl that has been Carbondale’s development pattern. While mixing uses and increasing density overall, there is still room for areas that are predominantly residential and developed at a lower level of intensity. And I do think it is worthwhile to pay attention to the transition areas between areas of greater and lesser density and mixing of uses.

      I think one way to achieve this result is to move away from strict regulation on use and toward strict regulation of form. A form-based code is one tool that could be useful. Here’s a link: http://www.formbasedcodes.org/

      I’ve given you a general criticism of buffering, but I haven’t addressed the specific buffering used at the specific development approved at last night’s meeting. As buffer zones go, this seems like a pretty good one. The berm, at a mere three feet, is silly, but instead of a useless patch of grass (like the First Southern lawn, which I’ve heaped scorn upon in the past) it sounds like the neighborhood got the equivalent of a pocket park. The developer mentioned benches and landscaping, and it sounded to me like it would be open to the public. That’s far better than a fence, a “business lawn,” or a row of trees.

      I’ll make one other point about berms. Like buffer zones generally, berms can sometimes be appropriate. For example, if you visit Manhattan’s Central Park or Brooklyn’s Prospect Park, you can be within thirty or forty feet of a busy street and never know it because in many places the edges of the parks are insulated from the street by a tall (ten or fifteen feet) artificial hill with trees and shrubs planted at the top. It would be possible to argue that these hills are berms.

      The difference, though, between the “berms” in the New York parks and the standard suburban berm is that the New York berms (1) are tall enough to be effective, and (2) insulate a relatively scarce green area from an extremely dense and busy metropolis. In that context, some buffering makes sense. In the sprawling, sparsely populated context of Carbondale, buffering seems much less necessary to me.

      Thanks again for the comment!

      The Carbondale Observer

      October 24, 2012 at 10:16 pm

      • Thank you so much for your thoughtful and informative reply. I would like to share it with members of our Neighborhood HOusing Action Group for further discussion, as the issue of preserving neighborhoods in light of issues raised by higher density will be coming up again on North Oakland.

        I have traveled to Northern Ireland a number of times, visiting Cathoic and Protestant groups on both sides of a very famous buffer– the Peace Wall, so I do understand what you are talking about . Our group is focused on the issues raised by Carbondale residents who are experiencing the issues raised by mixed use that is not well planned for– noise, light, increased traffic and litter, sound issues. In our experience this is largely due to lack of planning when placing a high density service facility which has many employees next to larely single family neighborhoods. We want the planning and enforcement that will enable these types of mixed uses to live compatibly and not futher flight from Carbondale’s neighborhoods. We want neighborhoods to be involved in this process and were happy to have been part of the Liberty Village efforts. The neighorhhood involvement in this effort occured because the Neighorhood Associantion followed the issue, pursued community involvement, and sought resources that would help them.

        I too am concerned about issues of sprawl and see the benefits/ need for mixed use. I also believe that the 70% rental housing stock situation, dominated by a small group of landlords who are not community minded is something to keep in mind when thinking about zoning regulations. It has resulted in a climate where planning for community safety, neighborhood preservation, sustainabilty, energy efficency have,up until recently, been interpreted as not being “businesss friendly”.

        What we witnessed last week –a neighborhood who supports the proposed use of the land, wants relationships and planning that will foster coexistance and mutual benefit, is able to participate in meaningful ways, and is encouraged to participate by elected officials — is part of an evolving neighborhood oriented planning process that has been evolving over the past ten years in Carbondale. Thank you for your ideas. Mary O’Hara, Neighborhood Action Group, Carbondale Study Circle

        Mary O'Hara

        October 28, 2012 at 12:10 pm

        • Mary O’Hara – I’m happy to reply and I’d be happy for you to share anything on this blog with the Neighborhood Action Group.

          I think you’re right that the problems we’ve had in Carbondale are due in large part to poor regulations. It’s not a left vs. right, more regulation vs. less regulation issue, it’s an effective regulation vs. ineffective regulation issue. I’ve advocated for zoning reform on this blog, in private correspondence, and in personal conversations, and I often encounter resistance. When that happens, I ask if the person objecting likes the way Carbondale is built, because that is the result of our forty year experiment with suburban-style zoning. My position is that it was a well intended experiment that didn’t work out. We ended up with a code that permits the problems you described but prohibits good, dense urbanism.

          I think there is another way. I mentioned form-based codes in my first reply, and I think those are a good solution – at least for some parts of town. For other parts, we might keep the existing zoning scheme while changing and reforming it. The code is undergoing a rewrite right now and I’m hopeful the reformed code will be a meaningful improvement.

          It is important to recognize that there are really two Carbondales. Traditional Carbondale is the portion roughly between Grand Street on the south, Rigdon and Fisher streets on the north, Oakland Avenue on the west, and Wall Street on the east. Sprawl Carbondale is everything else.

          Traditional Carbondale was mostly built before suburban zoning took effect and is mostly built according to traditional neighborhood development (TND) standards. Some of it has since been redeveloped under suburban zoning and the results aren’t great. College Street east of Poplar is the result of our current zoning laws.

          Sprawl Carbondale was built either under our conventional suburban development (CSD) zoning code (also called sprawl) or was built before the sprawl code but using sprawl standards. You can easily see the difference between the two Carbondales by looking at a street map.

          This is important because “preservation” or “restoration” means different things in each Carbondale. In Sprawl Carbondale, preservation means keeping the curvy streets, the big setbacks, and the single-use zoning. In Traditional Carbondale, it’s arguably too late for preservation but not for restoration, which in this case would mean a return to principles of traditional urbanism.

          Whether Sprawl Carbondale ought to be preserved is an open question. It a wasteful development pattern which gobbles up land and requires more infrastructure than a traditional development pattern. Some people advocate for sprawl repair or suburban retrofitting. I’m generally sympathetic to those ideas, but I don’t have an appetite for the political fight that would take.

          I think a better solution is to maintain conventional suburban zoning in Sprawl Carbondale, but make the people who live in that area pay for their infrastructure through a tax surcharge. That way if people want to live in single-use, sparsely populated areas, they have that option available. The tax surcharge places the cost of that style of development on the people who favor it instead of forcing others to subsidize it. Of course, that idea is politically impossible because the people who live in Sprawl Carbondale are also the people who vote. I mention the idea as what SHOULD be, but I don’t think it CAN be.

          Traditional Carbondale should be restored. I think the best way to do that would be either to create traditional neighborhood zoning district within our existing code or to apply a traditional neighborhood zoning code that applies only to Traditional Carbondale. If we chose the second option, new developments should have the option to choose whether to be regulated under sprawl zoning or traditional zoning.

          A traditional zone or overlay would have smaller setbacks in the front and on the sides (in place of a front setback, we’d probably use a build-to line), it would preserve alleys where they exist, it would permit secondary dwellings (also called mother-in-law or granny flats), it would permit neighborhood oriented commercial uses, and it would have a form-based component, among other things. All of these except the form-based regulation were standard and unquestioned practices when Traditional Carbondale was built. The form-based regulation is necessary because we’ve forgotten how to build good buildings.

          I think a one-size-fits-all solution would be a disaster. It would be impossible to preserve or restore Traditional Carbondale using sprawl zoning. That would destroy Traditional Carbondale. It would also be impossible to preserve Sprawl Carbondale using a traditional building pattern. There is no reason we can’t do both if we use the right tools and the right code for each area.

          Thanks for the comment!

          The Carbondale Observer

          October 29, 2012 at 9:20 pm

  2. […] that. I could burn through thousands of words heaping scorn on buffer yards, but instead I’ll link to a comment from a previous post explaining my thoughts on buffer yards. This is almost a deal breaker for […]


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