The Carbondale Observer

News and commentary about Carbondale, Illinois and SIUC

Posts Tagged ‘Carbondale City Council

Council Defers Action on Neighborhood Business District

with 4 comments

I’m going to keep this brief because it is 12:20 a.m. After more than two hours of discussion and amendments, council voted by a 4-3 margin to defer action on the proposed revision to the Neighborhood Business District. Council Members Lance Jack, Lee Fronabarger, Jane Adams, and Don Monty voted to postpone action until a future meeting. Council members Chris Wissmann and Corene McDaniel joined Mayor Joel Fritzler in voting to move the amendment forward.

This delay will allow citizens an extra opportunity to learn more about the proposed change and to suggest changes to improve the amendment. That’s a good thing. With any luck, the tone of the discussion will improve and we will discuss these issues in a calm and rational manner. I think we’ll find that the proposed amendment is basically an improvement over our existing code, although the last text I saw did need to be tightened up.

Since the ordinance under discussion tonight was subject to major amendments proposed by Council Member Don Monty, this will also give the city the opportunity to make those amendments public. That will allow citizens to make their own judgments about the wisdom of this zoning change. I am eager to see what Monty proposed.

This delay should not be seen as an opportunity to dither. Council has a responsibility to do the people’s business. Council and staff should gather comments and suggestions from the public. The changes necessary to tighten up this amendment should be incorporated into the text, and then council should act.

Incidentally, this was BY FAR the most acrimonious city council meeting I have ever witnessed. I strongly encourage interested parties to view the video archived on the city’s website. To do so, click here. I’m not sure how long it takes for the archived videos to be posted, but I don’t think it takes very long.

Comments are welcome.


Written by The Carbondale Observer

March 20, 2013 at 12:35 am

My Thoughts on the Proposed Changes to the Neighborhood Business District

with 28 comments

A furor has erupted during the last few weeks over proposed changes to the Neighborhood Business (NB) District in our zoning code. I have received several requests for comment in my email, so I’ll add my voice to the discussion. I’ll start with a brief summary of what is being proposed, followed by a lengthy explanation and discussion of the disputes as I understand them. At the end, I’ll explain my own position on this amendment.

First the explanation. Our zoning code as currently written contains a Neighborhood Business (NB) District. Click here to see the code as currently written. Currently, there are no properties zoned NB. There is a proposal working its way through the process that would change the NB district in a few ways. Click here (pdf) to view the proposed text as amended (additions to the current code are underlined, while text being removed has a line drawn through it).

First, the rewrite would remove all permitted uses. No use would be permitted by right in an NB district. This is important to note. Instead of permitted uses, the rewritten NB district would allow certain businesses as special uses. The perceived benefit of this system is that it allows more oversight. The process for getting a special use permit allows council and the planning commission to impose certain conditions on the operation of a business. Second, performance standards would be imposed for the special uses permitted in the NB district. Third, some of the requirements in the district (related to size and distance between districts) would change.

So far, so good, right? Unless you’re strictly opposed to any business in a neighborhood, then more oversight and additional performance standards would seem at first glance to be an improvement. Now we’ll turn to the concerns raised over this amendment. The dispute, as I understand it, lies in three areas, each of which I will explain.  Read the rest of this entry »

Written by The Carbondale Observer

March 19, 2013 at 6:05 am

Harm Reduction a Better Approach to Liquor Issues

with one comment

I watched the Liquor Control Commission and City Council meetings from home last night on Mediacom channel 16. It’s been a little over two months since I watched one and I’m not going to do a complete summary. The LCC meeting was longer than the City Council meeting because there was a discussion of opening the remaining bars on Illinois Avenue still forced to close for Halloween. I want to weigh in briefly on that topic and on liquor issues generally.

First, I support allowing the remaining bars on Illinois Avenue to open on Halloween. In an ideal world, we’d start a well organized street party that reestablishes Carbondale’s reputation for Halloween festivities while avoiding the riots and property damage that sometimes accompanied past Halloween celebrations. I realize the memory of bad Halloweens past is still with us and I think it’s fine to take things slowly. First open the remaining bars on the strip. If everything goes well for a couple of years, maybe then we could think about an organized festival.

Second, I am still mystified by the cap on liquor licenses for bars. There was originally an item on the Council agenda to reduce the cap on class B (bar) liquor licenses as a result of the recent closing of Gatsby’s (Council pulled the item from the agenda). This is one of our silliest laws. Carbondale can support only so many bars. There are not an unlimited number of bar customers, so there will not be an unlimited number of bars. There is no need to cap the number of class B licenses unless the intent is to artificially hold the number of bars below the number the market can support. Since council has routinely raised the limit, I assume that is not the intent.

We should ask why we would want to artificially limit the number of bars. Does Union County limit the number of wineries? Does Marion limit the number of gas stations or hotel rooms? I realize there is a puritanical element in Carbondale. As hard as it is to believe, the fact that some people drink alcohol offends some other people’s morals. That puritanical element, certainly a minority, should not be allowed to use legislation to force their morals on the rest of us.

That brings me to my larger point. It is time to get past our obsession with liquor issues. Instead using scarce police resources to strictly control drinking, we should adopt a harm reduction approach. I do not care a bit if an 18 or 19 year old – an adult old enough to join the military and vote in elections – drinks alcohol, even if he or she drinks to the point of intoxication. On the other hand, I do care if the person drinks a dangerous amount of alcohol. I care about property damage and violence. I care about fireworks going off at 3:00 in the morning. I care about beer cans and bottles littering the streets and sidewalks. I care about drunk driving.

A harm reduction approach recognizes that police have to prioritize their resources. There simply aren’t enough police officers to strictly enforce every law and ordinance. That means we have to decide which laws and ordinances deserve the most attention. Offenses like underage consumption or possession of an open container in public should be the absolute lowest priority for police.

Instead, police should focus on the harms associated with drinking. Make it clear that if you damage property, commit a violent act, disturb your neighbors, litter, drive drunk, or create harm in other ways, you will be arrested. Also make it clear that if you don’t do those things, police aren’t likely to take the time to stop you and check your I.D. or see if that beverage in your red plastic cup is beer or lemonade.

I understand that critics might say that a harm reduction approach amounts to selective enforcement of the law. I admit it. It isn’t possible to devote equal resources to the enforcement of each and every law. We should use our best judgement to select the most important laws, those that protect us from harm, and devote most of our attention to those. The rest should be an afterthought. Council should take action to set some priorities for the police department.

Comments are welcome.

Written by The Carbondale Observer

January 30, 2013 at 7:30 am

Preliminary Thoughts on the Proposed Zoning Code Revision

leave a comment »

I’m still on hiatus, but since I’ve been talking about the need to reform our zoning code for the last couple of years, I thought I’d weigh in briefly. The city is holding a public hearing at 6:00 p.m. today at City Hall in room 108. I’ve had limited time to look at the proposed changes. I have read the summary of changes, which I understand to be incomplete, but I have not made a side  by side comparison of existing code and the proposed rewrite.

Before I get into specifics, I’ll talk a little more generally. Our existing code is a total mess and we need a complete change in approach. I’m on the record supporting a change away from use-based zoning to form-based zoning. The proposed changes do not switch Carbondale to a form-based code, so, in my view, they are less than ideal. But there are at least some improvements over our existing code in the rewritten code that make it superior to the code as it exists today.

Here is my bottom line: If council considers this rewrite a starting point and further reforms are to follow, then I can live with this proposed rewrite. If, as I suspect, council considers this rewrite the final word on zoning reform for the foreseeable future, then we need to go back to the drawing board and make further changes before passing this proposed code. 

That said, here are a few of the good changes, the bad changes, what should have been in the new code, and a few nitpicks. If you want to follow along, then download the summary of proposed changes (pdf) and the full text of the proposed code (large pdf). The following should not be considered an exhaustive commentary, as there are certainly things I have missed and possibly things that I have misunderstood.

The Good

  1. Design standards for buildings in certain districts. This is the best change in the proposed ordinance. You can find the design standards in §4.6.1 of the proposed code. This would affect large buildings in R-3 (high density residential) and PUD (planned unit development), and all buildings in BPR (primary business) districts. These requirements will improve the quality and appearance of our public spaces and produce better environmental outcomes.
  2. Reduced side setbacks in R1 (low density) districts. These changes are in §2.11.11. Currently, the code requires side setbacks of 10% of the lot width, with a minimum of 8 feet. The minimum lot size permitted is 50 feet wide, but that still requires a minimum setback of 8 feet, leaving only 34 feet in the center of a lot to hold a building. This change would reduce the setback to five feet, which would leave 40 feet for a building on a lot 50 feet wide.
  3. Reduced front setbacks in pre-1974 neighborhoods. These changes are in §2.11.9. Currently, city code requires a front setback of 20% of the lot depth or 25 feet in the R-1-5 district, which has a minimum depth of 100 feet (that’s not specified in the code, but the code specifies a minimum lot area of 5,000 square feet and a 50 foot minimum width, so if you do the math that leaves you with a 100 foot minimum lot depth). The problem is in the old neighborhoods in the heart of town. The existing structures do not have such deep setbacks. This change allows a setback based on the average setback of existing buildings on the block in neighborhoods built before 1974.
  4. Decreased setbacks for BPL (planned business) districts. These changes are in §2.21.7 to §2.21.9. This drops the front, side, and rear yard requirements to ten feet. The old code required a 40 foot yard in the front and a 20 foot yard in the side and rear.
  5. Eliminated minimum lot size for BPL (planned business) districts. This change is in §2.21.5. The old code mandated a minimum of four acres. The revised code specifically declines to set a limit, though it says the minimum will “generally” be four acres or larger.
  6. Parking requirements for mixed use. These changes are in §4.7.4(J). This clarifies language in the existing code allowing parking requirements to be reduced in mixed use developments where the proposed users will not need the parking area at the same time. This shared parking provision reduces the space required for parking in a mixed use development.

The Bad

  1. Business Lawns. Not only does the new code retain the noxious and wasteful “business lawns” that I have criticized before, it actually increases their depth in the PA (Professional Administrative) districts from 8 feet to 10 feet. While the lawn requirements are reduced for a BPL districts, I’d like to see them eliminated entirely and replaced with an impact fee that would go into a fund controlled by the city and dedicated to the purchase of contiguous land for parks and usable green space development. Tasteful landscaping does not require wasteful use of land.
  2. Buffer Yards. This change is in §4.1.8, and begins with the following: “Buffers shall be required for all new development and redevelopment in Carbondale.” This is a step in precisely the wrong direction. Buffers are designed to separate hostile forces (0r, in this case, uses) from one other. We should be trying to integrate diverse uses into fully functioning neighborhoods. Buffers are an obstacle to 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 me.
  3. Parking requirements for libraries and schools. These are in §4.7.4 (I). The required parking for libraries is doubled in the new code. The required parking for schools is also increased, which would make it nearly impossible to return to neighborhood schools should the school districts wish to do so.

Things That Should Have Been Included

  1. Duplexes and “granny flats” in R-1 districts. There is no reason to have an R-1-5-D district. Duplexes and “granny flats” (secondary residential uses, generally in converted garages in backyards) should be allowed by right in all R1 districts. They could still be subject to R1 occupancy rules (one family and no more than one non-related person). If people are afraid that an irresponsible landlord would use this as a way to break blocks, duplexes and “granny flats” could be permitted only on an owner occupied lot. One way to do this would be to allow no more than one rental on a lot in an R1 district. That would allow a homeowner to rent one unit but would prohibit a landlord from renting two units. This is a common sense change.
  2. The changes permitting greater freedom in neighborhoods built before zoning in 1974 are nice, but they should go much farther. I’ve written about this before (see this link), but I will write about it again here. I suggest creating a new district. Call it a TND, for Traditional Neighborhood District, and apply it to the parts of town built before zoning. Allow the small or nonexistent front and side setbacks, rear access parking, secondary dwelling units, and neighborhood businesses that used to be a part of the fabric of American neighborhoods until misguided zoning outlawed them. Allow new developments to choose to be zoned according to the existing code or to be zoned as Traditional Neighborhood Districts. This would have the advantage of addressing some of the issues council member Jane Adams brings up in her blog post on proposed zoning rewrite.
  3. Sometimes people get upset about what they see as “spot zoning.” But if you want to get some of the benefits of a form based code without giving up your use based code, then small districts are the way to go. I’d like to see it specified that a district can be as small as one side of one block – say, for example, all the lots facing Willow Street, or Oakland, might be zoned one way, while neighboring lots are zoned another way. Small districts allow regulation of use while allowing varied uses in proximity to one another.
  4. Related to number 3, I’d like to see the zoning code zone building standing before 1974 in ways that allow them to be used for something approaching what they were designed for. A prime example is the sometimes controversial Oakland Auto Shop. The building, built before zoning as a Coca-Cola warehouse, is currently zoned R1. That is a joke. That building is not appropriate as a single family home. It, and every other commercial or institutional building standing before zoning, even those in primarily residential districts, should be rezoned to allow uses appropriate for the building. That may not be an auto shop, but in the case of the building at on the southeast corner of Oakland and Sycamore, and in several other cases, it is surely some commercial use.


  1. I approve of the design standards I mentioned in “The Good” item 1. But I do have one nitpick. The BPR district requires a minimum height of 2 stories. I’d prefer to base minimum and maximum heights on the width of the public right of way plus the required setback. A wider right of way with a deeper setback would require a higher height minimum. A narrower right of way with a shallow setback would require a lower height minimum.
  2. In “The Good,” item 2, I praise the reduction in side setbacks. Yes, five feet is better than eight, but I’d prefer to reduce them even more. A side setback of three feet, no matter how wide the lot, would be fine, provided that provisions are made to prevent fire hazards. If you are willing to use masonry construction instead of wood, then a three foot setback is plenty.
  3. The new code requires the longest dimension of a home to be parallel to the street (§2.11.6). Has anyone from the consultancy hired to write the code visited Carbondale? Our beloved bungalows almost never have the longest dimension facing the street. Fortunately, this change only requires the longest side to “generally” face the street. It is still a silly regulation that should be struck from the code.

It is worth remembering that the summary document is known to be incomplete. The other changes in the code may be good or bad. We should not accept this code as-is unless it is understood to be a work in progress that will be amended in the coming months. A better solution would be to make changes to the code before it is passed. Improve it now and it will require fewer amendments later.

Comments are welcome.

Written by The Carbondale Observer

January 23, 2013 at 7:30 am

No Council Summary This Week

leave a comment »

I didn’t watch the council meeting this week, so I don’t have a summary. The agenda is available on the city’s website. I may update this post with comment after I find out what happened. My hope is that council approved the extension of the Main Street program and approved the ordinance change preventing mayors from unilaterally naming and dedicating buildings.

Comments are welcome.

Written by The Carbondale Observer

November 14, 2012 at 7:45 am

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.

City Council Meeting 10/09/2012

with 3 comments

The Carbondale City Council met at the city hall/civic center at 7:00 p.m. on Tuesday, October 9, 2012. As usual, I watched the meeting from home on Mediacom channel 16. A summary and brief comments follow.

After roll call and announcements and proclamations, the City Manager announced that the new Carbondale website is now live. I had noticed a few minutes earlier when I visited to open the agenda. I’m undecided on whether I like the new website or not. I’ll check it out over the next few days, but I can already point to one area that I love.

The new website has an entire page devoted to maps. Click the link and check them out – there are almost thirty maps showing traffic, future land use, reinvestment areas, and conceptual neighborhoods, among many others. This is a great resource. I’d like to see a map showing exactly which residential parcels are rentals and which are owner-occupied. That should be easy to generate, as the city already has information on rentals for the housing inspection program.

After the special report on the city’s new website, council moved on to the consent agenda. Council member Don Monty pulled item 4.8 from the consent agenda. The rest of the consent agenda passed unanimously and without discussion.

Item 4.8 (pdf), a resolution authorizing the City Manager to execute an engineering agreement for the sanitary sewer inflow and infiltration study, was the subject of nearly twenty minutes of discussion. Council member Don Monty questioned the cost of the study and asked why the contract wasn’t bid. In addition to the answers provided by city staff, council member Chris Wissmann pointed out that professional services frequently aren’t bid because competence is more important than price. After the discussion, the item passed unanimously.

After finishing with the consent agenda, council moved on to the general business agenda.

Item 5.1 (pdf) was a resolution approving the final BPL development plan for the new fire station planned for 401 N. Glenview. The agenda item linked at the beginning of this paragraph contains a map showing the location of the proposed fire station and a simplified site plan showing how the building and parking will be placed on the lot. It’s what you’d imagine – large setbacks, tons of parking, and the standard “green space.” The link doesn’t contain a rendering of the building, but a preliminary drawing was shown at the meeting and the building is what you’d expect – a moderately unattractive building that will be no more offensive than what surrounds it.

Council member Don Monty asked that some language be changed by amendment and his amendment was approved unanimously. The language was technical in nature and not relevant to this post. There followed a somewhat lengthy and occasionally heated discussion of sustainability in city buildings. Council member Lance Jack was the main voice pushing for sustainability. This is a topic I’m passionate about so I’ll comment briefly, but first I’ll explain what happened a little more thoroughly.

Jack first asked whether sustainability and total cost of ownership had been taken into account in the design of the building and specifically mentioned windows that open, solar panels, and geothermal heating and cooling as examples. The answer provided by staff was that they “went through those motions” but ultimately decided sustainability is too expensive. Jack then expressed his frustration that council continues to favor sustainability in design of public buildings and yet those elements are never included in the final plans for city buildings.

This discussion went on for some time, with Mayor Joel Fritzler trying to cut Jack off (which Fritzler seems to enjoy doing), and with council members Don Monty, Jane Adams, and Chris Wissmann each offering support for sustainable buildings. Even Fritzler ultimately came around to the idea that our public buildings should use green technology. It looks like council will get a few options to consider when before the final architectural plans are made and council will have the opportunity to decide whether it is worthwhile to spend the extra money for sustainability.

I’m in favor of incorporating green technology into our public buildings, and I appreciate council member Jack pushing so hard for positive change in the city’s building practices. But then I look at the site plan and the wasteful use of land, and (to borrow a phrase from a great film) the use of green technology seems like putting a silk hat on a pig. We get excited about solar panels and geothermal because they offer us the false promise that we can improve the environment without having to make major changes to the way we use energy and the way we build our communities.

I think we should use the green technology that is available (after all, a pig with a silk hat is better than one without), but we should also change the way we use our land. There is no reason that the fire station needs to be on such a huge lot. There is no reason we need such large setbacks. It’s wasteful. I’ve argued this point before and I’m not going to go through the full argument here, but I do want to draw attention to increased density as one of the most important things we can do to build a more sustainable community. Don’t be fooled by promises of fragmented “green space” on each lot. Demand density and demand contiguous, useful, public green space along with it.

After the amendment and after the discussion of sustainability, the resolution passed unanimously.

Item 5.2 (pdf) was an ordinance changing the Carbondale Revised Code as it relates to the sale and transfer of real estate. This one bears some explanation. Back in early 2011, the council approved an ordinance allowing the mayor, on his or her own initiative, to sell or give away city owned land that is (1) not useful for city purposes, (2) located within the city limits and zoned for residential use, (3) cost the city less than $1000, and (4) will be used within 18 months for the construction of one or two family housing. Item 5.2 repealed that ordinance, meaning all sales of city owned property, no matter how minor, will have to go before the city council.

This strikes me as silly and unnecessary, but also as not very important. The City Manager reported that only one gift of four parcels has been transferred under the ordinance, so it isn’t going to make a big difference either way. But it hints at a pathological trait I’ve noticed in the public in Carbondale, so I’ll go ahead and comment on it despite the fact that it is entirely trivial.

The pathological trait I’m talking about is deep paranoia about city government. I have talked to many people who honestly believe that the city government is a den of bribery and graft. This is inexplicable to me. I think the root of the problem is that people conflate two separate categories: “things I don’t like,” and “things that are corrupt.” For these people, anything that falls into the “things I don’t like” category by definition also falls into the “things that are corrupt” category. That this is folly should be self evident, but unfortunately it isn’t.

Apply that trait to the matter at hand. We’re talking about parcels of land valued at less than $1000. That’s small potatoes even in a town in which everything is small potatoes. But if you don’t like a particular sale, and you believe that everything you don’t like is corrupt, you don’t want it going through without a public hearing. That at least gives you the opportunity to go down to city hall and shout and complain and generally be a nuisance. You may be getting shafted by corrupt officials, but at least you get the opportunity to give them hell and they have to sit there and listen to it.

Take away the presumption of corruption and it no longer makes sense to put unnecessary roadblocks in the way of disposing of the city’s unneeded and unwanted property. In this case, it isn’t that big a deal. Council will surely transfer the same lots at the same price (maybe even zero dollars) that the mayor would have. Sure, there will be a delay, but that isn’t likely to have too many negative consequences. But apply this reasoning to bigger matters and you’ll see that it is a major factor undermining positive change in Carbondale.

When you believe that everyone in city government is on the take, you become fearful and suspicious of any change. You become conservative in the most basic sense of the word – a defender of the status quo, whether it is good, bad, or disastrous. The reflexive opposition to change surely inhibits people from proposing changes that would improve the city. While the world changes around us, we fight increasingly desperately against any change. We can see the effects of that when we look at the poor shape our community is in.

I don’t bring this up in the hope that it will change anyone’s mind. You can’t reason with deluded people. I bring it up only to offer an explanation of Carbondale’s culture for people who don’t understand why a supposedly progressive town is so resistant to change. The pathological paranoia of many of Carbondale’s permanent residents explains why it is so difficult to make progressive change in this community, and it is the reason we continue to decline.

After very brief discussion, Item 5.2 passed 5-2, with council members Chris Wissmann and Corene McDaniel opposed.

That concluded the general business agenda and council moved on to citizen comments and questions. This time none of the regulars offered comments, but there was one odd complaint about the lack of an entrance from the interior of University Mall to the new Ross store.

Council comments were also brief. The highlight was two challenges to council from Mayor Fritzler. The mayor challenged council members to go on late-night ride-alongs with the police during the weekends and he also challenged council members to visit West Schwartz street west of Oakland, which is notorious as the worst street in Carbondale. It looks like Fritzler wants to reconstruct that street at a roughly estimated cost of $673,000.

Council adjourned at 8:35 p.m.

Comments are welcome.

%d bloggers like this: