The Carbondale Observer

News and commentary about Carbondale, Illinois and SIUC

Posts Tagged ‘Corene McDaniel

City Council Meeting 04/16/2013

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I did listen to most of Tuesday’s city council meeting. The council approved an annual budget, which is one of the most consequential things council does all year, and yet the meeting was surprisingly civil. Most of the votes were unanimous and there was none of the bickering that has dominated some recent council meetings. Since almost every vote was unanimous, and since there is a liveblog at the Carbondaze Gazette where you can read the play-by-play, I’ll just mention a couple of items that stood out.

First, retiring council members Chris Wissmann and Corene McDaniel are both possibly going to have streets renamed for them. My understanding is that these will be honorary renamings, and the streets will officially retain their current names. Hospital Street (between University and Illinois Avenues) will become Chris Wissmann Way, and East Jackson Street east of Wall Street will become Corene McDaniel Court. These honorary renamings are subject to council approval. I don’t have strong feelings either way about this, but it is the first time in my memory that retiring council members have been so honored. As far as I am aware, there is no Steven Haynes Avenue or Mary Pohlmann Boulevard.

Second, during discussion of the Park District’s fair days request for the annual Sunset Concerts, Mayor Joel Fritzler asked why there are never fair days requests for the concerts held on the SIUC campus. The city attorney replied that SIUC was granted some leeway as part of the agreement allowing the university to be annexed into the city. Council member Don Monty pointed out that SIUC is part of the State of Illinois and, since the state is a higher unit of government, is not subject to regulation by the city. The mayor argued that SIUC should not be above the law and asked the city attorney to investigate the issue. My suspicion is that Monty is correct, but we will see.

The final and most important thing I wanted to note is that the planned revision of the city’s subdivision ordinance is now going to be handled mostly in-house. The original plan was to hire the same consultant who worked on the recent rewrite of our zoning ordinance to help rewrite the subdivision ordinance. Now the plan is for city staff to rewrite the subdivision ordinance themselves and possibly hire a consultant at the end to help tighten up the new ordinance.

This is extremely important. Along with the zoning ordinance, the subdivision ordinance controls the form of the city. There are a lot of changes that should be made to the existing ordinance, but for now I’ll point to just two. First, the current ordinance requires a minimum block length of 800 feet and a maximum of 1200 feet. This is too large. We should be looking at something in the neighborhood of 650 feet as a maximum block length, with something around 500 feet being preferred. Second, the existing subdivision ordinance features what I consider unreasonable limitations for on-street parking. We should be trying to encourage on-street parking rather than discourage it.

Comments are welcome.


Council Approves Neighborhood Business District and New Zoning Code

with 2 comments

I don’t have time to go into this in great detail, but I did watch tonight’s city council meeting. The big surprise is that council approved an amendment to the proposed zoning ordinance adding the Neighborhood Business (NB) district that was the subject of bitter controversy and debate last month. Council then approved the entire zoning ordinance. This means that Carbondale now has a new zoning ordinance and Neighborhood Business (NB) districts are permitted, as they were in the old zoning ordinance.

There were a number of other zoning related issues discussed and voted on at Tuesday’s meeting, and they deserve a longer treatment than I can give them tonight. In fact, my schedule will not permit me to cover this at any length until next week. I’ll just try to enumerate the facts and limit commentary until I can give it the attention these matters deserve. I’m going to restrict my comments to Item 5.6 (pdf) – which dealt with the reformed zoning ordinance –  on this week’s city council agenda (pdf). I’m also only going to talk about the items council discussed, with one exception — I’m going to briefly talk about accessory dwelling units, which did not receive a hearing at the meeting.

Council spent a lot of time discussing the proposed change allowing sharply limited commercial use within the Planned Unit Development (PUD) district. Ultimately I think council increased the complexity of the ordinance and reduced its utility. The proposed change would have allowed 1250 feet of commercial space in a PUD containing at least 25 dwelling units, with the amount of commercial space increasing by 50 square feet per dwelling unit over 25. Occupation of the commercial space would not have been allowed until at least 50% of the dwelling units had been completed, and commercial use would have had to cease if the remaining 50% of dwelling units were not completed within 12 months.

Here are the amendments to the proposed change to the PUD ordinance:

  1. Council member Don Monty Amendment 1: (a) change the minimum residential dwelling threshold after which commercial use is permitted to 50 units (from 25) and change the permitted commercial square feet to 2500 (from 1250 sq. ft.), (b) place a cap of 5000 square feet on any single commercial building in a PUD, and (c) remove the clauses requiring commercial use to cease if 50% of the dwelling units are not completed within 12 months.
  2. Council member Jane Adams moved to split Monty Amendment 1 into its three constituent parts as listed above. This motion was accepted. The votes follow.
  3. Monty Amendment 1(a) – Approved. Yes: McDaniel, Monty, Fronabarger, Fritzler. No: Wissmann, Adams, Jack.
  4. Monty Amendment 1(b) – Approved unanimously.
  5. Monty Amendment 1(c) – Approved unanimously.
  6. Wissmann Amendment 1 – No commercial space for a particular phase of a PUD development may be used until the dwelling units for that phase of the PUD development are 100% complete.  This carried unanimously.

Council next heard some miscellaneous amendments. Their substance and the vote counts are below.

  1. Monty Amendment 2: removed the right of anchor stores in shopping centers (think Macy’s at the University Mall) to have their own freestanding signs. Approved unanimously. 
  2. Wissmann Amendment 2: empower staff to define or illustrate exactly what counts as corrugated metal siding for the purposes of the design standards in the BPR (Primary Business) district. Approved unanimously.
  3. Wissmann Amendment 3: reduce minimum side yard setbacks in residential districts to 10% of the lot width, not less than 5 feet and not needing to exceed 15 feet. Approved. Yes: McDaniel, Wissmann, Adams, Jack, Fronabarger. No: Monty, Fritzler.

Next came the night’s big surprise, Lance Jack’s amendment reinserting the Neighborhood Business (NB) district into the new zoning code (it is already part of the current zoning code). Jack used the alternative language Don Monty proposed at last month’s council meeting, with the exception that Jack’s Amendment would permit NB districts within one quarter mile of one another, rather than the one half mile Monty had proposed.

Council member Jane Adams made a motion to defer the question. It was this motion that ended discussion of the NB district at the last city council meeting. The motion was defeated, with Adams, Fronabarger, and Monty voting to defer and Jack, Wissman, McDaniel, and Fritzler voting to continue the discussion.

Council member Jane Adams then made a motion to amend Jack’s amendment by deleting auto repair shops from the list of special uses allowed in an NB district. The motion was defeated, with Adams, Fronabarger, and Monty voting to delete auto repair shops as a special use in an NB district, and Jack, Wissmann, McDaniel, and Fritzler voting not to delete auto repair shops as a special use in NB districts.

Next came the vote on Jack’s Neighborhood Business amendment. It was approved, with Jack, Wissmann, McDaniel, and Fritzler voting to include Neighborhood Business (NB) districts in the proposed zoning ordinance, and Adams, Monty, and Fronabarger voting against including NB districts. At this point, council member Don Monty announced that he would now vote against the entire zoning ordinance — an ordinance he had planned to vote in favor of — because of his opposition to the NB districts.

Next, council voted on the entire proposed zoning ordinance, as amended. The ordinance was approved, with Jack, Wissmann, McDaniel, and Fritzler voting to approve the ordinance, and Adams, Monty, and Fronabarger voting to oppose the ordinance.

Normally, this is where I’d weigh in with a couple thousand words of commentary. Unfortunately, as I said above, I don’t have time for that tonight, and I won’t until next week at the earliest. I’ll just give you a few quick bullet points that I can possibly expand on later.

  • I think council messed up the PUD ordinance by limiting the size of commercial buildings instead of limiting the size of individual commercial establishments.
  • I think the reduction in minimum side yard setbacks is a great improvement and council was right to approve it. This bears some explanation, so I may get into this in a future post,
  • I think the hysteria over the Neighborhood Business districts is not justified by the facts. I also think that the ordinance as approved isn’t perfect, but it can be improved in the future. Specifically, it might be worthwhile to restrict NB districts to parcels on major intersections or fronting a major thoroughfare. We could use some other method to deal with former institutional properties like old churches and schools or the old National Guard Armory.
  • In general, I think the anxiety over mixing business and residential uses, which we saw in the discussions of the PUD amendment and the NB amendment, is misplaced. The important thing is to have design and performance standards that produce good outcomes. This can be achieved.

Finally, I want to briefly highlight one item that did not receive a hearing at tonight’s meeting: accessory dwelling units (ADUs). These are sometimes called “granny flats,” which led some council members to erroneously conclude that they were meant only for people to house relatives. ADUs had been under consideration for several months and were pulled out of the ordinance largely due to the influence of one council member and a handful of vocal citizens. I think and hope that this is an issue that people simply don’t understand, and that with better information, people will not be fearful of a well-designed ADU ordinance. I plan to write more about this topic in the future.

If I get the time, I may write another post about the issues at stake in the April 2, 2013 council meeting. That will not happen until next week at the earliest.

Comments are welcome.

UPDATE: If you’re interested in everything else that happened at the city council meeting, check the liveblog at The Carbondaze Gazette. 

City Council Meeting 10/23/2012

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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.

City Council Meeting 09/25/2012, Plus Comments on the Proposed Downtown TIF District

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The Carbondale City Council met at the city hall/civic center at 7:00 p.m. on Tuesday, September 25, 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 council held a public hearing on the proposed sale of land (pdf) in the Bicentennial Industrial Park to Intertape Polymer Group, which has a facility on neighboring land. No one spoke at the public hearing. Intertape Polymer Group plans to use the space for future expansion. No action was taken at this meeting.

After the public hearing, the council passed most of the consent agenda unanimously. Council member Chris Wissmann pulled item 4.6, and council member Don Monty pulled items 4.9 and 4.11.

Item 4.6 (pdf) corrected a mistake made at the September 11, 2012 meeting. Council passed an ordinance raising parking fines, but forgot to pass the resolution raising parking rates. Wissmann pulled the item from the consent agenda because he voted against the ordinance and wanted to be consistent by voting against this resolution. Council member Corene McDaniel joined Wissmann in opposition; all other council members voted in favor of the new rates.

Item 4.9 (pdf), acceptance of grants for water and sewer improvements, passed unanimously. Council member Don Monty pulled this from the consent agenda to highlight its importance. Pulling items from the consent agenda to highlight them is a favorite habit of Monty’s.

One of these grants will provide upgrades to the Cedar Lake pumping station, which should keep the water running if we ever have another derecho. The other grant will provide emergency power systems at some of the city’s lift stations, which should keep the sewers from backing up during storms.

Item 4.11 (pdf), a resolution authorizing purchase of real property and a budget adjustment for the property, also passed unanimously. Council member Monty pulled this item to explain it. If you need an explanation, you can click the link, which explains what’s going on and has a map and aerial photographs of the property being purchased.

In summary, the city is buying three parcels from the Jackson County real estate trustee. The city will keep two lots – one for future expansion of the public works facility and one because it contains infrastructure that makes it unsuitable for residential development. The city will tear down an unsafe structure on the third lot and then try to sell it as a single-family building lot.

After passing the consent agenda, council moved on to the general business agenda, which was mercifully short.

Item 5.1 (pdf), an ordinance annexing property in and adjacent to Lakeland Hills subdivision, passed unanimously. This is likely the first of several annexations that will result in the entire subdivision entering the city limits, as it should. It appears that court action will be required, as several recalcitrant property owners in the subdivision have not signed and returned their petitions for annexation.

Apparently, some of the property owners don’t want to be annexed into the city, though they had no problem signing annexation agreements when the city provided sewer service to the area in the late nineties. It isn’t fair to allow free riders. The city kept its end of the deal and provided sewer service, which saved the property owners a lot of money. Now it is time for the property owners to keep their end of the deal and enter the city limits.

Item 5.2 (pdf), a resolution authorizing the city manager to enter an economic development Tax Increment Financing (TIF) agreement with Bandana’s BBQ, passed unanimously. Bandana’s BBQ is planning to locate in the former Stadium Grille building. To read about how TIF districts work, see paragraphs two through four in this post. I don’t have any problem with this TIF agreement, but I want to use this as an opportunity to explain why the proposed downtown TIF makes me a little nervous.

When I express concern about the TIF District being planned for downtown, I’m thinking of the style of development found in our existing TIF. The buildings are set far back from the street and surrounded by oceans of unnecessary parking. The land is used wastefully. It is sprawl at its worst, by which I mean sprawl in the middle of town where development should be most dense, instead of at the edge of town. Anyone who thinks moving the sprawl to the center of town will prevent sprawl on the edge of town is deluded.

Carbondale foolishly tore down most of its old downtown decades ago. Some of it survived, notably the north edge of the town square, but also the east edge and a strip of buildings running both west and south from the corner of Main and Illinois. Once you get south of PK’s, the buildings are garbage. I sometimes visit other college towns, and I find thriving downtowns in which old buildings are home to new businesses. People are out of their cars and walking around. Whatever else you can say about Carbondale’s downtown, you can’t call it quaint.

Because our downtown has been so thoroughly degraded – nearly destroyed – I agree with those who think we need major redevelopment. I think TIF can play a positive role in the redevelopment. But if the result of a downtown TIF is that the rest of our downtown is redeveloped to look like the existing TIF (picture the First Southern Bank property, whose massive and pointless setback has been a target of my derision before [see the last half of this post], or picture the Stadium Grille property), then we will have completed the project of killing our downtown.

I think we need a comprehensive downtown redevelopment plan that spells out exactly how downtown should be redeveloped and how it should look. We need to adopt a form based code for that area, which could be adopted as an overlay. I think we need at least one downtown parking garage financed and operated by the city, and the garage should (at a minimum) include ground floor commercial space. We need to bury the power lines in the downtown, or at least move them behind the buildings. We need attractive street furniture. I could go on. TIF can play a role, but TIF alone will not solve our problems.

I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating: we do not have to reinvent the wheel here. Other cities have been down this road. We can look at their examples and see what we can learn. Bloomington-Normal have been working on a downtown redevelopment for several years, and it’s been wildly successful. TIF played a role in that redevelopment, but it wasn’t the only piece. Why not look to their example?

I’ll write more on this in the future, but for now I’ll share two links. To read about the folly of auto-orientation in a downtown and the role TIF can play in creating the problem, click here and here .

Comments are welcome.

City Council Meeting 09/11/2012

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The Carbondale City Council met at the city hall/civic center at 7:00 p.m. on Tuesday, September 11, 2012. In a break with tradition, I attended the meeting in person instead of watching from home on Mediacom channel 16. A summary and brief comments follow.

After roll call and announcements and proclamations, council passed most of the consent agenda unanimously. Council member Don Monty requested that Item 4.5 and Item 4.7 be pulled for discussion.

Item 4.5 (pdf) would have set the council meeting schedule for calendar year 2013. Council member Monty was concerned that there were too few meetings during the summer, with only one scheduled meeting per month during June, July, August, and September (ed. note – there would also only be one meeting scheduled for February).

Monty proposed adding a second meeting to both June and August. Mayor Joel Fritzler opposed the idea, preferring to schedule special meetings as needed. Council member Wissmann suggested approving the schedule as prepared, then coming back later to add more meetings if necessary. Monty then asked that the item be tabled and Wissmann complied, withdrawing his motion.

Item 4.7 (pdf), an ordinance accepting a grant from the Illinois Emergency Management Agency to purchase equipment, and also to approve funds for hiring a new fire fighter, passed 6-1 with only Monty opposed. Monty pulled the item from the consent agenda because the ordinance didn’t contain language addressing a majority of the budget adjustments, instead incorporating them as Exhibit A. This was the last item on the consent agenda and council then moved on to general business.

Item 5.1 (pdf), an ordinance approving a budget adjustment related to the creation of the proposed downtown TIF district, passed unanimously and without comment or discussion, although council member Lance Jack did not vote because he owns a business surrounded by the proposed TIF district, but exempt from it.

By my count, this is the third TIF-related item to pass unanimously and without or nearly without comment. I realize this was a minor item, not the final ordinance establishing the TIF district. I also realize that people in Carbondale desperately want to improve the downtown area – a desire that I share and that I’ve written about before. But we need to be very careful with this TIF district, and with plans to redevelop the downtown.

Item 5.2 was a resolution authorizing the City Manager to execute a contract with the Carbondale Park District (CPKD). This was the $100k pool giveaway. I’m on record opposing the transfer of city funds to the park district without attaching the condition that the park district agree to annex their property into the city (for the property that is currently contiguous to the city) and to sign annexation agreements for all property not contiguous to the city. I support a public pool, but I oppose a tax giveaway with no strings attached.

Unfortunately, the public enthusiasm for another public pool trumped common sense, and the pool giveaway passed 6-1, with only council member Jane Adams opposed. Adams said she supported the pool, but opposed on principle the transfer of funds from one taxing body to another.

Mayor Joel Fritzler invoked the same principle when he voted against providing city funds for the District 95 summer reading and math program. Apparently, Fritzler believes it’s inappropriate to use city funds to help disadvantaged children learn to read and do math, but he thinks it is perfectly fine to use city funds to build a swimming pool owned and operated by another taxing body. He has an interesting set of priorities.

Item 5.3 (pdf), an ordinance amending the Carbondale Revised Code as it relates to parking fines and fees, was the subject of nearly two hours of discussion and debate. It seems that the problem was that city staff sprang several changes on the council in the moments immediately before the meeting, which caused problems in the ordinance.

The fee and fine changes were originally proposed to fill a deficit in the city’s parking program. After several last minute changes were incorporated, the new ordinance would have wiped out any revenue gains and possibly even increased the deficit. The ordinance probably should have simply been pulled from the agenda, corrected, and brought back to the next council meeting. Instead, the problems were ironed out in open session, wasting the time of council members, city staff, and viewers both at home and in the audience.

Ultimately, the ordinance was amended three times. The Adams Amendment restored enforcement hours to 8:00 a.m.-6:00 p.m., Monday through Saturday. Before this amendment, the enforcement hours would have been 9:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m., Monday through Friday. The reduction in enforcement hours was responsible for much of the drop in revenue, and would have defeated the purpose of changing the fines and fees. The Adams Amendment passed 4-3, with council members Corene McDaniel and Chris Wissmann, and Mayor Fritzler opposed.

Monty Amendment 1, changed language in the ordinance to allow the use of senior parking permits during the day and evening in city lots used for Amtrak parking, but denying use of senior parking permits for overnight parking in those lots. Before this amendment, the ordinance would have denied use of senior parking permits in the lots reserved for Amtrak parking during both the daytime and overnight. The amendment passed unanimously. I would have voted against it if I had a vote.

Monty Amendment 2 clarified certain language relating to use of senior parking permits. There were some inconsistencies in the ordinance as written by staff that left it unclear whether senior parking permits could be used only by a single individual, or by all qualifying seniors within a household. Monty Amendment 2 changed the language to make it explicit that all qualifying seniors within a household are eligible to use the same senior parking permit. The amendment passed unanimously.

After three amendments and  nearly two hours of discussion, the entire ordinance passed 5-2, with council members Corene McDaniel and Chris Wissmann opposed. I think passing the ordinance was the right thing to do, but I also think we need a better plan for parking downtown. This should be included in the TIF plans, if council ever discusses them before voting on them.

Council member Lance Jack had the best line of the night when he suggested that the city build a garage for Amtrak parking and overflow parking, and charge people the fees necessary to pay for it. I agree with the idea of a garage in the downtown, although I might approach it a little differently.

Mayor Fritzler made the most foolish comment of the evening when he said he wished parking downtown was free 24/7 and made the claim that the mall has free parking. Free parking isn’t really free. The parking at the mall is a perfect example. The city subsidized the parking at the mall several years ago. We can debate whether that was a good idea or not, but we can’t claim it’s free. The costs are hidden. The same is true with parking lots not directly subsidized by the city. We pay for the parking at a restaurant when we pay for our meal. There is no such thing as free parking; there’s no such thing as free anything.

I could go on for hours about parking, but it’s late (as I type this) and I realize that most people aren’t as interested in our parking policies as I am. I’ll spare you a long discussion of parking, but I want to add one other thing. I’m extremely skeptical that anyone anywhere has ever decided not to go to a downtown because they didn’t want to come up with a quarter or two for parking. The idea that parking meters dissuade people from coming downtown is foolish, and the fact that at least some of our elected officials can’t see that is alarming, at least to me.

One last point. The idea that we are all entitled to “free” parking right outside the door of our destination is foolish, but it is also dangerous. By many estimates, our cars consume more land than our houses. Each car requires a parking space at home, at work, and at shopping and dining destinations, among other places. Sprawl development is largely a problem caused by cars and the need for wasteful parking. Our cities and towns are presently built for cars rather than for people. Other options are available.

Item 5.3 was the final item on the general business agenda. After brief public comments and brief council comments, council adjourned at 10:01 p.m.

Comments are welcome.

City Council Meeting 08/21/2012

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The Carbondale City Council met at the city hall/civic center at 7:00 p.m. on August 21, 2012. As usual, I watched from home on Mediacom channel 16. A summary and brief comments follow.

After roll call and announcements and proclamations, council passed most of the consent agenda unanimously. Council member Lee Fronabarger requested that Item 4.4 (pdf), which conditionally awarded contracts for the new water storage facility, be pulled from the agenda so he could highlight the fact that a local contractor won the bidding for the water main extension. Council then passed the item unanimously.

Council member Corene McDaniel asked that Item 4.5 (pdf), which authorized the city manager to sell a small piece of surplus property, be pulled so she could reveal that the purchaser is her sister-in-law and that she would not vote on the item. Council then passed the item unanimously (with the exception of McDaniel, who voted present). Council then moved on to the general business agenda.

Item 5.1 (pdf), a resolution authorizing the City Manager to execute a contract with the Carbondale Convention and Tourism Bureau (CCTB) passed unanimously after some discussion by council. Council member Jane Adams stated her preference that CCTB be contractually obligated to follow the same open meetings and ethics standards that the city council must follow, and strongly urged that the city take ownership of the web domain CCTB uses. Mayor Joel Fritzler countered that the city doesn’t own the domain names of any of the other organizations to which it provides funding.

Council member Lee Fronabarger suggested that CCTB change its name to the Carbondale Visitors Bureau, a suggestion which council member Adams has supported in the past. Council member Chris Wissmann said a name change would be a good idea, but said that name changes are expensive and pointed to the existing stationary and the awning on the CCTB building as items that would need to be replaced in the event of a name change. Mayor Fritzler also argued against a name change.

My two cents: Adams and Fronabarger are right on the name change issue. The CCTB name is toxic. If we’re starting over, then let’s make it a clean start. Adams is also right that the city should own the domain names CCTB uses. Fritzler’s point about the city not owning, say, the Women’s Center’s domain name is irrelevant. The city provides almost the entire CCTB budget (at least it has in the past; this year is an exception), while the city provides only a small portion of the budgets of other community organizations.

Item 5.2 (pdf), an ordinance legalizing video “gaming” (gambling) in Carbondale, passed 5-2, with Mayor Fritzler and council member McDaniel voting against the ordinance. This ordinance will allow Carbondale liquor license holders to participate in the state’s new video gambling system, provided they operate according to state guidelines.

Before the vote on the ordinance, council member Chris Wissmann proposed an amendment to require establishments to post a sign designed and provided by the city providing information on where problem gamblers can get help. Wissmann’s amendment passed 6-2, with only council member Corene McDaniel opposed. Several members of the Carbondale Elks were in attendance and spoke in favor of the ordinance and the audience erupted with applause when it passed.

My thoughts: I find it annoying that the gambling industry has rebranded gambling as “gaming.” Tetris is gaming. Video poker played for real money is gambling. That said, I support legal gambling. I think we should regulate “vices” rather than prohibit them. Conduct by consenting adults that does not harm nonconsenting others should not be prohibited, even if it harms people who willingly participate in the conduct. We should instead use regulation to achieve harm reduction.

Item 5.3 (pdf), an ordinance amending the Carbondale Revised Code as it relates to water and sewer fees and agreements, finally passed unanimously after approval of one amendment. This item has been before council several times and each time has been sent back to staff for changes. This time, council member Jane Adams proposed an amendment changing the length of time a water customer must wait for the refund of his or her water to five years from the eight proposed by staff. The amendment passed 6-1, with only Mayor Fritzler opposed.

The ordinance increased the reconnect fee for people whose water has been shut off for delinquency to $40 from $20. It also increased the waiting period for a deposit refund to 5 years from 2 (staff had proposed 8 years, but Adams’ amendment reduced this). Service deposits may now be transferred to a new address, provided the customer meets certain requirements. These all seem like good changes.

Item 5.4 (pdf), a resolution concerning the feasibility study for the proposed downtown TIF and related matters, passed unanimously (aside from Lance Jack, who abstained) and with no comment from council. City Manager Baity did mention an important discovery the city has made during study of this TIF district. It turns out that no city council member can own property or a business within a TIF district, and no council member can buy property within a TIF district.

This means that the building housing Fat Patties, the restaurant owned by council member Lance Jack, will have to be carved out of the TIF district – Baity compared it to a doughnut hole. Even though that business will not be included in the TIF district, the law still prohibits Jack from voting on TIF matters. Jack abstained from this vote and announced that he will abstain from all future votes on this TIF district.

This is a state requirement and the city isn’t responsible for these restrictions, but they seem a little too strict. To me, it would be sufficient to carve out property or businesses owned by council members and then allow those members to vote on the TIF district that excludes their property. I suppose with the long history of corruption in Illinois, the legislature felt that additional protections were necessary.

I’ve written about the proposed downtown TIF twice before (one, two) and I’ve been working (very slowly) on two posts about what a downtown should and should not look like (yes, I know they’re late). My stance on the TIF hasn’t changed, so I’ll quote myself:

I need to see more before I can decide whether I support a downtown TIF. Specifically, I’ll need to see design standards for new buildings and the incorporation of mixed uses before I can support this idea. If we’re going to bulldoze Illinois Avenue and build a series of single-story, single-use strip malls with parking lots between the buildings and the street, then I’m against the plan. If we’re going to build two, three, or four story mixed use buildings with commercial uses on the ground floor and apartments or offices on upper floors and with parking in garages or behind buildings, then I’m enthusiastically in favor of a downtown TIF.

I’ll add to that that if it were up to me, we’d expand the district just slightly so it would include the parcels adjoining University Avenue on the west side of the street. The current map only includes properties on the east side of University, with the exception of a few parcels between Main and Walnut. That’s a personal preference and a minor item, though, and it wouldn’t stop me from supporting a downtown TIF. Plans to replace downtown with the kind of strip mall sprawl developments we see on the east and west sides of town would be a deal breaker for me and should be for the council as well.

After citizens comments and questions and council comments, the council meeting adjourned at 9:21 p.m.

Comments are welcome.

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