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Posts Tagged ‘Jane Adams

City Council Meeting 05/21/2013

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I listened to the live stream of the May 25, 2013 city council meeting. It was one of the shortest meetings I can recall, running just one hour and thirty-eight minutes, excluding the closed session. Not much of note happened, but a brief summary and comments are below. The agenda is available on the city’s website.

Before the meeting got started, Mayor Joel Fritzler announced that citizen comments and questions would be moved to the beginning of the meeting, becoming Item 3 on the agenda. That move resulted in the numbers of other agenda items being changed. There were no citizen comments and questions.

Council then turned to the consent agenda. Council member Jane Adams requested that Item 5.5 (formerly 4.5) be pulled for discussion, and council member Don Monty requested that item 5.8 (formerly 4.8) be pulled for discussion. The remainder of the consent agenda passed unanimously.

Council then discussed Item 5.5 (formerly 4.5), appointments to boards and commissions. Council member Adams was concerned with the appointment of former council member Chris Wissmann to the Carbondale Convention and Tourism Bureau (CCTB) board of directors. Adams suggested that a sitting city council member should be appointed to that seat, since no council member currently sits on the CCTB board.

In perfect Carbondale city council style, the council proceeded to discuss a relatively simple issue for an unnecessarily long time. The final result was that the Wissmann appointment was pulled from Item 5.5 and, at a future meeting,  council will consider making a policy requiring the appointment one sitting council member to the CCTB board. The remaining board appointments in Item 5.5 passed unanimously.

Council then discussed Item 5.8 (formerly 4.8), a set of technical corrections to city code. Council member Don Monty pulled the item from the consent agenda because he was concerned that members of the public might not understand what changes council was making to city code. Members of the public can, of course, see the agenda item and the proposed changes online, which makes pulling it from the consent agenda unnecessary.

In the case of Item 5.8, the technical changes involved changing references to Title 15 of the city code. Title 15, the portion of the code dealing with zoning, recently changed. That means that references to Title 15 found elsewhere in the code might not have referred to the current Title 15. Item 5.8 updated all references to Title 15 in the code. It passed unanimously.

Council then turned to the general business agenda. Item 6.1 (formerly 5.1) was a city request to rezone the old high school practice fields on Oakland Avenue back to single family residential. The property in question had been zoned for single family residential use since 1974, even when it was in use by the high school.

In 2010, the property was zoned to PUD (Planned Unit Development) to permit the development of an assisted living facility. The developer was required to submit a final site plan within 12 months of the rezoning. No final site plan was ever submitted, the state funding that was crucial to the project never materialized, and the developer decided not to pursue the project. As a result, city staff requested that the property be returned to its former zoning. Item 6.1 passed unanimously.

The rezoning will come as a relief to residents in the vicinity, many of whom opposed the proposed development. The Northwest Carbondale Neighborhood Association (NCNA) also opposed the development, and its members and supporters will also be relieved to learn that the property has been returned to its former zoning.

Council then considered Item 6.2 (formerly 5.2), which was a discussion of official city council order. This item was the result of a set of perceived slights by Mayor Joel Fritzler to council member Lance Jack. The official order was also the subject of some discussion at the May 7 council meeting.

I’m not going to summarize the entire dispute or the discussion. The result was that council approved a resolution asking staff to draft an ordinance setting order of signature on city resolutions and commendations to alphabetical order by last name. Council member Lance Jack voted against the resolution; all other council members voted in favor.

I didn’t have strong feelings about how the order should be conducted, but I do prefer that roll calls use the same order every time. I keep track of the votes and it would be easier to do if the names were called in the same order at every meeting.

There is one other item worth noting. Mayor Fritzler’s decision in 2011 to unilaterally move citizen comments and questions to the end of the agenda was controversial when it was announced. A few people spoke in opposition to that decision and I criticized it on the blog. At the end of the meeting, the mayor announced that citizen comments and questions will be permanently moved back to the beginning of the meetings. The likely result is more citizen comments and questions.

After council comments, the city council went into closed session at 8:38.

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. 

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

Guest Post: Scott McClurg on the Neighborhood Business Zone and Jane Adams’ Mailer on that Issue

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Over the past couple of weeks, there has been increasing concern about the proposed change to the Neighborhood Business (NB) district in our zoning code. I have received numerous inquiries on this issue and I received one request for a guest post slot from Carbondale Planning Commission member and SIUC professor Scott D. McClurg. His post, which originally appeared as a note on his Facebook page, is below. The original note attracted several comments, including some from Council candidates. To view that note, click here. I will share my thoughts on the Neighborhood Business District in another post, which you can view at this link

If you live in Carbondale, you probably received an alarming flier about a “backroom deal” to “change the city’s code” on behalf of some “powerful business interest.”  As a member of the Planning and Zoning Commission, I encourage you to read this flier carefully.  And, I’d ask that you take into consideration the following response.  From my point of view, Councilwoman Adams — the author of the flier — simply gets some things wrong, fails to contextualize the proposal adequately, and is engaging in the most cynical of political acts by trying to scare voters.

What is she wrong about?  The most important is the characterization that everything is being done in secret.  As a planning a Commissioner on the Planning and Zoning Board, I received the same notification about this text amendment as I always do — roughly two weeks prior to meeting .  We dealt with it during a public and broadcast meeting, just as we always do.  As I understand Carbondale law, this is a process we always use — this was not unusual.  Another thing that is incorrect is that this is “the mayor’s” proposal.  The proposal came from city staff and, to the best of my knowledge, not from the Mayor’s office.  He might have known about the proposal, but that would be news to me and, I suspect, other members of the Board.  From my position, I see nothing here to suggest that there is a “backdoor deal”.  The Board followed the same procedure we always use and also held a public hearing, in which we could hear public comment.  If Councilwoman Adams isn’t in touch with City staff on things that concern her, that is her failure as a representative.  And it doesn’t excuse her suggestion that this business is being conducted in private.

How does she fail to contextualize the proposal?  Her flier mentions, “The Mayor’s proposed ‘Neighborhood Business District’…”  Leaving aside that this isn’t “the Mayor’s” proposal, we did not to the best of my understanding create a new zoning district.  We did take the old Neighborhood Business District and recommend that it be turned into a special use.  The logic behind that change is because the current code in NB Districts has basically meant there are no neighborhood businesses, including the “quiet neighborhood cafe” mentioned in the Councilwoman’s flier.  Instead of creating a specific zone for NB, this change will allow businesses in other districts as a “Special Use.”

It is also important to note that the vast majority of the text in the filer is the old zoning language.  There is some new language and it more flexible.  I encourage both the Council and citizens to consider that new (and old language ; its important to debate it.  However, its irresponsible for the Councilwoman to not acknowledge the following — Special Uses both 1) require greater justification to be used and 2) allow the city to place more conditions on the character of the proposed property.  In other words, if the Council wants to support a neighborhood business but only under specific circumstances (size of building, parking, etc.), then it gets to dictate those terms.  And then only after notifying neighboring properties, holding a Planning Commission Meeting, and finally getting approved by the Council itself.

By the way, let’s talk about this process.  There is nothing in the current zoning rules that allow the Mayor and City Manager to push this through without the input of citizens and, most importantly, the Council.  This is the very essence of representative politics in a democracy — some people like an idea, others don’t.  We resolve these differences through prescribed laws and practices, with representatives being held accountable for their decisions by the voters if the decisions are disliked.  Given that the process is being followed, why should the Councilwoman make negative claims?  Is the Councilwomen implying that the rest of the Council is bought off or derelict in their duty?  If so, she should show us the evidence rather than imply that somehow the process isn’t being followed.  And if she thinks there are flaws in how we made public decisions here in town, why hasn’t she offered proposals to the Council to change the flaws?  Again, her implication that this is a “backroom deal” implies that the process isn’t working or that the game is fixed.  Well, implications are not evidence evidence of wrongdoing and I see no evidence to suggest she thinks we need to change our rules of government.

Finally, why is this cynical?  Clearly the Councilwoman has objections to the proposal.  Why not lay them bare to the public as they are?  Why dress those objections up scary language like “backroom deal” and suggesting the Mayor and City Manager are “benefiting” (without any actual evidence to back up such a claim)?  Why sully the reputation of the City Staff, Planning and Zoning Board, and the rest of the Council by implying they are either covering up corruption or to stupid to notice?  Quite frankly, I cannot speak to her motives.  But I suspect that when politicians — which Councilwoman Adam’s no doubt is — think their point of view is going to lose, they attack their opponents rather than their ideas.  And since I’m on the Planning and Zoning Commission, I will not sit by idly when someone makes such claims involving my volunteer work as a citizen. I will speak up, object, and ask the Councilwoman for the apology she owes many of us who work to make Carbondale a great place to live.  She doesn’t need to agree with any of us, but giving us enough respect to not impugn our character without evidence is not too much to ask.

To be clear, I’m not suggesting anyone should speak for or against the change in the code.  And, I have no qualms about postponing the final decision if citizens want more time to be informed. A healthy debate is a great thing for the city and for its residents.  But don’t just take Councilwoman Adam’s word for what is going on.  Heck, don’t just take my word for it.  Please make your own judgement based on your values and the facts, and please don’t let some alarming flier trick you into not making your own choice.

Please share widely.

Ed. note: The preceding was written by Scott D. McClurg of Carbondale, Illinois. 

Written by The Carbondale Observer

March 19, 2013 at 6:00 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.

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.

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