City Reaffirms Land Sale For Development

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The meeting room in Hillsboro’s city hall was standing room only Tuesday evening, June 22, as the council reconsidered a previous decision to sell two lots in City Lake Park to Capstone Development Group, LLC, real estate developers from St. Louis. According to City Attorney Kit Hantla, the sale needed to be revisited; the previous vote had been 2-1 to sell because a council member, Katie Duncan, was absent.

Hantla said that though an Illinois Supreme Court case which he referenced said while that vote might hold in a trial, the decision “...had been chipped away” in later rulings so that the Illinois Municipal League (IML) contacts he’d made recommended bringing the issue up for a vote with all council members present.

The re-vote in turn brought about the large audience, many of whom spoke against the sale in the public comment section of the agenda. The comments, limited to five minutes per speaker and during which council members could not respond, came before the motion to sell the property was made.

First to speak was former mayor Bill Baran, who congratulated the council for reaching full strength once again with the appointment of Kendra Wright. His first request was that the city invest in a public address sound system so that those in the back of the room could hear the proceedings. Baran said he’d received several calls from people upset about the location of the property which had been sold. “That area is heavily used for park purposes,” and “When it’s gone, it’s gone,” were his closing comments.

Kathy Dobrinic, a Lake Side Knolls resident, spoke next to say she supported the reconsideration of selling the lots (1.45 acres each). She claimed there hadn’t been enough pre-sale notice, so there wasn’t enough time for those like herself who hope to protect green space to respond. In her opinion, more public input was needed before a re-vote was taken. “Are the lots to provide more room for housing? Is that justified?” She mentioned the city’s strategic plan with one of its goals to develop three small parks within the next ten years, so she sees no sense in selling park land the city already owns.

Next to speak was former councilman Bob Albracht, who first said he agreed with Baran and Dobrinic. He said his daughter and her family, who now live in St. Louis, visit Hillsboro often and bring friends because they feel, “Hillsboro is a charming town, with its brick streets, its people, and its parks. Taking away park space is ripping the fabric that holds the town together.” He said he regarded the council’s chance to reconsider “...a chance to slow down, to pump the brakes on this issue.”

Wally DeLong, a Taylor Springs resident who owns property in Hillsboro, suggested the city sell other land for spec housing, mentioning an area locally referred to as “The land between lakes.” (That land is privately owned.)

Rhonda Sanford, who lives on City Lake Road, suggested the council select other areas in town not occupied by the trees that sit on the two lots. She considers the sale “...a terrible mistake because the trees there are irreplaceable in our lifetime.”

Gene Knisley asked if there was to be only one house per lot as zoning laws now require; he has been a fixture on the zoning board of review.

The last public comments came from Steve Kenney, who asked if the city would consider giving up the lower 30 feet of the hill bordering Central Park. A homeowner who would like to clear the underbrush from the hill (it’s killing the trees there), he said clearing the brush would also give those using the pool a better view to the southwest than they now have, but he can’t do it if he doesn’t own the property. He pointed out the lake that was once there as the city’s water source was last there in 1931.

The first motion after public comment dealt with reconsidering the sale. Mayor Don Downs began the discussion by saying the decision to sell those particular lots wasn’t made on a whim but after much consideration. “Change leads to progress,” he explained.

Councilman Daniel Robbins, who is the Commissioner of Parks and Public Property and who was the nay vote the first time around, said he hadn’t changed his mind. Commissioner Wright said she’d like to see a plan. “We have an abundance of park property, but we have no plan in place. What happens to the playground equipment that’s there?”

Wright then suggested the council table the re-vote until another item on the agenda (paying Hurst & Rosche for design and permitting work preparatory to moving water mains located on the lots) was decided before she could vote on the resale issue. Robbins seconded the motion, but then it was withdrawn until the water main move could be resolved.

When that discussion opened, Hurst Rosche’s Jeremy Connor said that although city workers could do the labor to move the one inch main, the project has to be approved by the state. It makes sense to upgrade lines in the area while the work is in progress. Hurst Rosche’s estimate for their work is in two phases –$2,000 for a topographic survey of the new main alignment and $3,700 for preparing the plans and specifications to be submitted to the state and for cost estimates of the project. The cost for Phase I could be eliminated if the city already knows where all the valves are. The motion to do the preliminary work passed 3-2, with Robbins and Wright voting no while Downs cast the deciding vote.

After that decision was made, the motion to sell the in-question parcels to Capstone was revisited. Councilman Mike Murphy said he’d received eight calls about the matter, but two were from people who don’t live in Hillsboro. He emphasized that Capstone was not a public housing project and said he viewed the sale as a big step forward for the community. When the vote was cast, only Robbins voted no.

The meeting moved more quickly once that decision was made. Caitlyn Voyles, representing Imagine Hillsboro, asked the council for permission to close Main Street from the NAPA store to and around Courthouse Square for a Harvest Market and a concurrent Chalk of the Town event on Saturday, Oct. 2. That permission was granted, 5-0

Also granted unanimously was a request by Roger Fath (representing the Hillsboro Free Methodist Church). Usually that church sends a missionary group to Guatemala, but travel restrictions caused by the pandemic prevented that trip last year and this, so the church wants to minister to Hillsboro instead. During the day they will offer assistance with yard work and the like to senior citizens and others who seek their help; in the evening they want to hold a worship service on the Plaza followed by a free meal. Fath said the tentative schedule calls for set-up at 4 p.m.; food at 5, with clean up finished by 7.

The Hillsboro Planning Commission, represented by Don Karban, had two items needing council action; one was approval of a rotation system of commissioners’ terms as called for in the ordinance creating the planning commission. Current members Rex Brown and Barb Hewitt will need to be replaced or re-appointed in May of 2022. The other was to approve advertising for contractors willing to work to rehab houses. That’s a requirement for asking for a HUD grant to replace the one now in force. Both requests were approved 5-0. (The last Housing and Urban Development grant was for $375,000 and has been spent in the Park Street, Beal Street area.)

The only new ordinance passed dealt with putting a meter on a fire hydrant south of town so the contractor working on a major project in that area can draw and pay for water from one specific hydrant; that ordinance had been suggested by water plant superintendant Tim Ferguson at the first June meeting.

In other water business the council agreed to amend the Schram City water agreement to mirror the Taylor Springs’ contract. Both changes will help neighboring towns with grant requests to be made to aid with needed infrastructure improvements.

In Tax Increment Financing (TIF) moves, the city approved two requests; one was to St. James Property, LLC, the group renovating property at 102 S. Main (west side of Courthouse Square). Estimate for the total Phase II of the project is $153,000; the TIF grant is for 50 percent of that, or $76,500.

The second request dealt with a long-standing problem, according to the mayor. Two businesses and the library site uptown share one tap-on to the water main along South Main; by ordinance that’s no longer legal. Asking for separation of water lines are Jessica Chappelear of Country Companies Insurance and Breanna Spinner of Bre’s Beehive, a beauty shop. The library is the third affected party, and a separation of lines is necessary for them to meet regulations as they remodel before moving. The estimate cost is $18,342. A three day closure of the NAPA to Wood Street portion of South Main is anticipated, and the request was approved.

Alverson Surveying’s bid of $1,800 was accepted for work to be done along Wood Street in the Klar and Kress and Wright addition. After the work is complete, the city hopes to vacate two alleys that are no longer used.

Commissioner Robbins moved to amend the section of the Hillsboro City Code that regulates fishing on the lakes. As written, if stipulations concerning fishing from the shore were enforced, little fishing activity would be legal. One couldn’t fish off the shore within 100 feet of residential property, for example. The new regulation says, “No person shall take, catch, or attempt to take or catch any fish from the shore of any marginal land leased by the city to any custodian for residence purposes except with the consent of such custodian,” Also, “There shall be no fishing within 25 yards of the South Marina Dock and Ramp and within ten yards of the North Marina Boat Ramp. This excludes the North Marina Fishing Dock.”

The council agreed, after checking with their insurance company, that those who lease the South Marina boat slips will be responsible for clean up of those slips.

The reports of the council members and mayor began the meeting. Robbins said routine summer mowing of public properties was underway. Too, the concrete base for the H to be installed in Central Park and the floor over the restroom plumbing there had been poured. Newly-planted trees were watered as needed, mulch has been spread, and the kiddie pool filter was repaired.

The Illinois Department of Public Health inspected the pool and renewed the city’s license until 2022. Jim May and Thomas Reynolds have completed required testing so they can apply pesticides.

The Street Department has run the street sweeper; installed stop signs on Roosevelt Drive; edged sidewalks on E. Tremont and Rountree; repaired a water leak on the city’s side of a curb stop on Lakeview Drive; replaced a lead service line with a poly (plastic resin) pipe line on Jefferson Street; and “...picked up a deceased squirrel on Kinkead Road.”

Public Safety Commissioner Murphy thanked Canine, Inc., for their donation in support of Lil Darrel, Hillsboro’s canine officer. He said the town is “looking nice,” and he thanked the summer workers for their hard work. He appreciates the town’s intent “...to keep moving forward.”

Later he said fireworks within city limits are acceptable only at certain times in certain places; those who ignite them in residential areas (where senior citizens or veterans who have bad dreams about gun fire may be alarmed) will not be tolerated. He encouraged anyone who had complaints about fireworks in town to call police dispatch so an officer can come to the area.

Finance commissioner Duncan said she still needs a few budget files before she can produce the budget for the next fiscal year.

Wright, learning the duties (and problems) of the utilities commissioner, reported a complaint about dirty water on Hamilton Street and said the water level in Glenn Shoals had dropped below full pool.

In waste water matters, Wright read a letter concerning what ought not be flushed into the sewer system; the letter will be sent to all system users soon.

Mayor Downs asked residents to be extra careful with outdoor fires of any kind while it’s so dry. State Senator Turner had visited Hillsboro the day of the meeting and seemed impressed by all the activity up and down Main Street. City Planner Jonathan Weyer confirmed her cordiality in his report.

Weyer also said he will be a member of the Montgomery County Economic Development Corporation Board of Directors. In the same vein, the MCEDC will partner with the Center for Rural Innovation, whose purpose is to bring a more diverse, stronger digital economy to the county.

A “soft opening” of The Coop is scheduled for July 1 at 7 p.m. He plans then to talk about the town’s economic development plan and hopes for community feedback. The Tourism group will meet with a Rivers and Routes group for tourism training sometime in July

City engineer Jeremy Connor had some bad news for the city. The long-awaited list of cities to be given an ITEP grant for sidewalk and parking work uptown didn’t include Hillsboro when it was released. Too, the Seward Street Bridge work seems to be five years out.

The Helston Place project needs a public meeting to meet project requirements; work on the older lake’s spillway will be bid in August.

The council next meets in regular session on Tuesday, July 13, at 7 p.m. Visitors are welcome.

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