Tale of two cities: Inspection policies markedly different

Champaign and Urbana both have rental housing inspection programs, but the two are markedly different.

The inspections are designed to ensure that a rental property complies with fire safety codes as well as city and national maintenance and building codes. The codes cover such issues as lack of proper heating or hot water, roof or ceiling leaks, flooding, mold, plumbing problems, broken or nonworking windows and roach or rodent infestations.

Inconsistent inspection plagues county rental housing

Rental property is big business in Champaign County.

With nearly 35,300 units, Champaign County has the highest percentage of occupied rental housing units among the state's metropolitan counties, according to 2008 Census Bureau estimates.

Yet rental-inspection programs are inconsistent across the county – with stark differences between programs in the cities of Champaign and Urbana and, except for Rantoul, little to no oversight elsewhere.

The inspections are designed to ensure that rental properties – which include non-owner-occupied single-family houses, duplexes and apartment-style buildings – comply with fire safety codes as well as city and national maintenance and building codes.

Consultant says fiber-optic Web network project too big

URBANA – Local officials are waiting for word on a federal grant application to help build a high-speed fiber-optic Internet network, but a consultant hired to advise Champaign and Urbana councils thinks the proposed project here is designed too large and will have big problems with capital replacement in 10 years.

At a meeting of the Champaign-Urbana Cable Commission Wednesday, project organizers said there has been extensive questioning by federal officials about a local $28 million big broadband project. Mike Smeltzer, director of networking for the University of Illinois Campus Information Technologies and Educational Services, told commission members, "We've been getting a going-over ... and we see this as hopeful."

State Farm sees continual growth at UI Research Park

CHAMPAIGN – When State Farm opened its research and development center in the University of Illinois Research Park, the Bloomington-based insurance giant hoped the center could help the company recruit more students from the UI's actuarial science program.

"The goal was a small office. If in three years we hired three people into full-time positions, it would be a success," said John Quarton, the center's oversight manager.

Area bands Cover Up in support of a good cause

Unbeknownst to some, big-name acts like The White Stripes, Kanye West and Queen have taken the stage at downtown Champaign venues.

When they step off the stage, you might know them better as Curb Service, Krukid and Elsinore.

The 19th annual Great Cover Up kicks off Sunday at the Highdive with area bands performing some very familiar songs. But artists staying tight-lipped about which act they'll emulate adds to the hype.

Fire-stricken Champaign family lacks funds to relocate

CHAMPAIGN – Members of a family whose house was seriously damaged in an electrical fire Monday say they cannot afford to rent a new home because their landlord refuses to return their damage deposit or refund the remainder of January's rent.

The landlord said she will return some of the money, but notes she has a month to do so.

Trinidad Morales' family – which includes her husband, 2-year-old daughter, pregnant sister, brother-in-law and 1-year-old nephew – is now sleeping in a friend's living room. Morales' other two daughters were visiting their sick grandmother in Mexico when the fire occurred and cannot return to Champaign until the family finds a new place to live.

Old Ned Kelly's to become Montana Mike's Steakhouse

URBANA – Montana Mike's Steakhouse plans to open in Urbana this spring in the building that formerly housed Ned Kelly's Steakhouse and The Timbers restaurant.

Montana Mike's is a franchise steakhouse that prides itself on satisfying big appetites for good value, said Greg Schmidtknecht, who will co-own the restaurant with John Frenz.

Champaign duo's Snickers ad earns $5,000 in contest

CHAMPAIGN – You could say Joe Taylor and Bill Kephart are enjoying a satisfying result in their first video contest.

The two, with actor Thomas Nicol and others, created a 30-second ad for Snickers candy bars that placed among the top three in a competition facilitated by Poptent, a Web-based group of filmmakers who contact companies that might want to sponsor ad contests.

Champaign Surplus ownership passes to 3rd generation

CHAMPAIGN – Champaign Surplus owners Ira and Lynn Wachtel have sold their store for outdoors enthusiasts to their daughter and son-in-law, Shira and Dan Epstein.

It's the second time the 63-year-old store has passed to a new generation. Twenty-nine years ago, the Wachtels bought the business from Lynn's parents, Leo and Anne Weisel.

Former St. Joe man found shot to death in home

ST. JOSEPH – Police are investigating the murder of a former St. Joseph man in his home in Will County.

According to a Will County sheriff's office report, police were called to a home in unincorporated Frankfort Township at about 8 p.m. Monday.