County board approves rezoning land for event center

County board approves rezoning land for event center

URBANA —- Champaign County Board members approved rezoning a 10-acre tract 2 miles north of Champaign for an 11,300-square-foot event center by the owners of the L.A. Gourmet Catering business.

The rezoning was opposed by the Hensley Township Plan Commission, which cited concerns about drainage, traffic, public safety and health.

Click here for a 9.9MB, 37-page memo about the rezoning.

But the county's zoning board of appeals recommended approval with several special conditions, and several Hensley Township residents Tuesday night spoke in favor of the request.

Meeting as a committee of the whole, county board members approved the rezoning from AG-1 to AG-2 by a vote of 24-1. Only Champaign Democrat Pattsi Petrie opposed the rezoning.

The owners of the business, Lauren and Anne Murray, said they plan to spend $2 million developing the event center that would include 8,256 square feet of meeting space, plus gardens and ponds.

Final action on the rezoning will come at the full county board meeting later this month.

Also, the board conditionally approved spending up to $126,000 to improve its meeting space at the Brookens Center in east Urbana. Under the plan the video and audio systems in the meeting room would be replaced and upgraded, a U-shaped layout for the 22 board members (effective in December) would be put into place, and new tables and chairs would be provided for board members.

In addition more comfortable, airport-style seating could be provided in the public area of the room, said County Administrator Deb Busey.

Money for the project would come from a number of sources, including the county clerk's office, the county information technology line item, the county board and a capital asset replacement fund.

"Collectively, we can put together a budget for this update and improvement with our existing FY2012 budgets, without the need for an additional appropriation from the general corporate fund balance," said a memo to the county board from Busey, County Clerk Gordy Hulten, facilities director Alan Reinhart and information technology director Andy Rhodes. "We also think the improvements will provide at a minimum, a 15-20-year solution and enhanced operation to benefit the county board and the public it serves."

If the full county board decides later this month to go along with the project, the board's November meetings would be held at a different room in the Brookens Center, and the new facility would be ready for use on Dec. 3.

On a 14-11 party-line vote board members approved hiring the Institute for Law and Public Policy Planning of Berkeley, Calif., to provide consulting services for a county jail needs assessment. There was no debate on the issue, which was opposed by all 11 Republicans at the meeting.

And the board voted to undertake several thousand dollars' worth of repairs to the 32-year-old downtown Urbana correctional center, including replacement of a failed air-conditioning compressor, mortar replacment and tuckpointing of its exterior walls, replacement of main corridor locks, making changes to increase the jail's natural light, and cleaning and painting of cell blocks. Full cost estimates for all of the work is not available, Reinhart said.

He said none of the problems affect the structural integrity of the building, but they eventually could.

Two of 27 board members — Democrat Jan Anderson and Republican Steve Moser — were absent.

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Squirrel wrote on September 05, 2012 at 8:09 am

The "Institute for Law and Public Policy Planning of Chicago" that the same outfit as this? Looks like the News Gazette needs to fix their story.

Institute for Law and Policy PlanningObjective. Non-profit. Cost-effective.

Save money. Improve public safety. Contact us.

Phone: (510) 486-8352
Fax: (510) 841-3710

Or by mail:
P.O. Box 5137
Berkeley, CA 94705

Kind of curious that the NG didn't see fit to report on why the dems and repubs squared off on this one. Any comments from the Sheriff? State's Attorney? Board members? What gives?

Tom Kacich wrote on September 05, 2012 at 9:09 am
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You are correct. ILPP is based in Berkeley, Calif. My mistake.

Squirrel wrote on September 05, 2012 at 10:09 am

Hmmm. So the good citizens of Champaign Conty Illinois need somebody from Berkeley California to help them study the legal system. Neglecting for a moment the cost involved in transporting their expertise to Urbana one has to wonder why every democrat board member wanted this and every republican board member didn't.

There has to be some deep philosophical underpinning here that should be explored for the benefit of the voters. That was a nice informative write up on the event center but it doesn't look like that will cost the voters anything. I would like to see as much ink devoted to this "study" as to the event center. Maybe such an effort could be conducted in the future. The "study" will itself cost voter money and surely the recommendations will cost somebody something.

Local Yocal wrote on September 05, 2012 at 10:09 am
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The "square off" between the Dems and Repubs over who the consultant on the jail will be is the paranoia law enforcement has that ILPP won't give the advice law enforcement has already decided is needed years ago. Law enforcement wants to disgard the 32-year old Urbana jail and a $20 million dollar expansion be done out at the Satellite. That is the only option they see as viable "for them." This has never been a open question- this is no honest exploration into what the county's actual needs are or what would be most cost-effective, or how could the old jail be salvaged (which has been deliberately ill-maintained for 10 years so as to force a new jail to be built). Had law enforcement their way, a vote to break ground on a $20 million dollar facility early next year would have already happened.

The Dems have taken the responsible position of wanting a full assessment to be done as to who is in the county jail and why they are in the jail from every angle, and what are all the possibilities to satisfy our space needs, before going into further debt. (The county is already in debt to the tune of $50 million until the year 2029.) Law enforcement has repeatedly attempted to close off the democratic process, refusing any alternative voices to serve on their jail project planning team, refusing to be held to the Open Meetings Act, refusing to accept the competitive bidding process on the consultant. Kimme and Associates, the jail designers who built the Satellite Jail, has already been consulting the jail project planning team for over a year by email and was the chosen firm for law enforcement. Kimme builds jails, period. That's his business. That's who Sheriff Walsh wanted to do the needs assessment. It's easy to see what would have been the assessment from such a perspective. The Dems were not comfortable with the appearance of such impropriety. So they chose an independent firm with no ties to architectural building. ILPP is plenty capable of assessing jail architecture, but has no financial interest in new building projects, unlike Kimme.

The Repubs have bought into the myth that whoever is in the county jail is a drooling animal and more caging of such means more public safety. There is a very, very small percentage of perps who might fit such a description and we have plenty of jail space already for these types of offenders. But for anyone who has ever been to the courthouse or experienced this criminal justice system knows, the vast majority are simply poor people engaging in petty black market enterprises or petty emotional temper tantrums while drunk. Or worse, poor people being deliberately targeted and hunted by law enforcement for rule violations so as to disqualify them from the job market and be a body to maintain law enforcement's job security. An honest needs assessment might discover these truths and law enforcement has cringed from the get-go at the idea of anyone lifting the veil to expose their practices. The way we have been using the jail, the way we have been prosecuting since Piland in 1995, and the accumulation of criminal records has been a consistent unequal application of the law, poured gasoline on the fire that is generational poverty and unemployment, and has provided no rehabilitation value. Even if you support harsh sentencing for every little behavior, are you really happy with a system that treats inmates like fatted cows to feed and watch television all day long? The criminal justice system has destroyed the government budgets and prevents the rest of us from using our tax dollars to do positive things that don't lead to crime. More jailing only means more crime. What the taxpayers want from their public safety tax dollar is a reduction in the incidents of crime, not a warehouse that cranks out a more desperate, more skilled criminal to be loose among us or burn our education dollars watching TV in jail.

The current set of Repubs on the county board are not scholars, nor care to read a packet or a study. If the Sheriff wants a jail, by golly, sounds good to them. So they see intelligent analysis and evidence-based solutions anathema to the feel-good "lock 'em ('em = minorities of course, whereas my drug-taking kid needs a break) and-throw-away-the-key" that's been played the last 30 years to little good effect.

The downtown jail is a mess. It should have never been allowed to be that way in the first place, nor allowed to be neglected in recent years. The guards have a legitimate complaint, though the Department of Corrections would disagree with their assessment and do so every year, giving the downtown jail its approval every annual inspection. It may be a good idea to close the damn thing, unless it's remodeled, and live with the 182 bed space at the Sattellite and prosecute accordingly. No matter what the News-Gazette is given to print, violent crime is not on the rise and rushing to your door; and there is no overcrowding problem. Let's take our time to look at everything before we have more wild taxing and spending. The Democrats are to be congratulated for not letting themselves be bullied by a greedy set of law enforcement officials.

Squirrel wrote on September 05, 2012 at 2:09 pm

Well, Yocal, you certainly offered a wide-ranging dissertation on the relative positions of the dems and repubs on the County Board. I guess I can see why the repubs wouldn't publicly take the position that they are not scholars nor do they care to read a study. So I guess the dems will have to enlighten the general public as to the non-scholarly approach taken by the repubs as well as the presumably scholarly approach taken by the dems.

Apparently the position of every dem member of the Board is that jailing offenders simply makes more offenders. There seems to be a racial component to the dem argument or perhaps a class component. Once again it would be useful to the voting public to hear prominent democrat leaders explain this in detail so it can be duly reported by the media.

The accusation that maintenance on the jail has deliberately been avoided over recent years as part of some ulterior motive would seem to be a direct slam at the dem-dominated Board. If there is any proof of that one would assume it will be shared with the NG and therefore with the voters.

Lastly, I must confess the acrimony expressed toward "law enforcement" is puzzling as they are simply doing what they were hired to do. It looks like "law enforcement" means the Sheriff but that term would certainly have to include the State's Attorney as well as the Judges and the elected representatives who craft laws in this state. Presumably the dem position is that the laws they crafted or helped craft are at least part of the problem if not the entire problem.