MONTICELLO — The Piatt County Office Building could serve as a hub for a fiber optic network being constructed in Monticello, but the county will need a zoning change before that happens.
"We're not zoned to collect rent," said county board member Randy Keith at a public meeting Tuesday to get input from residents adjacent to the building, which once housed Kirby Hospital.
The building is now owned by the county, which has several offices there in addition to hosting some not-for-profit agencies.
Keith said there is space to add an information technology room and possibly an office for whoever is hired to run the network once it is completed. He said the space is air-conditioned and has fire-suppression and alarm systems, as well as backup generators.
But the property is technically zoned urban residential, according to Monticello Community Development Director Callie McFarland.
When it was a hospital, it operated as an existing nonconforming use, and a conditional use permit was granted to the county to allow for public offices and government agencies.
Adding a true renter would require a zoning change, possibly to a little-used Planned Unit Development. That could allow for an information technology center as well as possible future uses.
Keith mentioned the possibility of a physical therapist, since the building is connected to the county nursing home.
Mike Holtz, a homeowner in the area, said he was happy the building is being used, but worried about adding too much commercial business and traffic to the residential neighborhood.
"We're all for faster Internet, but why should it (the hub) be here?" said Holtz, adding he felt the county was "overstepping your bounds" by competing with the private sector.
Keith responded that if a private entity needs to construct a building to house the fiber control center, it would likely mean higher rates for Internet users.
Brenda Cummings did not see a problem with the zoning change.
"We have not had any problem with traffic in or out of the nursing home or the assisted living facility," said Cummings. "I really don't think that having an IT hub using one room in a building that used to house a hospital with a lot more traffic in and out is going to make that much difference in the amount of traffic."
Holtz agreed but was still concerned about what the future held, suggesting a specific limit on the number of private employees allowed at the facility.
McFarland anticipates the Planning Commission will consider a zoning change at its July 15 session. If approved, the change could go to the city council for consideration on July 22.
The city of Monticello, Piatt County, the Allerton Public Library District and the Monticello school district are collaborating to bring the high-speed fiber optic network to town.