Farmer City residents split on land swap proposal

FARMER CITY — Opinions were divided among residents this week regarding a proposed land swap that involves Farmer City giving up two one-block sections of a road in exchange for 5 acres of land.

City officials have been talking to Jim Swartz since 2011 about land he owns near the Dollar General, located on Ogle Street.

Swartz, who owns property in and around the area, was raised in Farmer City but now lives in London. Swartz is a semi-retired business consultant, according to Dan Dolbert, a friend and business associate.

If the city were to obtain the 5 acres from Swartz, the land would be sold to Casey's in Farmer City so the store could expand.

In exchange, Swartz has asked the city to give him two one-block sections of West Street. Swartz, who owns property in that area, would close the two sections of West Street and remove the pavement, plant grass and landscape the area. Drivers could not travel north or south on West Street between Market and Water Street.

City Manager Larry Woliung, Mayor Mike Jenkins and Councilman Mac Harden say the support the proposed land swap.

About a third of the 60 people at this week's meeting at the American Legion shared their opinions on the land swap issue.

Jan Dedrick presented council members with a petition signed by over 300 residents who said they also opposed the idea.

Dedrick said she would like to see Casey's expand but doesn't think trading streets is a good idea. Dedrick, as well as a few others, questioned why Casey's couldn't purchase a portion of the 20 acres the city owns north of I-74.

Woliung said the cost to install utilities at the property is very expensive and the city couldn't afford to do it. Jenkins also stated it is a Casey's policy to be located inside of town.

Several people said they were unhappy the council had known about the issue since 2011 but never brought it to the public's attention until just a few weeks ago.

Jenkins said negotiations had been ongoing and admitted he was unsure when it most appropriate to share the information.

Steve O'Byrne, an attorney representing Lynn Amacher who lives at the corner of West and Water Street, said Lynn is the one person who would be most affected by closing the streets because he would lose access to his driveway and garage.

O'Byrne said Swartz's attorneys had sent an easement stating Amacher would be given a 20-foot easement in order to get to the road but it made no offer to install the drive or pay for it.

"If this goes through as proposed, he could end up where there's barely room to park his own car in the driveway," O'Byrne said.

Michelle Monagahn said she favors the land swap because it could potentially add more jobs and increase sales in the community.

Don Brackenhoff said, "I think we have an opportunity to do some good for our town if some kind of suitable arrangement could be made for Mr. Amacher, which to me would be the sticking point."

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