Tom's #Mailbag, July 13, 2018

Tom's #Mailbag, July 13, 2018

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Neither rain, sleet, snow or high temperatures keep Mailbag readers from asking questions and your Mailbag staff from answering them. This week's list includes the future of Champaign Central's Art Deco architecture, the future of the former United Way building, the future of the new Judah Christian School neighborhood, the future of solar farms in Champaign County, the future of a big pile of dirt in north Champaign and the future of the Golden Corral.

Also questions about recycling, Pokemon, time capsules and more.


More fast food

"There was talk of opening either Rally's or Checkers here way before talk of Portillos coming to town and definitely before Freddy's. Are they no longer opening that franchise here?"

There's nothing going on in Champaign with either of the fast food franchises, said officials in the city building services or planning departments.


Golden Corral update

Champaign's Golden Corral restaurant is cleared for takeoff, said Larry Happ, the city's building safety supervisor.

A building permit was issued July 9.

"When the applicant picks up their permit, they can start construction," he said.

As of Thursday afternoon it had not been picked up.

The permit application calls for a one-story, 10,308-square foot restaurant on a 2.7-acre site at the northwest corner of Anthony and Kankakee drives.


Art Deco Central

"Champaign Central High School is a local gem of Art Deco architecture. Will this be taken into consideration in the renovations?"

I agree with you 100 percent and share your hope that this fine example of Art Deco architecture will be preserved and enhanced.

Central was a Depression-era project, built in the mid-1930s as Champaign Junior High School, with almost one-third of its $368,000 cost coming from federal public works funds.

Champaign school district director of communications Emily Schmit said no decision has been made about the architecture of the new Champaign Central.

"The Central High School design is ongoing and the architects are taking the existing design and style into consideration," she said. The architects for the project are Perkins+Will of Chicago and IGW Architecture of Urbana.


School time capsules

"Looking at the photos of the work at Central has me curious, are there any plans for a time capsule at any of the schools while they are doing the upgrades?"

"We don't have a specific plan yet for time capsules at any of the schools," said Schmit. "As the projects move forward, we will explore ways to celebrate and recognize the work being done and the importance of this moment in district history."



"What happens to items picked up in curbside recycling. Are they separated? Recycled or landfilled? I heard that China no longer accepts recycled items from the U.S. Is this material processed locally?"

In the Urbana's U-Cycle program, said Urbana recycling coordinator Courtney Kwong, "recyclables are separated manually by workers into different commodity groups. All materials that are acceptable in the U-Cycle program are recycled. Materials are processed locally through U-Cycle's current vendor, ABC Sanitary Hauling."The U-Cycle program has been monitoring the China ban situation for the past year, and currently the Chinese ban covers plastics, textiles and some unsorted paper loads. Fortunately, there are good domestic markets for some of the banned plastics, such as #1 (PET) plastics, #2 (HDPE) plastics and #5 (PP) plastics. Plastics go to various end markets depending on demand. Metals, such as aluminum and steel, also have good domestic markets. China has increased quality requirements for paper and cardboard, and U-Cycle's vendor is taking great strides to ensure that materials processed meet the quality requirements for export.

"Markets are opening up in several Southeast Asian countries, where they are accepting some materials that China has banned. However, it is very important for residents to ensure that materials set curbside or in multifamily recycling receptacles are acceptable and clean."

She asks that you refer to U-Cycle's list of acceptable recyclables found online at


United Way building

"The United Way Building on Church Street. I thought they moved out but the stick figures are still in the front lawn. What is to become of a building? I've always thought of as a community asset."

Sue Grey, president and CEO of the United Way of Champaign County, said "we will make sure to pick up our little blue folks from the building, they are for Child Abuse and Prevention Month, as a means of creating awareness. We will need them for our new place."

The United Way moved into its new location in Savoy on May 16. The Church Street office, built in 1967, was owned by the United Way from 1993 to 2018.

"United Way purchased the Savoy office building outright with the proceeds from the sale of the Church Street office," she said. "Future cost savings were a major factor in the board of directors' decision to sell the Church Street building. Anticipated maintenance over the next 10 years included replacing the elevator to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act, a new roof, rebuilding the parking lot and retaining walls, and extensive repair work on the portico columns. United Way estimated those repairs would have cost the organization approximately $243,000.

"At the time of our move, Beth Auterman, our board chair, said, 'With any building of this age, maintenance is to be expected and ever increasing. We weren't actively looking to move, however, we were starting to have some hard conversations about how long we should stay in the building we are in and funding of some significant maintenance costs that are anticipated over the next few years. We've been in our Church Street location since 1993, and while it's been a wonderful home, even good homes age. We looked at the required maintenance over the next few years, and it became clear that this offer would be the most fiscally responsible choice for us to pursue. We'd much rather be investing our donors' contributions into our community than our office building.'"

As for its future use, the new owner is Chris Saunders.

"The city of Champaign is currently in the process of working on new zoning language for that district and I am waiting for that to be completed to make a final decision on what I am going to do in this location," Saunders said. "In addition to the United Way building, I own buildings on both sides, which include 402, 406 and 408 West Church.

"I am considering doing a development in this location, but haven't decided yet whether or not I will build anything new here. If I were to build something new it would likely start in the spring of 2019. If I decide not to build, I will likely lease the properties."


Solar farms in Champaign County

"With regard to the proposed changes in zoning to allow solar farms in the county, is there a map of the proposed locations, and a list of the companies that have made the requests available?"

No, there is no map of the proposed locations, said John Hall, the county's director of planning and zoning.

"But the general locations and companies are as follows:

— "three solar farms have been proposed near St. Joseph (companies are ForeFront Power and Community Power Group)

— "three solar farms have been proposed near Sidney (companies are Forefront Power, BayWa r.e., Cypress Creek Renewables)

— "one solar farm has been proposed northwest of Rantoul (Community Power Group)."


Judah Christian area zoning

"Curious as to the zoning restrictions for Rising Road near the new Judah (Christian) School. With so much construction and development occurring, it seems only logical for the addition of retail/restaurant space in what otherwise is a residential sector. Do you know of any plans other than more subdivisions? Is it even possible? I hope so."

Judah Christian and the area around it that is in the city is zoned SF-1, low density single family, said Champaign Planning Director Bruce Knight. And the Future Land Use Map in the city's Comprehensive Plan also does not show any Neighborhood Commercial land use in that area.

Neighborhood commercial areas like you suggest "are intended to provide convenient shopping opportunities for the daily needs of nearby residential areas," according to the city's comprehensive plan. "They serve residents within a roughly one-half mile radius, offering shops, restaurants or other services that residents typically visit an average of one to three times per week. Neighborhood commercial areas are small in scale and intended to contain an urban design cohesive with adjacent neighborhoods. They are located along arterial streets but are easily accessed by walking, bicycling and by transit."

Knight noted that the comprehensive plan "does generally suggest that a complete neighborhood have convenient access to a Neighborhood Commercial area.

"However, there is also a level of residential density that is needed to support commercial uses. Because the western edge of the city is close to the limits of where sanitary sewers can currently serve, and adding additional area will be expensive, it is likely that it will be a long time before the market area of a neighborhood commercial center in that location would fill out enough to support it. As far as proximity to a school, we would certainly want to make sure that the siting and design didn't create safety issues for students walking to school, although we expect fewer of those with a parochial school since it doesn't serve a specific neighborhood."


Park gathering

"Today at West Side Park, there are hundreds of people walking around looking at their phones. I recall a fad a few years ago that had the same thing happening. Is this the second coming or a new game?"

That was part of a Pokemon Go community day, said Brandon Flowers, one of the local organizers of the local Pokemon Go group that has a Facebook page.

He said the group had a three-hour event throughout the community, but that "people tend to just gravitate toward the better areas to play, which tends to be around West Side Park and downtown Champaign, both for ease of walking, restaurants around to stay fed and hydrated, and on average higher spawns in game."

I had to look up that last reference.

"A spawn is an exact location where a Pokémon can spawn. Spawns pop in a timely manner and sometimes have Respawn Timers. Spawns are throughout, including within nests. Certain areas have been known to have much larger amounts of spawns compared to other lesser areas. We see large cities and beach areas have many more spawns, while rural areas or neighborhoods have less overall," a gaming website called Ranked Boost reported.


Pile o' dirt

"There is some excavation/leveling going on in the field west of Meijer in Champaign, in the past few weeks they've created a sizeable hill of dirt at the south end. Do you know what that area is being prepared for?"


"Why is there a huge mound of dirt on Boardwalk Drive north of Baytowne Apartments?"

"The spoils pile is from the Atkins Group's new Prism commercial warehouse under construction to the north on Boardwalk," said Kevin Brumback, a project manager with the Akings Group. "We will be utilizing the fill material for an expansion to Baytowne Apartments that is expected to commence in 2019."


Mosquito bites man

"With all the talk about mosquitoes on Channel 3 news this week, what are they doing about all the standing stagnant water in the ditches along U.S. 150 between Cottonwood Road to east and west of St. Joseph?"

All the talk? I'm going to assume that your question is serious.

You know that this part of Illinois originally was virtually nothing more than wetlands and that's why the county contains so many drainage ditches? Also a fair number of creeks and rivers.

It rains here in the summer (an average of about 13 inches in June, July and August). And rather than have water stand on highways like U.S. 150 it's important to have ditches alongside the road where the water can drain to. Most of that water runs into a ditch or a creek or it evaporates in the summer heat, but some may stand for a while in a roadside ditch, as rainwater does all over Illinois and in other states.


No concealed carry at July 4 parade

"On July 4th, I awoke to find cones in the sidewalk and street in front of my home hung with paper signs indicating that concealed carry of firearms was forbidden.

"Everybody with a concealed carry license understands that you cannot legally carry a weapon during a protest march or parade. However, it seems a little off-putting to be placing decals on every sidewalk and street in front of regular peoples' homes without any sort of explanation. We haven't had any issues with permit holders in Champaign behaving badly, and it has certainly not been legal gun owners who have been responsible for the recent gun crimes in our neighborhood. Which agency made the decision to put up signs along the parade route?"

Chalk it up as a mystery, at least for now.

The Illinois Concealed Carry Act includes a section that prohibits concealed carry of firearms in certain areas, said Sgt. Joe Ketchem of the Champaign Police Department. Section 10 states: "Any public gathering or special event conducted on property open to the public that requires the issuance of a permit from the unit of local government, provided this prohibition shall not apply to a licensee who must walk through a public gathering in order to access his or her residence, place of business, or vehicle."

Ketchem said he had issued concealed carry prohibition signs to members of the Champaign County Freedom Celebration Committee a few years ago and that it's perfectly legal for the signs to be posted and reposted.

He said he didn't know who posted them this year. Nor did members of the Freedom Celebration Committee, said Margaret Givens, the president of the committee, and Karen Foster, who was a parade coordinator.

"I believe this is just a private citizen or group," said Givens. "No one in our group was responsible."

But it's worth nothing again that posting the signs is legal.

"Since a special event permit was issued for the parade, concealed carry would be prohibited at the event," Ketchem said. "My office will supply signs if asked, or the signs I believe can be obtained from the state of Illinois website."

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