Tom's #Mailbag, Oct. 19, 2018

Tom's #Mailbag, Oct. 19, 2018

Have a question for our veteran reporter? Click here and he'll try to track down an answer.

I thought everyone in town knew about the dockless bike program new to C-U. I guess not. We've got more info on VeoRides — and about the possibility of electric scooters joining them on the streets and sidewalks.

Also on the menu: the difference between VA medical centers and state veterans homes such as the controversial facility in Quincy, Champaign Police posts on Facebook, an open spot at Memorial Stadium, Frank's Faves, more on old bus stations, spots about town that some people consider blight and downtown Champaign properties that may or may not be owned by Dr. William Youngerman.

 

VeoRide bikes

"What's up with the teal colored bikes all over town? I see them left on street corners, front lawns, parking lots, bike racks. I'm guessing it's some kind of zip car system for bikes but it's hard to imagine the city is OK with bikes being dumped all over town. Enlighten us please."

The teal bicycles belong to VeoRide, a licensed dockless bike share operator that began operations locally around Labor Day weekend, said Ben LeRoy, an associate planner with the city of Champaign.

We've covered it with several stories in recent months ...

http://www.news-gazette.com/news/local/2018-08-16/c-us-first-shareable-b...

http://www.news-gazette.com/news/2018-08-05/introduction-dockless-bikes-...

http://www.news-gazette.com/news/local/2018-07-17/urbana-council-gives-f...

http://www.news-gazette.com/news/local/2018-08-24/toms-mailbag-aug-24-20...

"Earlier this year, the city of Champaign, the city of Urbana, and the University of Illinois launched a joint licensing system for dockless bike share. This system was launched as a one year pilot program from July 1, 2018 to June 30, 2019," he said. "Before the pilot program concludes, all three agencies will review the first year's operations and potentially renew, amend, or conclude the pilot program for July 1, 2019 and beyond. Licenses are available to any company that applies and follows certain joint regulations, such as the posting of required fees and security deposits, a maximum fleet size of 500 bicycles, and moving improperly parked bicycles within a certain time limit upon receiving notice of the issue.

"At present, VeoRide is the only operator that has applied for a license. It's possible that other operators may apply to enter the market at some point, although I know that several firms that initially showed interest have either withdrawn or restructured their operations nationwide, which means they likely have other priorities than expanding to our community."

LeRoy said that the cities and the UI regulate the parking of bicycles on public property.

"In Champaign, bike share bikes may park anywhere allowed by Section 33-61 of the Champaign Municipal Code. This includes dedicated bike parking facilities, but also on the sidewalk (so long as a clear pedestrian path is left and the bike does not block ramps, driveways, and doors) and even on the street against the curb (in locations where a car could legally park against that same curb)," he said.

"In Urbana, bikes can be parked in the same places as in Champaign," said Urbana planner Kevin Garcia. "On the university campus, bikes must be parked at designated bike parking areas (i.e. at a bike rack or in the immediately surrounding area). The VeoRide end user agreement also specifies where bikes can be parked, so users should familiarize themselves with the terms of that agreement."

If a bicycle is parked improperly on private or public property and does not pose an imminent threat to health and safety, citizens should contact VeoRide directly to report the issue. VeoRide can be called 24/7 at 1-855-VEO-2256 or emailed at hello@veoride.com. Once an issue is reported, the company is required to address it within a fixed amount of time.

If a bicycle poses an imminent threat to health and safety, citizens may contact the Champaign Public Works Department at 403-4700 (Monday through Friday 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.) or the Champaign Police non-emergency dispatch 24/7 at 333-8911.

In Urbana, Garcia said, citizens may contact the Urbana Public Works Department at 384-2342 (Monday through Friday 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.) or the Urbana Police non-emergency dispatch 24/7 at 384-2320.

As an aside I had mentioned that I saw swarms of electric scooters speeding along the streets and sidewalks of downtown Raleigh, N.C., on a recent visit and suggested that Champaign should be cautious in licensing them — I saw several near-accidents on a Saturday afternoon.

"Multiple scooter companies have contacted the city of Champaign in the past couple months," LeRoy said. "At present, the city of Champaign is not taking any action to modify the bike share program to accommodate scooters.

"However, staff plan to present a discussion of scooters during the bike share pilot program review in spring 2019 and will take direction from city council on how to approach that transportation mode."

 

Illinois veterans homes

"Why is the state of Illinois responsible for the Quincy Veterans Home instead of the Veterans Administration like the Danville VA?"The VA does not operate retirement/nursing homes for veterans but states do and that is the purpose of the facility in Quincy and others in Anna, LaSalle, Manteno and another under construction.

The idea of state-run veterans homes dates back to the post-Civil War era.

"Following the Civil War, a large number of indigent and disabled veterans were no longer able to earn their own livelihood and needed care. While the federal government operated national homes for disabled union volunteer soldiers, the total number of veterans needing care was overwhelming," said the National Association of State Veterans Homes. "In recognition of this need, and the debt that a grateful nation owed its defenders, a number of states independently established State Veterans Homes to help care for those who had borne the battle. The first State Veterans Home was established in Rocky Hill, Conn., in 1864."

The Illinois Department of Veterans' Affairs operates the four veterans homes in the state of Illinois, said Dave MacDonna, a spokesman for the IDVA.

A fifth one is slated to open in the Chicago area in 2020.

MacDonna said the IDVA is not a part of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. VA medical centers (Jesse Brown, Hines, Danville campus, etc.) and USDVA benefits (disability compensation, etc.) are administered and funded by the federal government. IDVA is an Illinois executive agency, funded and administered under the auspices of the Governor, and operates independently of USDVA.

"While the USDVA provides the bulk of healthcare and financial benefits for the nation's veterans, IDVA provides critical augmenting programs and services for Illinois veterans. Additionally, IDVA's Veteran Services Officers are experts in both federal and state benefits and resources; they stand by to assist veterans in navigating and applying for USDVA and IDVA programs and benefits," he said.

 

Youngerman properties

"How much of Champaign does Dr. (William) Youngerman own? I've seen him listed as the owner of buildings in recent stories about the C.V. Lloyde building repair on University and the Pour Bros. location. I recall that he owns the Jos Kuhn store, and I found an article from 2008 that he owned the building that is now Barrelhouse 34. Does he own more of downtown or elsewhere? His buildings seem to be movers and shakers lately."

You have entered the deep, dark world of hidden property ownership in Illinois.

We can tell you that there are numerous properties in downtown Champaign on which tax bills are sent to Dr. Youngerman and paid, but we don't know for certain that he owns them. Some are reported to be owned by a trust or by Pantham Property Management or by 55 E. Main LLC.

Tom Pantham is listed as the agent for 55 E. Main LLC.

Here are the downtown Champaign properties for which property tax bills are sent to Dr. Youngerman:

57 Main St., 303 S. Neil St., 41 Main St., 51 Main St., 44 Main St., 202 W. Clark St., 109 S. Walnut St., 202 N. Walnut, 301 S. Neil St. and 305 S. Neil St.

Some of those are buildings, some are businesses and some are parking lots. Dylan Massey, the deputy assessor for City of Champaign Township, notes that 303 S. Neil is the old Champaign Surplus store with 301 & 305 S. Neil St. being parking for that building.

 

Reinforced pavement

"I see that the reconstruction of White Street in east Champaign is almost complete. Because it has to handle the weight load of MTD buses do you know how its pavement and base differs from other streets that don't have all that bus traffic?"

"As part of pavement design process, the amount of heavy vehicles (buses, semis, etc.) is taken into account," said Kris Koester, a spokesman for Champaign's public works department. "In general, the pavement and base are thicker on a street projected to carry more heavy vehicles than on those carrying mostly passenger vehicles.

"As a comparison, streets carrying a typical amount of heavy vehicles are commonly 8 inches of concrete on a 6-inch rock base. On the MCORE projects (of which White Street is a part) the amount of bus traffic along the high frequency bus corridors results in pavement thicknesses ranging from 10 to almost 12 inches thick with a 12-inch rock base."

 

Abandoned farmhouse

"There is a house that looks abandoned midway between South Mattis and South Prospect on Curtis Road. Is it ever going to be sold or auctioned? Is there a way to get more information about it?"

The house is within the village of Savoy and is owned by the ATSA Trust, whose owners include Albert Lo, Alexander Lo, Tiffany Lo and Stephanie Kennelly.

Alexander Lo said that the home "is part of our farmstead, and is not for sale. We often field inquiries about projects/developments that would remove the home, but so far have not been approached with any initiatives the we have felt would benefit the local community."

 

Champaign "blight"

"What is going on with the old C. S. Johnson building on Kenwood Road? I've seen workers around the ground and lots of old appliances setting around. Seems like the owners should clean up this blight in the area."The nearly 100-year-old C.S. Johnson building at 502 Kenwood Road is owned by Erwin Goldfarb and is used as warehouse space for Goldfarb's apartment operations in Champaign-Urbana.

The city of Champaign said that the property is in a light industrial zoning district.

"Under that classification there are many permitted uses," said Champaign code compliance officer David Oliver. "An inspection indicated the property is being utilized as a warehouse which is an allowable use. Although outdoor storage is generally addressed as a nuisance, it is allowed in this district and there are no applicable screening requirements."

 

Leftover pumpkins

"Is there anywhere local to recycle and compost pumpkins?"

The Landscape Recycling Center (1210 E. University, Urbana) accepts pumpkins for composting but there is a drop-off fee of $3, said Mike Brunk, Urbana's city arborist.

"For more than one pumpkin if they prefer to use bags the drop-off fee is based on number of bags, 1-2 = $3; 3-6 = $5; 7-9 = $7; and 10 or more bags will be charged by the cubic yard," he said. "If they have a number of loose pumpkins the drop-off fee will be based on the size of the load by cubic yard/s. Cubic yard disposal fee is $9 per cubic yard (3 feet by 3 feet by 3 feet) and loads over 1 cubic yard will be rounded to nearest half-cubic yard. Many organized neighborhood groups will work together and share in the drop-off fee for a pickup/load of landscape debris. Just note that herbaceous materials, leaves, garden plants, grass and pumpkins will need to be kept separate from woody materials as these items are processed differently."

 

Champaign Police on Facebook

"The Champaign Police Facebook has been hilarious lately. Who is behind the posts?"

Two individuals are authorized to post, said Champaign Police Department spokesman Tom Yelich.

"We appreciate the comment! Ideas for posts can come from anyone inside the department. We are always looking to connect with our community, and social media is a great way to do so and we realized we needed to be a little more active on it," he said. "Although we take our jobs very seriously to ensure our community and its visitors are well protected, we also like to have a little fun when the time is right.

"We encourage everyone to follow and engage with us on Facebook and Twitter for news updates, community engagement opportunities and FUN!"

As an example here's one recent CPD Facebook post: "In light of recent events, we would like to remind our community that squirrels are not a service animal as defined by Title II and Title III of the Americans With Disabilities Act.

"You cannot trap a squirrel on campus and legally claim it as your service animal. While we're at it, the geese on North Prospect are off limits, too."

 

Another downtown Champaign bus station

Three readers wrote to clarify a point in last week's Mailbag about a question regarding a downtown Champaign bus depot: "In 1996-97 as a college student I rode a bus between Peoria and Champaign to visit friends occasionally. I'm trying to remember where the 'bus station' used to be. This was before the very nice current train/bus station. I remember a parking lot (possibly gravel) with a small building (seemed like it once might have been a drive up kiosk to get pictures developed) and a pay phone. Downtown Champaign has changed so much I can't tell where it used to be. My best guesses are either the gravel lot north of the Orpheum or the gravel lot where the new building at 520 Neil is going up."

Here are their comments:

"There was a 'bus station' located on Neil at Washington or in the area. It was a Trailways bus station and consisted of a trailer. Trailways came to town and did not have a contract with Greyhound so they had to find their own depot. It was not there for very long, but students did use it on a frequent basis. This would have been in the era slightly before the Intermodel station was built."

and

"Tom, in the last Mailbag, the question from the reader who recalled an intercity bus station near the Orpheum in the late 1990s rang a distant bell. I vaguely remember a building on the gravel lot immediately north of the Orpheum being a used-car lot in the mid-1980s and a bus station sometime later."

and

"I think the reader may have been remembering the little building at 21 E. Washington Street."

 

Memorial Stadium space

"With the gym, lounge, and offices moving to the football performance center, what is to become of the space at the north end of Memorial Stadium where those facilities currently exist?"

"We're still looking at several options for that space," said Kent Brown, associate athletic director at the University of Illinois. "No final decisions have been made."

 

Frank's Faves

"I was wondering why Frank's Faves column hasn't been in the paper the last two weeks. Always so entertaining. I miss it."

Frank Pieper, who compiles and writes Frank's Faves, was on vacation but is back now.

 

Neutral bike shop

"I notice the city put concrete and bicycle racks on 5th Street in front of Neutral Cycle. They are using the city racks to sell their bicycles and also are using the grass parking. Do they have a permit to sell on city property?"

The city did not install the concrete bike racks, said Kevin Phillips, Champaign's zoning administrator.

And he said there are provisions in the city code "permitting retail merchants to use the sidewalks in a way similar to the way restaurants use the sidewalks for sidewalk cafes."

But he said the city would look into the issue to make sure everything is within the law.

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