Hopefuls for Urbana council's Ward 3 vacancy share views

Hopefuls for Urbana council's Ward 3 vacancy share views

We could find out as soon as today which of the five applicants Mayor DIANE MARLIN will tab to replace AARON AMMONS on the Urbana City Council.

Ahead of her decision, staff writer ADALBERTO TOLEDO asked a set of questions of the five Ward 3residents in the running to represent that part of Urbana — JOSH ACREE, STACIE BURNETT, MELINDA CARR, COURTNEY CARUTHERS and SHIRESE HURSEY.

Here's what they had to say.

There's been a lot of publicity about the uptick in gun violence in Champaign-Urbana. What would you like to see done?

Burnett: These are some older people that are causing the streak in gun violence, and we have to deal with that. But if we want to stop it, we have to address the lack of activities for the younger generation to be involved in. We had the Boys and Girls Club. But we need a different direction to approach this generation — more activities geared toward career building and trades. That will help eliminate this. They're frustrated so they're trying to find an outlet in criminal activity.

Acree: It's a tricky subject. I think it's something the city of Champaign and Urbana police departments need to work on with the community, and there's no clear cut answer to how to solve it.

Carr: We need to give people hope. We need to look into expanding employment training opportunities, so we need to reach out and look at corporations that are here and how people can enter those. We have to look deeper at the resources we have so that we can reevaluate (and do) more for people.

Caruthers: We have to understand that historically, we don't have gang violence; we have retaliatory violence. What I would do first off is get with the parents because if we do not talk to the parents, we'll lose our children. Some parents are afraid to turn their children in, or have officers come in and take them. We need more community meetings with officers and talk about having criminal justice education. But it's also about how they understand crime, and a lot of them don't fear going to jail because they think it's going to be a cake walk. The laws are not strict enough to discourage crime among black youth.

Hursey: It's a difficult question to answer, and I don't know what's causing that type of crime except that people feel disenfranchised on some level. The only thing I would say is that if people have information, if you want these problems resolved, it's to your benefit to name who's doing the violence. It doesn't help the community on any level for a person to be quiet about this kind of violence.

Historic preservation of the third ward's unique history has long been a top issue for its council representatives. How would you help preserve the ward's history?

Hursey: You have to understand how Urbana used to work. Black folk were not allowed to live south of University Avenue, and they weren't allowed to even own houses south of University. Redlining is a part of our history. And for a long time, the University of Illinois did not house black students, so black folks in the neighborhoods rented apartments or parts of their homes so black students could have some place to live. That's also part of our history.

Acree: I agree a lot with the major project to re-naturalize Crystal Lake Park, and I think that is a huge step forward in making sure we keep historical areas while also looking to the future. Crystal Lake Park was considered the crown jewel of Urbana; I like to think of it like Forest Park in St. Louis. It was the park to go to for recreation and to just enjoy nature, and I'd like to keep it that way.

Burnett: I think that (the way) to keep the history of Ward 3 intact is to not remove any landmarks and historic buildings. I would not want any of the buildings we do have to be demolished because of upcoming rezoning or development.

Carr: I'd like to see what other areas around us have done. We know that Dr. Ellis subdivision is one of the oldest African-American neighborhoods, but we need to see what else people are seeing. I want to get kind of a pulse of what's going on and what others are saying in their areas.

Caruthers: What I would do to preserve it is seek to get a monument, and I want to do some research to see what we can get from Springfield. We need to identify what we're trying to say about the north end, too. I would like something that will emphasize the culture of the black people's contributions, but also make it about all cultures of the area.

Recent housing developments on the north end of the city have sparked criticism from some residents and praise from others. What are your thoughts on the future of development in Ward 3?

Caruthers: We need to make sure that developers understand what this place is about, and talk about who can come in and upgrade the status of the neighborhood so it can go toward raising the quality of life and the value of the area. What I'm hearing in this area is the whole gripe about black preservation, and it should not be that way. We need to encourage young minds to grow and live here, and the argument about keeping it only within us will not raise the value of third ward.

Acree: We have a great opportunity with the old water treatment plant on Bradley Avenue. That's going to be open to development, and I believe it's going to be a real opportunity for Urbana to bring in housing as well as business along with it. I'd like to see a housing development that incorporates a grocery store with it. It's a good opportunity to bring a multi-use building.

Burnett: I think we need more development, more stores in the area. There's been mention of getting a grocery store, and we do need something like that in the area. We also need to support minority-owned businesses. Many businesses from the past have left, so it would be nice to see more development in the area.

Carr: I need to take some time to review what's done when developers come to the city. I want to know what the process is and what happens, and what's being done to answer this question of preservation. We need to look at: What's the comprehensive plan in Urbana, and how does it incorporate the north end?

Hursey: I prefer there to be options for ownership in the area. One can't pick and choose who people decide to sell their property to, but personally I think people should be given the opportunity to own their property rather than rent. Some of the developments say they're not just for university students, and hopefully that's true and we get young professionals going in. But having had friends that lived in dorms and student living, I can pretty much say that I don't know anyone that wants to live next to a student.

What's your No. 1 issue?

Carr: Making the city work for the people. The city can't function without the people.

Acree: Urbana really needs to focus on the budget and bringing in more tax revenue from different sources, whether that be housing or business development. We need to work with the existing business community to make sure we do it smart, and give them what they need to succeed while also not throwing citizens under the bus.

Burnett: I would like to see more minority-owned businesses and an increase in minority home ownership on the north end. It would help stabilize some of the issues in Ward 3.

Caruthers: To raise the quality of life in the third ward by giving our young people a safe place to recreate, getting proper developers to come to this area and bring business, encourage people to seek higher quality education and better after-school care to help parents out.

Hursey: I would really like for there to be a full-service grocery store in the north end. When I was growing up, we had two — one in Champaign and one in Urbana, both IGA grocery stores that closed down. There hasn't been a grocery store in the north end since I was probably in junior high school.

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