DANVILLE — Vermilion County officials now plan to invite towns in Champaign County to partner in forming a land bank after Danville aldermen rejected the concept, which other states and Chicago suburban cities have successfully used to "flip" dilapidated properties.
"I certainly would like to have the city (of Danville) on board as a partner but this will happen one way or the other," said Vermilion County board Chairman Mike Marron, whose 27-member board has already approved forming a land bank.
A relatively new concept in Illinois that has had success in other states, these government-created agencies can eliminate hurdles, like delinquent taxes or liens, and scoop up abandoned and vacant properties (both residential and commercial) that have potential for development.
Marron said Wednesday that he is already reaching out to municipal leaders in Iroquois and Champaign counties to gauge whether there's any interest in forming a land bank with Vermilion County and the city of Georgetown — both have already approved an intergovernmental agreement to form a Land Bank.
Vermilion and Georgetown can still form one, but to give the land bank the full authority and latitude necessary for success, Marron said, a home-rule municipality needs to be involved.
And that was supposed to be Danville.
However, that city's aldermen Tuesday night narrowly defeated the agreement with the county to form a land bank.
Alderman Rickey Williams Jr. was the first to speak out against it. He wanted the vote delayed for two weeks to add language that would give Danville appointees to the land bank board the ability to veto any project within the city limits.
Aldermen voted against a delay and instead decided to recess the meeting for five minutes and to let Corporate Counsel David Wesner time to draft veto language.
Williams objected to the quick fix, but aldermen passed the amendment adding Wesner's additional language adding the veto power.
But, in a 6-2 vote, the amended agreement was rejected. It needed eight votes to pass and only eight of the 14 aldermen were present.
Those voting "no" were Williams and Alderman R.J. Davis, who, prior to casting his vote on the amendment, asked Williams which way he was going to vote and voted the same.
There had been nine council members in attendance, but Alderman Rick Strebing left just before the votes were taken. Strebing offered no public explanation as he left.
That left eight. There's one vacancy on the council and four others were absent — Brenda Brown, whose husband, former alderman Les Brown, died on Monday; Lloyd Randle, who was out of town; and Steve Foster and Sharon McMahon.
After the failure of the resolution, Williams addressed the audience and media, saying he wanted to make it clear that he believes a land bank is a good idea.
Eisenhauer, who was visibly frustrated after the vote, tossing his meeting agenda, said later that he does not like "political double-speak." He said saying you're for something and then voting against it is exactly that.
Eisenhauer said it was vital to the success of this project that Danville be a strong partner, and that the city let itself down and the county.
"The benefit the city and county could experience from this process in finally addressing blighted properties was extreme, and unfortunately we let a great opportunity get away," he said after the meeting. "My disappointment is not just in the loss of a great opportunity for our own community to reduce dilapidated structures, take donated properties and put them back on the tax rolls through rehabilitation by the land bank, or use the land bank to work with developers to get vacant properties back in use, but we have also denied the full benefit of the land bank from every other city and village in Vermilion County until another home rule community steps forward."
Eisenhauer said there's a process to bring the proposal back to the council for consideration, but he does not anticipate that happening.
On Wednesday, Marron said first, the county and Georgetown will move ahead with plans to form a land bank.He said, he will be in talks with Eisenhauer about bringing the proposal back to Danville aldermen and also will explore other opportunities for partnerships in Champaign and Iroquois counties, including identifying a home rule city.
"If Danville doesn't want to become a partner, we will find someone who will, because it's critically important for communities like Georgetown and elsewhere that this get done."