URBANA — Over the objections of the farmer who leased the land, the Urbana City Council approved a new lease with Prairie Fruits Farm on 7 acres of nearby land the city owns.
Urbana put out a request for bids in August to lease the land at the corner of Lincoln Avenue and Olympian Drive and a hearing was held in October, but Robert Lakey, who grew corn and soybeans there, only heard about it after last week's meeting.
"We were never even contacted about anything about a price to be paid. We've always negotiated with the city," Lakey said. "I read in the paper that you're trying to rent the farm to Prairie Fruits Farm for $350 and we were paying $700, so I guess I don't understand the logic of why you would want to take less money when you're getting more money for it."
Mayor Diane Marlin said the bid had been properly advertised.
"It was publicly noticed on our website. I know that every vendor at the farmers' market was notified," she said. "It's not a question of a few hundred dollars either way in the lease. It's what are we going to use that land for. I think this is an excellent use of this property."
Prairie Fruits wants to use the land the city owns just south of its operation near the intersection of North Lincoln Avenue and Olympian Drive to grow grain that could be used for bread, pizza dough and tortilla chips.
Prairie Fruits Farm is planning to use the land to grow grains that could be used for bread, pizza dough and tortilla chips.
It's also going to work with Catie Gregg, who works at Prairie Rivers Network and is planning to grow vegetables there.
Ward 3 Alderwoman Shirese Hursey noted that no one attended the public hearing.
"No one showed up to give a yea or a nay," Hursey said.
And Ward 4 Alderman Bill Brown echoed Marlin's comments.
"I don't think it was a question of dollars," he said. "It was more of a strategy to encourage tourism and expand availability of local foods."
The lease to Prairie Fruits Farm was approved by all present.
The $350/year lease with Prairie Fruits, was approved but the farmer who had been leasing the land for $700/year spoke against it. “We were never contacted,” Robert Lakey said. “I don’t understand the logic of why you want less money when you were getting more money for it.”— Ben Zigterman (@bzigterman) November 19, 2019
Aldermen Dennis Roberts and Maryalice Wu were not present Monday.
Because of that, the vote to approve an increase the food and beverage tax was delayed to Dec. 2.
The proposed increase from 1.5 to 2 percent is expected to bring in $400,000 annually to the city, but has received some pushback from business owners.
The city council also voted to approve an ordinance that clarified that the 7% hotel/motel tax applies to Airbnb and similar services.
The city had been trying to get Airbnb to voluntarily pay the tax, but "after extensive discussion, Airbnb advised that it would be unable to complete a (Voluntary Collection Agreement) with the City of Urbana due to the need to prioritize VCA for larger governments," Finance Director Elizabeth Hannan wrote in a memo to the city council.
After talks fell apart, Urbana staff determined they could change the city code to require Airbnb and similar services to pay the tax.
While Hannan said it was difficult to estimate how much revenue the change could bring in, she wrote that "staff believes it will be at least $50,000 annually."