This week's Mailbag is as packed with goodies as a President Trump tirade on cancer caused by the noise of wind turbines (something which is not true, according to the American Cancer Society).
In the Mailbag: Costco in Champaign, Chick-fil-A in Champaign, the spooky mausoleum at Woodlawn Cemetery, bike lane laws, handicapped parking enforcement and the nonexistent University of Illinois mascot.
Also, traffic on North Prospect and South Prospect, MCORE confusion, water testing, April Fool's tales and Champaign schools' yield from the 1 percent sales tax.
"On the south side of Woodlawn Cemetery, visible from Country Club Road, is a mausoleum. For years I would sometimes notice the doors to the mausoleum pushed open slightly, then closed and chained together. It seemed as if someone wanted to get in, and someone else wanted to keep them out. This winter the left side door of the structure seems to have broken into several pieces and you can see inside. (I'm too chicken to park my car and go look inside without someone with me.)
"Did the management of Woodlawn give up on maintaining the integrity of the mausoleum? Were there caskets inside, and if so, what has happened to them? Do they think that someone was finding shelter inside the mausoleum?"
Lindsey Pritchett, regional coordinator for the Schiller Park firm that owns Woodlawn, said the mausoleum, which is built into a hillside, hasn't held coffins in her 15 years here.
Long ago, she said, it was used as a temporary mausoleum.
"They would hold the casket there in these holes in the wall until springtime when the ground thawed and they were able to dig the grave. It hasn't been used in decades," she said. Today, Pritchett said, the structure is used for storage of groundskeeping equipment.
"We chained it off for safety purpose because the inside, it's actually collapsing because of the weight of the hill," she said.
It is believed that the mausoleum was built in 1907, the year that Woodlawn opened.
An April 1907 story in the Urbana Courier-Herald carried the headline: "God's Own Cemetery is Beautiful Woodlawn; Mausoleum is Planned."
The story never said whether God would be interred in the mausoleum.
"It has been said that this spot is God's own cemetery and to the Courier-Herald reporter it certainly seems that it was made especially for a beautiful resting place for our beloved friends," the story said.
In subsequent newspaper stories there were details about how cemetery developer Col. Samuel T. Busey, a Civil War veteran, hired landscape architect L.W. Judy to beautify the cemetery with flowers, cobblestone stairways and drinking fountains.
Soon after a streetcar line went to the nearby county fairgrounds, Busey worked with W.B. McKinley, the Republican congressman who owned the streetcar company, to extend the route to Woodlawn.
"It should certainly be a source of satisfaction to the people that two men who became prominent in the social and financial life of our county should unite their energies and wisdom in their latter days for the good of the whole people," said a letter to the editor of the Courier-Herald.
Woodlawn's golden age ended soon thereafter when Col. Busey drowned in a Minnesota lake in 1909.
"Can you do some digging into this poorly communicated phase of the MCORE project? Why are so many parking meters bagged and removed from the area? For instance, half of the meters along John Street near the student services building have been removed from use. This makes it nearly impossible for someone with a mobility issue to park on that side of campus. In addition, the removal of the handicapped space behind Gregory Hall means a person with a mobility impairment who wishes to use the main library must try to find a space in the library lot (bearing in mind that all the street meters along Wright have been removed) — and then navigate a full half mile to find an accessible entrance to the library around the fences. This is not a matter just for people who use wheelchairs. People for whom walking causes pain are being excluded from campus. How is this acceptable? Can you put pressure on the university and the cities of Urbana and Champaign to reinstate some of these street meters, especially along John, where they are bagged for no apparent reason? As I see Champaign city vehicles parking there daily, it's obviously not for safety reasons.
"And why do the temporary MTD stops along Wright Street not have benches?"
"We understand and appreciate the concerns — but please be patient with us," said Karl Gnadt, the managing director of the Champaign-Urbana Mass Transit District. "It’s been said from the start — MCORE is a mammoth project, the likes of which this community has never seen. It will be painful during the construction but let’s all keep our eye on the prize. We are rebuilding the infrastructure of these busy campus corridors from the ground up, including replacing 100-year-old water mains and piping. It’s painful now, but when it’s done it will have a transformative impact on multi-modal transportation in and around campus."
For up-to-date information about the MCORE project and construction updates, said Champaign Public Works spokesman Kris Koester, subscribe to receive email updates at www.mcoreproject.com. Residents can also follow the MCORE Facebook page (@MCORECU) or Twitter page (@MCOREProject). The University of Illinois Facilities and Services keeps a running update of MCORE-related announcements at www.fs.illinois.edu/resources/newsroom.
As for your specific issues, Koester said the meters along John Street are bagged to accommodate parking for users affected by closure of the two University of Illinois parking lots on the east side of Wright Street.
As for parking near the library, UI officials note there are still meters for accessible parking spaces available in Lot C-3, which can be accessed from Sixth Street, which is not affected by the construction. There is an accessible entrance at the northwest corner of the main library, and the sidewalk from Lot C-3 (at the southwest corner of Sixth and Armory) is available to get to the Quad. There also is an accessible sidewalk that borders the library from Lot C-3 that winds around the south side to the west side to the north-side entrance.
Gnadt said there are three primary reasons the MTD doesn’t have benches at temporary bus stops. There is no inventory of benches to use for this purpose. They are expensive, so MTD is judicious in purchasing them. Second, they are resource-intensive. They are heavy concrete and take several people to move. Third, the current MCORE construction/reroutes/stops are fluid in nature.
"We have been moving the temporary stops every couple of days because the construction is moving. Continuously sending crews out to relocate these heavy benches every few days to keep up with changes wouldn’t be the best use of limited personnel and resources," he said.
"Champaign Meijer has four parking lot lights working last week. Four! This is a safety hazard for so many reasons, and it's been getting worse for months."
"Thanks for letting me know," said Frank Guglielmi, the director of corporate communications for Meijer. "I'll share that information with the appropriate people and we'll get them repaired."
"There are several noncompliant ADA parking areas in C-U and the county. Who is responsible for the enforcement for each agency and their phone numbers?"
People who see improperly marked accessible parking spaces, or facilities with no such spaces, can register their complaints with the Disability Rights Bureau of the Illinois attorney general's office.
The address and phone numbers are:
500 S. Second St.
Springfield, IL 62701
100 W. Randolph St.
Chicago, IL 60601
"I see an awful lot of cars and trucks parked in the bike lanes all over Champaign, especially on State and Randolph. They seem to treat them as loading zones. Is it legal for vehicles to block the bike lane? If not, what's the best way to report this activity? I'd also be curious to know if/how often the Champaign police issue citations for blocking the bike lanes if it is in fact illegal."
"The Illinois Motor Vehicle Code does not specifically prohibit parking in bike lanes and unless the area in question is marked as a 'No Parking' zone, it is not a citable offense," said Tom Yelich, a spokesman for the Champaign Police Department. "If a car is illegally parked in a location marked as 'No Parking,' it is recommended to call the Champaign Police Department's non-emergency number at 217-333-8911 with the vehicle information and an officer can be dispatched to the location to investigate the matter more. For a list of specific parking violations the city is currently able to enforce, you can visit Section 33-53., 'Prohibited in specified places' of the City of Champaign Municipal Code."
"After reading the question about the post office on Mattis Avenue in the March 29 edition of Tom's Mailbag, I had to send a question I've been meaning to ask. I've used the drive up mailboxes for years and suddenly, I'm too short to reach the slot. Have they recently installed new taller mailboxes? I know we shrink as we age but, I don't think I've become that short."
"The collection box snorkels on the boxes at 2001 N. Mattis Ave. were changed within the past two years. It used to be a double snorkel, now it is only one smaller opening," said Kimberly Caldwell-Harvey, spokeswoman for postal service's St. Louis office. "Boxes were modified for security reasons to make it more difficult for Phishing of mail from the boxes.
"The Postmaster observed several vehicles utilize the collection boxes today (and) stated the height is just about right for trucks and most SUVs, some of the smaller cars did have to reach, some had to remove the seat belt to reach.
"Security of the mail is the main factor for the changes, we apologize for any inconvenience that this may have caused. The changes were for security concerns."
"Is the rumor true that Chick-fil-A is not building on the land in front of Meijer because of problems with the drive-thru?"
The "rumor" is not true. The Chick-fil-A project at 2301 N. Prospect Ave., C, has taken wing. The restaurant building permit was issued last November. The drive-thru canopy building permit was issued on March 26, the same day as the demolition permit for the Ruby Tuesday restaurant that had been on the site (left).
"Now that Prospect Avenue between Curtis and Windsor is closed for an extended period of time, is there any chance of the city of Champaign changing the timing of the traffic light at Curtis and Prospect? Right now, it full-cycles in the Prospect direction, even though very little traffic now comes that way, while cars pile up eastbound and westbound on Curtis. It would be great if it would only go green in the southbound Prospect direction if it sensed a car waiting there. (That used to happen, before the city changed the light to its current annoying timing!)"
That location actually is in Savoy.
"The village plans on reviewing the current signal timings as part of the Prospect Avenue Improvement Project," said Levi Kopmann, Savoy's assistant village manager for public works and engineering. "Changes to the signal timing cycles will need to be made to account for the increase in both vehicular traffic and pedestrian traffic following completion of the improvements.
"And as a side note, we appreciate the patience of our residents and visitors during the Prospect Avenue construction."
"With all the work going on and getting ready to start for the Champaign school district from the referendum. What is the money from the 1 percent sales tax that was passed several years ago being used for? When that first passed there were additions and renovations to several of the elementary schools and even a brand new elementary school (Carrie Busey). There are other schools in the district, like Robeson, that have portable classrooms. This leads you to believe they are overcrowded. Are there plans for additions in the future for those schools from the sales tax money?"
The Champaign school district has received about $7.5 million a year over the last three years from 1 percent countywide sales tax, according to Tom Lockman, the district's chief financial and legal officer. "Proceeds from the countywide sales tax can only be used by school districts for school facility purposes," said the district's spokesman, John Lyday. "Unit 4 used revenue from the countywide sales tax to renovate seven of the district's elementary schools (Booker T. Washington, Bottenfield, Carrie Busey, Garden Hills, Kenwood, Robeson and Westview).
"In February 2010 the district sold bonds for the renovations using sales tax revenue as a source to pay debt services on the bonds. The sales tax revenue continues to be more than is needed to service the bond debt which allows the district to pay for other facility needs such as roof replacements, parking lot pavement, boiler replacements, etc.
"Decisions on spending priorities are made by the Unit 4 Board of Education. A 10-year capital improvement plan was prepared when the countywide sales tax was enacted. With the scope of the referendum projects now better defined, an updated capital improvement plan is being developed for board review and discussion in the coming months."
"Is the UI taking suggestions for new mascot?"
It is my sincere and deep-seated belief that the University of Illinois-Urbana, one of the nation's great universities, has about one million things more important to address than a sports mascot. That's just my opinion.
For the record, here's what campus spokeswoman Robin Kaler said: "Chancellor Robert Jones recently created the Commission on Native Imagery: Healing and Reconciliation to explore ways the Illinois family can move forward together to remember our history, explore new traditions and partner with Native Nations. That charge does not mandate the creation of a mascot, and the Commission is not expected to conclude its work until later this semester."
"In Saturday's News-Gazette you answered a reader's question in the Mailbag about getting water tested. In your answer you didn't mention the Illinois State Water Survey. They are located at 2204 Griffith Drive, Champaign. Their phone number is 217-333-2210. They have a Public Service Lab (water testing). A person can request a kit by calling the lab at 217-300-7420. The lab can test for specific things such as lead or nitrates. The person making the request should call them and discuss their concerns so the water survey can send them the correct kit."
"My scientist colleagues at the Illinois State Water Survey can test for calcium, magnesium, iron, arsenic, manganese, sodium, hardness, total dissolved solids, alkalinity, color, turbidity, fluoride, chloride, nitrate, and sulfate. They recommend that folks call first to discuss their concerns and what type of testing is appropriate, and so ISWS staff can walk them through the testing procedure. Their phone number is 300-7420 and more info is on their website: https://www.isws.illinois.edu/chemistry-and-technology/public-service-laboratory/water-testing."
"Your recent column honoring April Fools' Day brings back memories of an article that appeared in the News-Gazette in the early 1970s as I remember. Huntington Tower was under construction. The floors were going up by way of a crane on the top but no side walls had yet been added so it was completely open. The front page story was that it was to be a 'high rise mobile home park' and that the crane on top would be used to lift mobile homes up and into the structure. The article was complete with an artist's rendition of how this would look. The article was a brilliant work of imagination and the last sentence was 'April Fool!' I still think of that article every year at this time. Would it be possible to resurrect that article from your archives?"
I regret to say that I could not find that story and artwork in our library files.
I did, however, find a collection of stories in the April 1, 1976, News-Gazette that included the headlines: "Nichols N. Dimes Cashes in Today," "Sullen Statehouse Solons Seek Solace," and "Farmer Voted Most Likely to Sack Seed."
None of the stories was particularly clever, though.
"Would carriers for The News-Gazette be interested in subscribers returning the bags our papers are delivered in or rubber bands directly to them for reuse? If not, is the best solution for the former to recycle with other bags at our local grocery stores?"
They would be interested in both the rubber bands and plastic bags, said Bob Cicone, the newspaper's circulation manager. You can return them to the main desk at 15 Main St., Champaign, during regular business hours (8 a.m. to 5 p.m.). They'll be given to the carriers free of charge. Unless you have an arrangement with your carrier, don't leave the bags or rubber bands on the porch or at the driveway or mailbox, he asked. It's difficult to see them during the early morning delivery hours.
"Are they ever going to time the lights on North Prospect? Can hit one and all the rest you have to stop at. And causes backups on the intersections because of that. Any plans to streamline this mess?"
It's not as easy as you suggest.
"If the complaint were about heading southbound over (Interstate 74) between Marketview and Bloomington Road during peak traffic times (lunch, PM or weekend) there isn't anything more that can be done," said Champaign Public Works spokesman Kris Koester. "The intersection spacing and the amount of traffic coming from the side streets (Marketview and the I-74 ramps) create a situation that cannot be solved with timing during peak traffic times.
"Also, IDOT reexamines this section on a routine basis (Bloomington and the ramps are IDOT signals; Marketview is a city intersection but IDOT has great interest given the interchange and includes it anytime they look at the ramps)," Koester said.
If your complaint is about northbound traffic beyond Marketview "there may be some room for improvement based on casual observance. I am not sure it is running the plan we developed back in 2013 or if something changes over I-74; in the past I don't recall having to stop heading northbound and now that does happen sometimes.
"If the complaint were about the intersections to the north — Town Center to Interstate Drive (which is less likely) — we would need to look into it," Koester said.
"How much does early voting cost Champaign County?"
"Someone should do an article on the efficacy of the extra spending on new/early voting locations for last Tuesday's election. Campus turnout was up but still dismal."
The county operated eight remote early voting sites (in addition to the Brookens Center) in this election, the first one run by Democratic County Clerk Aaron Ammons. That's up from the six (plus Brookens) that were open in the 2015 consolidated election, run by Republican County Clerk Gordy Hulten.
There also were six days of remote site early voting this year, up from three days four years go.
Ammons estimated that the cost of providing early voting this spring was about $9,700, which includes salaries for election judges, facility fees, parking costs for judges on campus, fuel and staff costs to deliver election equipment and other assorted costs.
I asked Ammons if he thought the cost was worth the convenience to voters and he said he believed it was.
"I think it's the cost of democracy. I don't have an issue with the cost for the access it helps provide," he said.
The cost of providing early voting in 2015 was estimated by Hulten at less than $5,000.
As for turnouts the campus precincts were indeed dismal. At City of Champaign 8, which votes at the Activities and Recreation Center, there were just 14 votes out of 1,900 registered voters, a .74 turnout.
But that wasn't much worse than the 6.21 percent turnout at City of Champaign 30, which votes at St. John's Lutheran Church, 509 S. Mattis Ave.
The Illini Union early voting center recorded just 51 early votes this past election, but that still was more than the early voting site in Tolono or at the Church of the Living God in north Champaign.
Certainly no one can predict at the time the early voting sites are set what the turnout will be.
"I live in Champaign and currently have an electric range. I would like to someday upgrade to a gas range. I have an unfinished basement so it would be rather easy to add a gas line however my range is on an inside wall so it wouldn't be easy to add an outside range hood vent. Does Champaign city code require gas ranges to be vented outside?"
Larry Happ, Champaign's building safety supervisor, urges people to call the building safety division of the Champaign Fire Department with questions related to building, electric, plumbing and HVAC. The number is 217-403-6100.
"We will be happy to answer any questions such as this one," he said.
Meanwhile, a range hood is not required to be vented to the outside if there is an operable window in the same room, Happ said.
But, he added. "The new gas line to the range would require a permit and inspection to ensure that it is installed to code providing a safe environment for the current and future homeowners."
"I noticed Derald's food truck on Matthews Avenue is no longer there. What's the word?
Their phone has been disconnected and they're no longer at their regular spot. In response to your question, we got this brief reply: "Have closed."
"Are you sure that Costco isn't coming to Champaign?"
The Champaign City Council has a development agreement with Costco on its study session agenda for next Tuesday night. A 150,000-square-foot store would be built on the site of the old Bergner's department store, which is slated for demolition.
The two-story Bergner's store occupied 154,000 square feet.
The Champaign Costco would be the 20th in Illinois, and among more than 770 worldwide. Outside of the Chicago area there are Costco stores in East Peoria and another one under construction in Loves Park near Rockford.
The city projects that the Costco would mean $7.1 million in sales tax revenue during the first six years the store is open. It would employ 150 to 225 people. The starting hourly rate for a Costco cashier is $14 an hour, although the average employee earns $22.50 an hour.
"Brookfield Properties (the owner of Market Place) is responding to national trends in retailing at regional malls and seeks to reduce the square footage of the mall," said a memo to the city council which was written by Rob Kowalski, the city's assistant director of planning and development. "The prospects for filling the vacant Bergner's space are limited and Costco will generate new customer traffic near the mall that should benefit existing stores."
The proposed development agreement would reimburse Costco $2.75 million from sales tax revenue generated by the store over a period of up to 10 years, with the option to extend the term to up to 15 years. But the city projects that within the first six years it could fully reimburse Costco and retain $4.3 million in sales tax revenue.
"Costco indicates they would not build a store at 2000 North Neil Street without a revenue sharing agreement," the memo says.
Part of the justification for the reimbursement to Costco is that it would be using an infill site rather than building on the outskirts of Champaign.
The membership-based retailer, with headquarters near Seattle, has been considering the Champaign market "for several years," the memo said.
"During that time they have been exploring various sites on the edge of the community that are currently in agricultural use but close to the interstate. In their analysis of thee options, they have determined that the cost of building their store on a 'greenfield' site is less costly than building on an 'infill' site at Marketplace Mall," said the memo.
Costco estimated it would cost $2.9 million more to build on the Market Place site versus on an undeveloped agricultural field on the outskirts of the city, with an estimated investment cost of $36.99 million at the Market Place site. A greenfield site would cost $34 million.
"Sometimes infill development can be more cost effective because urban services and infrastructure already exist," said the memo from Kowalski. "In this case, however, there are substantial costs involved with preparing the mall property for redevelopment. In particular there are higher 'soft costs' involved in developing the infill project. Soft costs are commonly services for engineering, legal services and the like. These costs are higher due to the complexity of the project as an infill site. These higher site prep costs in redeveloping an infill site versus developing an greenfield site provide the primary justification for the request to share tax revenue."
There could be some sales tax "leakage" with Costco — the loss of business and sales at existing retailers in Champaign — according to the memo. But overall the city would benefit, according to projections.
"First, it is recognized that Costco is a unique retailer that will likely draw new sales that would not otherwise happen in the community. This is because there are dedicated Costco shoppers that live locally but make a point of shopping at other Costco stores or at Costco online," said the memo. "However (city) staff modeled a projection of a 3 percent decrease in sales tax revenues from several other similar stores in Champaign once Costco is in operation and continuing for a period of six years. The results show that over that time the city would still realize an increase in sales tax revenue overall even after providing Costco the incentive as proposed.
"To reinforce this study, staff consulted with Business Districts Incorporated, a consulting firm with experience with studying the impact of Costco to local communities, to report on the impact of other community's sales tax revenues when a Costco opened. Their study showed that in four other communities sales tax revenue increased overall after four years of a Costco opening. They conclude that while there may have been some leakage from other stores in those communities, the community still experienced overall higher sales tax revenues."
Costco also would operate a gas station at the Market Place site, according to the agreement.
The addition of Costco could revitalize Market Place, which opened in 1976 but has suffered the loss of two major anchor stores (Bergner's and Sears) in recent years, said the Kowalski memo.
"There is no question that the future of the traditional regional shopping mall is on a downward trend as national store chains continue to announce all-store closings and as online sales continue to grow," he wrote. "Traditional anchor department stores were once the main drivers of customers to the regional mall but trends in shopping patterns have changed.
"As it becomes difficult to retain or attract anchor stores, smaller stores in malls are also impacted by declining customer traffic that is not as strong as it has been in the past. Today national department store retailers continue to close, leaving behind large square-footage vacancies in aging mall structures with few prospects for owners refilling vacancies with retail uses. In many instances in communities across the country, the regional mall which was once a valuable asset, is now becoming a liability and cities are strategizing on how to infuse new life into mall areas to keep them commercially viable."
The city administration believes that the Costco store would become "a regional draw and people will make trips into the community to shop at their store."
There already are 2,500 Costco members within a one-hour driving radius of Champaign.
"The only other Costco store in downstate Illinois is in East Peoria so it is expected that areas outside of their drive time radius provides potential customers for a Champaign store," the memo said. "Since Costco is also a wholesaler they become an amenity for local businesses. It becomes convenient for local store owners, such as restaurant operators, to purchase goods wholesale which will in turn be used to strengthen their businesses locally."
The city council will discuss the deal at its study session Tuesday night, according to the council memo. If the council approves the agreement at a later regular meeting and Costco completes its negotiations with Brookfield Properties, construction of the store could begin next spring and the store could be open in late 2020 or early 2021.
Incidentally, a basic Costco membership is $60 a year. The "Gold Star Executive" membership is $120 annually.