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If it were 40 years ago, the Mailbag staff would be excited about the possibility of ice skating this weekend at either Crystal Lake Park or Kaufman Lake. But alas, ice skating is no longer permitted at those lakes. Nor do the fire departments or park districts flood parts of local parks for skating or pond-hockey games.

And another thing, gripes the Mailbag oldtimer: Parents no longer block off the hilly section of Busey Avenue in Urbana so that kids can sled down the gentle grade. Thank goodness you can still ride a sled down the hills at Centennial Park in Champaign, Orchard Downs in Urbana or Dana Colbert Park in Savoy. How much longer will that be permitted?

In this week's Mailbag: lots of infrastructure questions (especially for poor Kris Koester in Champaign), chicken restaurants, a profusion of bald eagles (and maybe foxes), Carle at the Fields' property-tax status, recycling, and coin-sorting machines.

"What is the latest on the Chick-fil-A opening in Champaign?"

Hope you can hang on until this fall.

A building permit was issued for the new store at 2301 N. Prospect Ave. (the old Ruby Tuesday) on Nov. 13, but there's nothing going on there yet. This winter weather won't help.

"We are always evaluating potential new locations in the hopes of serving existing and new customers great food with remarkable service in the Chicagoland area," said Chick-fil-A spokeswoman Jackie Jags. "We are excited to confirm that we will open in Champaign at 2301 N. Prospect Ave. with a projected fall 2019 grand opening. We look forward to sharing additional details about the franchise owner, employment and the grand opening in the future."

"Someone posted on Slim Chicken's Yelp profile, 'Just found out from the staff that they are closing their doors soon. Sad to hear ... like the place a lot.' Curious if there's truth to this, or if not, to put that rumor to rest. I, too, would hate to hear that it's closing. If so, that makes the third restaurant in that area behind Brixx Pizza and Wendy's to close shop in a relatively short time since opening."

Liz Pulido, the manager of the restaurant at 2027 S. Neil St., C, said, "I have no news of us shutting down. That's as far as I can go."

"North Walnut Street changes from one-way northbound to two-way at the intersection with East Washington in downtown Champaign. I am present at that intersection several times a week, and many times have seen cars in the left lane of North Walnut go straight across the intersection. Several times I have been close to being hit or losing my car door after parking on the west side of the street. With the renovation of 500 North Walnut, more traffic will be coming. Children are present every Saturday being dropped off for fencing lessons. Can the city improve the signage somehow so drivers stop making this error?"

This intersection is marked with appropriate signage and markings, said Kris Koester, spokesman for the Champaign Public Works Department.

"On the west side of Walnut, 200 feet south of the intersection, there is a 'Left Lane Must Turn Left' sign, with a similar one closer to the intersection. In addition, there are three arrows on the pavement that show that the left lane is a turn lane only," he said. "As well as two 'End One Way' signs at the east and west side of the intersection.

"Finally, there is a stop bar and a yellow center line on southbound Walnut, north of Washington.

"Public Works staff will look to see if there are enhancements that might improve proper use of the intersections; possibilities include refreshing the existing pavement markings and adding conspicuous arrows on the pavement on southbound Walnut, just north of Washington. Motorists are reminded to follow traffic control devices to avoid potential conflicts with other vehicles, bicycles, and pedestrians."

"Has anyone requested expansion of two lanes into four lanes on Windsor, starting from Mattis to Staley? With Carle at the Fields and nearby future businesses, it may be time to have feasibility studies on traffic flow and expansion in these areas. This also includes possible conversions from stop signs to stop lights."

Well, someone requested it in the Oct, 21, 2016, Mailbag.

The answer at that time was that it wasn't in the city's 10-year capital improvement plan. And it still isn't, Koester said.

"In addition, when IDOT built the bridge on Windsor over I-57 back in 2014, the future traffic-count projections determined that for the life of the bridge (about 40 to 50 years), traffic would only warrant a two-lane bridge," he said.

"You had an article a few weeks ago about the start of construction on the Bradley Avenue bridge over Interstate 57 west of Parkland that is scheduled for this spring/summer. Might you dig a little further and learn if the plan is to close the bridge entirely during construction, so as to do it faster, or will they always keep one lane open?"

Koester said that the project — which is under the auspices of the Illinois Department of Transportation, not the city — will require that the bridge and approaches be closed during the entire time (about March to November).

"However, access to the Bluegrass and Boulder Ridge will remain open, except when they are doing work in the intersection," he added.

City documents with more details about the project can be found here.

"Is there anything our fine Champaign leaders could — and would — do to get the residents of Church Street between Mattis and Prospect to park their vehicles in those long, empty slabs of pavement alongside their homes instead of parking on both sides of the street? That stretch of Church is a demolition derby waiting to happen. Add a little ice to the equation and ... well, use your damn driveways, people."

Residences along this stretch of Church Street have mostly one-lane driveways, noted Koester.

"This leads to vehicles parked on both sides of the road. For background — the street is 33 feet wide, resulting in about 7- to 8-foot parking lanes and 9- to 9.5-foot travel lanes (the same narrow widths found on Bradley between Prospect and McKinley and on Prospect between Bradley and Healey). In 2006, an inquiry to remove parking on one side of Church in this section was received by the city," he said. "Crash history at that time did not show a lot of crashes — just an occasional sideswipe. Because it is a residential area with a need for on-street parking and there is not a documented safety issue, the removal of parking would require neighborhood support by city policy/practice (which is typically in the form of a petition from a majority of property owners in the area)."

"Back in October 2017 or something, you answered the question about Springfield Avenue (between Coler and Lincoln) in Urbana getting repaired, stating it was on the budget to be fixed for 2018. While I think rough roads are a great deterrent for speeding, this section really rattles the marbles around in my head during my daily commute. Whatever happened to it getting repaired?"

Carol Mitten, Urbana's interim public works director, has good news for you and other motorists annoyed by the condition of the pavement.

While funding for this project was delayed from the original schedule, "the project is currently in design and we expect to go out for bids and start construction this year, with the goal of finishing construction in late 2019 or the first half of 2020," she said.

"Although the catalyst for the project was the severely deteriorated condition of the noted section of Springfield Avenue, the scope of the $2 million project will also include resurfacing of Lincoln Avenue between Springfield and University Avenues and upgrading each of the intersections along that stretch of Lincoln Avenue to improve safety and ensure Americans with Disabilities Act compliance," Mitten said. "We're looking forward to getting this project under way."

"Former Chief of Police Sylvia Morgan announced her departure date from the Urbana Police Department about a year before she left. She officially retired in August 2018. One would think that the city of Urbana would have started the process for searching for a new chief of police. There has been no announcement of a job opening or search for a new chief of police. At what point will the city of Urbana initiate a search for their next chief of police?"

They've been busy in Urbana, said Mayor Diane Marlin.

"The city of Urbana's fire chief, police chief and public works director retired in 2018. A search for each of these top administrative positions requires significant staff time and resources," she said. "At this point, we have hired a new fire chief and currently are conducting a nationwide search for the public works director. I appointed Bryant Seraphin to serve as interim police chief and Robert Fitzgerald to serve as deputy chief while the other searches were conducted.

"The police department is in excellent hands while we focus on the search in public works; we will consider the police position later this spring."

Marlin noted that the city also filled the position of city administrator in 2018 after a nationwide search and named a department head for community development services.

"About six weeks ago, my son excitedly swore he saw a giant bird with a bald head soar across Robeson Park in Champaign. I thought he must have seen one of the fairly common turkey vultures. But sure enough, two weeks ago, at dusk I witnessed a bald eagle flying near the park. Majestic! At any rate, has there been an uptick in bald eagles nesting locally?"

Yes, said Michael Ward, an associate professor in the department of natural resources and environmental sciences at the University of Illinois.

"Bald Eagles have greatly increased in number in East Central Illinois, and there are likely three or four pairs breeding in Champaign County alone," he said. "To put this into context, 20 to 30 years ago, there was only a handful breeding across the entire state. In winter, more eagles are in East Central Illinois, as they are forced south by the weather. You can see them anywhere; however, they prefer to nest along waterways."

"There have been foxes in our Urbana neighborhood for at least 5 years now. Now it was posted that someone has a gun permit to shoot the foxes. Can this be true? Don't know why someone would want to shoot them and don't know how you would get a gun permit for this purpose."

Red and gray foxes may be hunted or trapped in Illinois, according to the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. The legal season is Nov. 10 through Feb. 15.

"In good habitat, it is not uncommon to find three to four red foxes per square mile. Researchers in Illinois have found that as coyote populations continue to increase, red foxes are moving to urban areas to avoid competing against or being preyed upon by coyotes," said the University of Illinois Extension's "Living with Wildlife in Illinois."

"I've been following the Carle property-tax situation. What is the status of all of the new Carle Clinic buildings located off Curtis Road, are they being assessed and taxed?"

The properties at Carle at the Fields are being assessed, said city of Champaign Township Assessor Paul Faraci.

Whether they will get a property-tax exemption is up to Carle, which has to make the request, and the county board of review and the state department of revenue, which would have to approve an exemption.

So far, there has been no request for an exemption, said Paula Bates, Champaign County's supervisor of assessments.

"I was wondering about the development area at the northwest corner of Interstates 74 and 57. Whatever happened to it? How many years has it been since it first was developed with roads, sidewalks and a stoplight? Any plans for it? Why did the developers' sign get taken down? What are the people doing when you occasionally see a parked car out there?"

That is the Clearview development by the Atkins Group. Although it has evolved from its original plan, there's activity there.

Here's a story about it from last July.

And Atkins Group spokeswoman Kate Klipp said that eight "high-quality homes ... are available and ready for sale at Clearview North near the intersection of Lovie Lane and Olympian Drive.

"This is part of a larger community development concept for the neighborhood. The infrastructure you see there was built in 2006-2008. Residents will find our Clearview trails and ponds are popular for walking, running, fishing, dog training, and outdoor enjoyment. We envision the area as a mix of residential and commercial users as we continue to pursue improvement. Folks should check us out! We are working with a number of realtors who are showing the new homes situated in a convenient and developing community."

"Where in Illinois or Indiana can you take VHS tapes, cassettes, DVDs, CDs, etc. to be recycled?"

You can mail or drop off VHS tapes, CDs and DVDs for recycling at Plastic Recycling Inc. at 2015 S. Pennsylvania St., Indianapolis, IN 46225. They are open from 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Their office number is 317-780-6100.

"What's the latest on the old WDWS property that is at the northwest corner of Neil and Windsor? Is it for sale? Or what are future plans with the present owners?"

There's nothing new to report about the property, said News-Gazette Media CEO John Reed. The property at 2301 S. Neil St. is still owned by WDWS/WHMS and "continues to function as our main transmitting facility for WDWS 1400-AM and WHMS 97.5-FM," he said.

"My children have accumulated a lot of change in their piggybanks, and it's time to cash in. I called my bank to see if they offered coin sorting, which they do not. Are there any financial institutions in town (not Coinstar) that offer free coin sorting?"

First Federal Savings Bank of Champaign-Urbana, 1311 S. Neil St., has a coin-sorting machine for use by its customers.

"Any news on Mirabelle's reopening?"

No word. We were unable to reach the owner of the pastry/bakery shop, Jack Kostrub, either by phone (disconnected) or email (bounced back).

The former home of Mirabelle Fine Pastries at 124 W. Main St., U, is now the home of Rick's Bakery.

Mirabelle closed in March 2018, and although a sign in the window said it would be "baking again later this year in a new location," that never happened.


Tom Kacich is a columnist and the author of Tom's Mailbag at The News-Gazette. His column appears Sundays. His email is, and you can follow him on Twitter (@tkacich).