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The Mailbag is almost as jammed as last Saturday's St. Louis Blues victory parade. But the beer content of the Mailbag is significantly less.

This week's lineup: weeds, wrecked bikes, the new Farren's, Costco, Chick-fil-A, prohibitions at the DMV, the Urbana Civic Center, hazardous waste collections, a large natural area under construction in Urbana and an ancient tree that has seen better days.

Urbana natural area

"Lately, I have noticed multiple vehicles traveling to the Natural Prairie Land area just to the south of the Urbana Dog Park. Out of curiosity, I asked a driver of one of those vehicles what was going on there, and he said that they were beginning a process to raise the wetlands on the land by 30 inches. Any explanation for why this is necessary?"

The Urbana Park District and the Urbana & Champaign Sanitary District have been working together to rehabilitate the 35-acre lower portion of the Perkins Road Park Site — adjacent to the Urbana Dog Park — for many years now, said Urbana Park District Executive Director Tim Bartlett.

The sanitary district owns the site and the park district manages it under multiple lease arrangements, he said.

"We began our rehabilitation efforts in 2004. We have utilized state and other grants to help support the work in addition to support from the (sanitary district). The Urbana Park District manages the restored areas with our staff and volunteer site stewards. Once complete, the site will support a healthy wetland and prairie for the future," he said.

In the future this area will host native plantings, educational programs, bird watching and recreation opportunities.

Castoff bikes

"What's up with the pile of VeoRide bikes at Mack's (Recycling) in Urbana?"

"We had to recycle a few bikes that were not repairable," said Mayra Cortez of VeoRide. "We are definitely still staying in the area!"

New Farren's

"Any news on when the new Farren's (117 N. Walnut St. in the former Radio Maria) will open — and how much bigger will it be than the current set-up? Finally, do you know what's moving into their basement site?"

Farren's owner Carolyn Farren said they are resolving some remodeling issues at the new location and don't have a firm date for opening, but she believes it will be in mid-July. In the meantime they'll continue to operate at 308 N. Randolph St.

"The space at 117 is approximately double the seating on the interior. We will also have an additional 50 seats outdoors," she said. "The future of the current space at 308 N. Randolph is undecided at the moment. We will keep the community updated via social media. We are asking everyone to keep visiting the Farren's at 308 until our new space is ready."

Costco update

"Any information about if and when Costco will start building?"

Nothing has changed from time Costco made its announcement in April, said assistant Champaign planning director Rob Kowalski.

Costco consultant Ted Johnson said in early April that the company hoped to make a project submission to the city in July. Under the plan, Brookfield Properties, the owner of Market Place Shopping Center, would start demolishing the old Bergner's store in August or September, clearing the way for Costco.

A development agreement with the city said construction of the store could begin next spring and the store could be open in late 2020 or early 2021.

Do not ...

"Is there any government office that has more signs and prohibitions than the (Secretary of State's facility) in Champaign?"

"In large part, we don't want people shooting videos or taking photos because of the sensitive nature of the documents being presented and issued. Identity theft is something we take very seriously," said Henry Haupt, a spokesman for Secretary of State Jesse White. "All facilities are treated in the same manner."

County slow on tax payments

"I paid my Champaign County real estate taxes by mail, immediately on receipt on June 4, 2019. It's been two weeks and my check has not been presented for payment. Is there delay in processing tax payments just as there was delay in getting the tax bills out?

A few days later the same reader wrote: "I asked the tax question yesterday. My check cleared yesterday (June 18) after 14 days."

Champaign County Treasurer Laurel Prussing explained the delay.

"We have gotten a couple of calls from people worried that their checks have not cleared their bank accounts as quickly as they assumed. So I have explained that the process takes extra time because of the sheer volume of payments we are processing," she said. "Actually the biggest source of delay is the new billing system adopted by the county last year and implemented this year. It is a fine system with many new features, however, it does have a steep learning curve."

Weedy yard

"Just south of Washington Street on 2nd in Champaign — across from 404 N. 2nd St. — is a house surrounded by chain link and seriously overgrown yard that appears to have been abandoned mid-construction. Why?"

Tim Spear of Champaign's Neighborhood Services Department said the property includes an unusually large detached garage that was partially constructed by a previous owner of the property, and that he doesn't know why it wasn't completed.

"A notice has been issued to the current owner of the property," he said. "The current owner of the property has been given the opportunity to enter into an extension agreement to allow them additional time to correct the exterior violations. The grass at the property is regularly mowed. The city does not have an ordinance regulating the trimming of trees, shrubs, and vines that do not obstruct the public right of way."

Spear said he is "hopeful that the exterior will be improved in the coming months."

Meanwhile, he urges Champaign residents with questions about properties in the city to contact his office.

"If your readers have questions or concerns about properties in the city of Champaign, they are welcome to contact the Neighborhood Services Department," he said. "Complaints can be submitted through our website at, via e-mail at, or via telephone at (217) 403-7070."

Weedy sidewalk

"Who is responsible for weed control on the sidewalks under the CN overpass on Springfield just east of Neil? There are weeds there approaching 6 feet tall."

Spear said he also received a complaint about the weeds growing in and around the sidewalk and arranged for the city's public works department to trim and treat the weeds with weed killer along the sidewalk.

Shed a little light

"Can you still flick a Bic at Sunday's Foreigner concert — or are lighters off limits these days at (the State Farm Center)?"

There will be no flicking of Bics or any other lighters at Sunday's 7:30 p.m. show, said State Farm Center Director Kevin Ullestad. "(E)verybody uses cell phones these days, he noted.

Household hazardous waste collection

"If I researched correctly, I see that only northern Illinois has all permanent hazardous waste collection sites (four). I know of a neighbor who is wishing to properly dispose chemicals from their garage. It appears that there is no local permanent entity (within Central Illinois) that does this function. Could you look into this matter?"

"As noted, we do fund four long-term Household Hazardous Waste (HHW) sites innorthern Illinois," Illinois EPA spokeswoman Kim Biggs said of the locations in Chicago, Naperville, Rockford and Gurnee. "Currently, we do not have any long-term collection locations in central Illinois, but the agency is exploring options to ensure adequate statewide coverage for the HHW program."

The EPA also coordinates one-day collections at various locations throughout the state and its schedule this spring included locations statewide. The nearest was in Gibson City in March.

"We anticipate another large round of one-day collections in the fall. Those dates and locations are being determined and will be announced toward the end of summer," Biggs said.

Susan Monte, Champaign County's recycling coordinator, said she hopes the county is awarded one of the dates this fall.

"We've been waiting for seven years," she said.

Champaign lot & Urbana Civic Center

"Some years ago the city of Champaign acquired property on the southeast corner of Neil and Bradley and demolished the houses there. I believe the city's plan was to develop the site with a hotel there. What is the status of these plans?

"Also, what are Urbana's plans for the closed civic center?"

There weren't houses there, it was a daycare center that closed down, said Bruce Knight, Champaign's planning and zoning director.

A hotel was never planned for the property.

Neighborhood Services Director Kerri Wiman said the city purchased the property and razed the former Community Day Care in 2008. "The city issued an RFP for housing on this site in 2016 but rejected the two proposals received, due to possible conflict with the nearby (Bradley and Market) Bristol Place redevelopment financing and schedule at that time," Wyman said. "With the first of two construction phases at Bristol Place now under way, the city intends to issue a new RFP in late 2019/early 2020 for Bradley and Neil. The new RFP will again be seeking housing opportunities that complement the neighborhood."

As for the future of the civic center property, Urbana City Administrator Carol Mitten said it "is being considered in the context of the overall Facilities Master Plan. The city expects the fate of the civic center property to be more clear in about a year, once we have the results of the completed Master Plan."

Swirly streetlamp

"I was wondering about an old street lamp on Elm Street near Union Avenue. There is one that is swirled with red and looks amazing. I was wondering how long it has been there? Why the location? And if there are any others in the city?"

Champaign's Public Works Department apparently didn't agree that the spray painted, city-owned globe looked amazing.

"Thanks for reporting it, the spray paint has been removed from the globe," said public works spokesman Kris Koester.

Broken down tree

"There is a large damaged tree at the corner of Washington and High Cross Road in Urbana. It appears it may have been hit by lightning as the tree and trunk are split in half. There is also a large limb hanging over the roadway which could easily come down on passing cars if there was a thunderstorm with high winds. I would think in the interest of public safety someone (the city, township, county or state) would remove the tree. Who would be responsible for this?"

Tax records show that the property at the southeast corner of Illinois 130 and Washington Street is owned by Atsa Trust One (Dr. Albert Lo). Since the tree is on private property it is the landowner's responsibility to trim it.

"However, if large limbs of the tree are overhanging a public right of way in such a way as to create a safety hazard then the right of way jurisdiction could remove as much of the tree as needed to ensure public safety," said John Hall, the county zoning director. "I'm not sure if the landowner can be ordered to take it down — I have never heard of that happening."

Just in case I notified the state Department of Transportation, which is responsible for Illinois 130, of your concern.

Construction competition

"In a race, which gets built first, Golden Corral, Chick-fil-A, or the Starbucks on Mattis and Springfield?"

My money is on Chick-fil-A, since construction has already started at 2301 N. Prospect Ave. Starbucks, where they were about to pour concrete earlier this week, probably will be next. Golden Corral's planned site is covered in weeds.

No reimbursement needed

"After Judge (Robert) Steigmann was disciplined for running a speaker's bureau out of his judicial office did he ever have to reimburse the state for the expenses he incurred? Staff time, postage, etc."

No, the Illinois Courts Commission did not require a reimbursement or fine from the Illinois Appellate Court justice. He was accused of using judicial branch resources to solicit paid speaking opportunities from law enforcement organizations, medical societies and hospitals, from which he earned $32,000 to $34,000 over a two-year period.

He received a reprimand from the commission.

"There can be no doubt that Respondent has already suffered the consequences of his own conduct. There is great public humiliation and shame that naturally occurs as a consequence of this type of proceeding," the commission wrote. "These costs are a heavy price to pay for what amounted to a lapse in judgment in soliciting educational legal presentations."

Crime scene apartment

"What will Stonegate Apartments do with the unit that was rented by (accused killer) Brendt Christensen? Surely no one would want to live there."

Royse & Brinkmeyer, which manages the property, said it had no comment on your question and added that it offered its best wishes, hopes and prayers to the family of victim Yingying Zhang.

From last week ...

We heard from a spokesman for Green City Recycler in Houston, who said they do not have any donation bins in the Champaign-Urbana area, as last week's Mailbag reported. My mistake. Those green bins belong to the Green City Project LLC of Romeoville.


We also heard from Minh-Quang Sakya, who developed the extensive garden at 1512 N. McKinley in Champaign.

"Buddhism teaches people how to live happily and peacefully in harmony with others. Buddhist meditation is a way to help people achieve that purpose," he wrote. "In other words the purpose of meditation is to bring our deluded mind back to its normal state of peace and serenity.

"I am a Buddhist monk practicing meditation. I am living in this property with my students. Therefore I would like to make a peaceful and beautiful landscape for myself and my Dharma friends."

He said the reflecting pool on the property "makes us feel cool and peaceful. It also reminds us of being aware of the flow of our thoughts and emotion. With this awareness we can stay solidly on the ground of mindfulness."

The Buddha statute, he said, is of Avalokitesvara, a Buddha of Compassion and Wisdom, known popularly as Guanyin or Quan Am.

"The Buddha statue reflected on the pool carries a message that if our mind is calm and clear as the pool, our inherent Buddha of compassion and wisdom will appear at the moment."


We're happy to report that the parking lot at the Walgreens on the corner of Springfield and Mattis avenues in Champaign — which was "littered with potholes" — has been fixed. It was re-paved after the issue was raised in last week's Mailbag.


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).