This week's Mailbag is as jammed as the bandwagon of believers in the scrappy St. Louis Blues, the unheralded hockey team that Monday night begins the quest for its first Stanley Cup against the fiendish Boston Bruins (and also a topic in the very first 'Bag in 2013). May the hockey gods finally honor the Blues and their long-suffering fans. LGB!
And now to the Mailbag and its questions about the Kickapoo Rail Trail, Cowboy Monkey, brick streets, flower beds, a loud Nelly concert last weekend, a "ghost sign" on an old Champaign building, missing trees along Mattis, Champaign's police review committee and who-ya-gonna-call about property maintenance questions.
Greenman's Clothing Store
"After the building at 108 E. University Ave. in Champaign was torn down (the former location of D's Appliances), it revealed a wall advertisement painted on the building east of it that remains today. What is the origin of that? Plus, why was the building housing D's removed and are there any future plans for the site?"
The sign painted on the wall was for Greenman's, a clothing store for men that had been located on the east side of downtown Champaign since 1914. The Greenman Brothers, Lee and Hyman, were first at 106 E. University Ave., and then moved to 110 E. University in 1924. The store closed in 1977 after Hyman bought out his brother about five years earlier. Hyman had emigrated from Russia in 1911.
The building was demolished in 2016. No building permit has been issued for the site.
Another I-74 interchange
"Are there plans for an exchange at I-74 and Illinois 130?"
There are no plans although an interchange at that location was discussed as recently as 2007, according to Rita Morocoima-Black, planning and community development director at the Champaign County Regional Planning Commission.
"Since then, nothing new has occurred or being discussed related to the possibility of building a new interchange on east Urbana," she said.
At that time there had been public discussion about interchanges at four locations east of Urbana: High Cross Road (Illinois 130), Cottonwood Road, County Road 1800 East, or another midpoint location.
The 2005 Urbana Comprehensive Plan Update states on Future Land Use Map 2 that improved interstate interchange access at High Cross Road, Cottonwood Road or 1800 East would serve growth south of the interstate.
Participants at an Illinois 130 workshop voiced their concerns about having an interchange at High Cross Road and more than 90 percent of 150 people who commented about an interchange location in June 2006 preferred that a full interchange, if constructed, be located farther east at County Road 1800 East.
"Driving around Champaign, east of Neil Street, south of University Avenue, north of John Street and west of Wright Street, it seems there are a handful of apartment buildings that have missing soffits, fascia boards and other parts which have fallen off, or are in the process of falling off. I once called 9-1-1 when a 20-foot-long piece of sheet metal was dangling from the Tower at 3rd, which I thought was an immediate danger to those below. When the issue isn't an immediate danger, who should residents contact? And does the city of Champaign actively look for things like this? The Bankier Apartments' Park Place Tower on the north side of Green Street has had a piece of its soffit off for a long time. Same with the building at the southeast corner of Third and Springfield Avenue."
This is an issue that should be forwarded to Champaign Neighborhood Services Department.
"They can call us at (217) 403-7070 or they can send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org," said Tim Spear of the department. "We take complaints for issues like this and we do actively look for these issues. Any time that there is material hanging from a building, we would like to address that issue as soon as possible. We have a limited number of inspectors so citizen referrals are welcome. I will send an inspector out to check the two properties mentioned by your reader."
"Who would I contact to complain about the excessive noise emanating from the fairgrounds? Friday night's Nelly concert was over the top on the sound level. I live four miles away as the crow flies and felt like I was on the dance floor."
The Champaign County Fairgrounds is in an unincorporated area and does have a Special Use Permit, said John Hall, Champaign County's director of planning & zoning.
"Live music events must have a Recreation & Entertainment License and the event on May 17 did have an R&E License," he said. "The Champaign County Board Environment and Land Use Committee (ELUC) approves all R&E Licenses.
"Citizens can make a complaint to the sheriff's office during the event or they can call our department during business hours or leave a message after hours and we will pass the complaint along to ELUC at the next R&E license renewal or citizens can complain directly to ELUC at a regularly scheduled ELUC meeting."
"With the maple seeds starting to fall I wondered, how does the city keep them from clogging up the storm sewers?"Normally those samaras — the winged seeds produced by maples — will flow to the natural stormwater outlets, said Kris Koester of the Champaign Public Works Department.
"If for some reason one is clogged up, we have means of clearing those. It doesn't happen that often," he said.
Koester said routine street sweeping gets rid of them, too.
"When the city was recently repairing a sinkhole on one of the brick streets in the Old Town section in Champaign, one of the crew pointed out to me that the old concrete sub-layer was crumbling away. You can see a fair number of depressions along the street. Is there a major street reconstruction in the foreseeable future? If so would historic brick paving be retained?"
Koester again: "The city allocates annual funding for brick street and streetscape repair; work can include infrastructure repairs along brick streets or within streetscaped areas. This year work will be focused on addressing repairs to brick paver areas within One Main Plaza. If you have a work location you would like the city to consider, please submit your request to Public Works and staff can evaluate the street as part of the next update to the three-year workplan."
As for the subpavement Koester explained that when originally constructed the bricks were placed directly on dirt.
"When the city reconstructs a brick street within the Brick Preservation Area, the bricks are removed and placed back on top of a concrete subbase to provide a more stable pavement," he said. "The preservation area is generally located west of State Street. Brick streets outside the preservation area are evaluated case-by-case, taking into account adjacent land uses and the historical nature of the adjacent properties."
"A number of large trees have been removed from the parkway in the 800-900-1000 blocks on the west side of South Mattis Avenue. Why? Sorry to see them go."
Andrew Lamoreux, the forestry supervisor for the park district, said the trees that have been coming down along South Mattis over the last three to four years are English oak trees.
"Their decline is due to a combination of biotic and abiotic factors, referred to as Chronic oak decline or dieback," he said. "Droughts, soil compaction, restricted root space, etc., stress and weaken the trees, which makes them more susceptible to fungal pathogens and insects, such as the Twolined Chestnut Borer."
The Mattis trees eventually will be replaced, said Koester, although some of the replacements may be on private property to allow for better sight triangles in the area closest to the multifamily properties.
"What is the construction on Kenwood behind the fire station and the park district building?"
That's an expansion of the Champaign Park District's operations shop area, said Dan Olson, director of operations for the park district.
"Currently the most noticeable construction is for two dry water retention basins required by the city to help with drainage issues. One of the basins sits directly south of the Bresnan Meeting Center," he said. "The total project includes two additions to the existing operations building located off of John Street as well as a parking lot expansion.
"Construction should be complete in November."
"Who is responsible for weeding, remulching and generalized maintenance around perennial flower beds around the city of Champaign, primarily around residential water retention facilities. Does the park district do that or is it implied or assumed by the park district that homeowners around the neighborhood handle these types of things."
There is not a single system of responsibilities that is overarching across all areas in the city, said Dan Olson, the director of operations for the park district.
"In many of the retention pond areas, the owner of the pond is typically responsible for the maintenance," Olson said. "Some of the retention basins in Champaign have multi-agency maintenance agreements in place that may include the city of Champaign, the park district, homeowners associations, the county, private owners and townships (just to name a few)."Therefore, you would have to refer to the legal agreement that was originally set forth for that particular land holding. For instance, there are areas within the city of Champaign where park district and the city share responsibilities for maintenance. Glenn Park is a recent good example in which portions of the larger permanent basin is the responsibility of the city while a raingarden there is the responsibility of the park district."
The park district's successful flower island program is marked with signs.
Rail trail use
"Two Kickapoo Rail Trail questions: Has any progress been made east of St. Joseph toward Danville? And does anyone track usage as far as number of bicyclists/walkers/etc.?"
Yes, the village of St. Joseph last year completed a short, paved extension of the trail a few blocks east to Seventh Street. And on the Vermilion County side of the trail, preparation work has begun on a 1.8-mile segment from Oakwood east to the west side of the old railroad bridge over the Salt Fork of the Vermilion River.
As for trail counts, Lisa Sprinkle, the marketing coordinator for the Champaign County Forest Preserve District, said there are counters at three locations along the existing 7-mile-long trail.
A report recently provided to the forest preserve board showed that use was highest on the St. Joseph end of the trail, and that June and July were the months with the greatest use.
The average daily traffic was 66 in St. Joseph (during the period of March 2018 to January 2019), 13 at Fulls Siding and 28.5 at the Urbana end (near Wal-Mart).
Cowboy Money remodel
"What happened to Cowboy Monkey? Is it closed for good?"
Cowboy Monkey is closed for renovations. The city of Champaign earlier this month issued two building permits for work at the nightclub at 6 Taylor Street. The owners of the business say they do not have a timeline for its reopening.
"At the intersection of Mattis and Springfield near Pia's and across the street from Walgreens, there was land being developed purportedly for a new Starbucks location. However, there's currently a for sale sign on that same land and the Starbucks 'Coming Soon' sign is down. What happened?"
A lease has been signed, construction will begin in June and the Starbucks should open in November or December, said John Carson, a broker with Ramshaw Real Estate.
Lease brochures for the "Union Square" strip mall at Springfield and Mattis avenues list Starbucks as the main tenant anchor. A building permit for the development was issued by the city on May 17.
Champaign Citizen Review Subcommittee
"It's been difficult to figure out what's going on with the Citizen Review Subcommittee. The group finally met on Wednesday, 05/08/2019, but prior to that, hadn't met since 09/12/2018. This might not matter to you, Tom, but a citizen like me, who is trying to understand and follow along with the complaint process, is frozen out of that process re their own complaint if the CRS doesn't meet for eight months. After all, the group states on the city's web site that meetings are to be held every two months, on the second Wednesday of the month. Furthermore, the terms of the CRS chair and one of its commissioners expire in June 2019. How will those positions be determined if the group doesn't meet again (maybe) until July? It seems to me that citizens want to participate in the process of municipal government, but getting information is never easy."
We put your questions to Emily Rodriguez, who is chair of the subcommittee.
"Thanks for the question, I'm happy to answer. This reader raised three issues the Champaign Citizen Review Subcommittee is excited to discuss, the frequency of CRS meetings, the accessibility of the complaint process, and the appointment process.
"First, the CRS schedules a monthly meeting to review complaints. The meetings referred to by the reader were canceled because there were no complaints to review. Until our most recent meeting on 5 / 8/19, we hadn't had any community members attend the public portions of our meetings. In the future, the CRS will meet more frequently to make the best use of the public's interest in our shared work. Aside from regularly scheduled meetings, the CRS also intends to organize listening sessions in which community members have an opportunity to talk to CRS Commissioners in a less formal setting.
"Next, this reader believes that the complaint process is not accessible. I agree. If a complainant feels 'frozen out' of the review process, we aren't succeeding at our job. I have heard these concerns echoed by a half dozen community members and neighbors in the past months. Several have reached out to me personally regarding their experience filing a police complaint. The CRS also heard similar feedback about the complaint process at our most recent meeting.
"At the upcoming Champaign Human Relations Commission meeting on June 3 at 5:30 p.m., I will propose a series of research-based reforms intended to make the complaint filing process more open and meaningful. I propose that the CRS (1) eliminate time limitations on the complaint filing process, (2) diversify the locations at which complaints can be filed, (3) invite complainants to address the CRS as a part of the review of their complaint, and (4) add a mediation option for officers and complainants. As a whole, the recommendations will lead to greater officer accountability, and will also create opportunities in the review process to build a new sense of community in place of what has been damaged. We need community support to make these recommendations happen. If these changes are important to you, make your voice heard at the HRC meeting.
"Lastly, the appointment process is up to the mayor. Community Relations Manager Rachel Joy has informed me that commissioners whose terms expire in June will be contacted by the mayor's office with the option to reapply. Specifics about the application and approval process are up to the mayor."
"I have noticed there are no headstones in the Mount Olive Cemetery on U.S. 150. Just wondering why not."
I believe you are mistaken about your cemeteries along U.S. 150. Mount Olive, located between Urbana and St. Joseph, does have headstones.
But Grandview Memorial Gardens, located between Champaign and Mahomet, does not. It's the tradition of memorial gardens to have just flat, in-ground memorial stones, said Grandview administrator Amanda Smith.
Grandview opened in 1949, according to archived News-Gazette stories. It was developed on the Tom Mulliken farm, two miles west of the old Champaign airport that had been at what is now Interstate 74 and Mattis Avenue.
School lunch debt
"After reading about school lunch debt and the controversy in Rhode Island, I was wondering what the policy regarding lunch debt is for the schools in our area. Is there a way to donate money to local kids/schools in our area that have lunch debt?"
Yes, but there is no longer "lunch-shaming" for students in Illinois. A law approved last year states that every school is required to provide a meal for every student who requests one.
Last summer in Champaign a Go Fund Me campaign was organized to pay off the lunch debts of several families but the state law has since changed.
"The district does try to reach out to families regarding (breakfast and lunch) balances," said Champaign school district spokesman John Lyday, "but we also still do accept donations for meal balances."
As of May 20, he said, the school district was owed $55,885 in meal debts.
Urbana's policy was different in that all students were and are able to eat breakfast and lunch free of charge thanks to the federal Community Eligibility Provision of the Healthy, Hunger Free Kids Act.