So much for a slow holiday week at Mailbag International headquarters.
Keeping with the Thanksgiving theme, our full menu includes: growing your own legal marijuana in Illinois, the origin of Five Points in Urbana, Kenny Chesney tickets, whether recycled items are sorted in Urbana, leaf vacuums, the proposed downtown Champaign hotel, the lower speed limit on I-74 through Champaign-Urbana, Carle at the Fields and sheriff's sales.
And that's only about half of it.
"What streets made up Five Points in Urbana when it really was Five Points?"
It was 50 years ago, in the fall of 1968, that condemnation proceedings got under way to revamp the crazy alignment of the intersection of University Avenue and Cunningham Avenue in Urbana, also known as Five Points.
The fifth point in the intersection, as you can see in the 1958 aerial photo provided by the Champaign County Historical Archives at the Urbana Free Library, was a short nub of Cunningham Avenue that ran from the intersection southwest to Broadway Avenue.
The original pavement is still there, in fact, on private property.
The photo from the historical archives shows all kinds of features of downtown Urbana that are no longer there: a grain elevator on the east side of Broadway, Champaign-Urbana's first McDonald's at the northeast corner of University and Cunningham, the Elmwood Bowl on the west side of Cunningham north of Five Points (now an Arby's), Urbana's old heating plant and smokestack on Water Street (now the civic center), the old city hall at Broadway and Elm and the houses and businesses that preceded the Lincoln Square Shopping Center.
Grow your own in Illinois?
"Is there going to be a 'grow clause' in Illinois' new recreational marijuana law? Are you going to be able to grow for personal use?"
It remains to be seen. There is no legislative proposal at this time since the new Legislature won't be seated — and legislation can't be submitted — until January.
But that will be one of the points of contention in any recreational marijuana legislation, predicted state Sen. Jason Barickman, R-Bloomington, who is involved in the development of new legislation. He also was the only Republican cosponsor of SB 136, The Cannabis Regulation and Taxation Act, in the current legislative session. That amended bill — which allowed for the possession of five cannabis plants — never got a committee hearing.
"The new bill will be fundamentally different than the old bill," Barickman predicted. "I found the old bill to be insufficient in a number of ways. But I have very publicly put myself at the table, saying that I will work with the Democrats on this and try to come up with a good work product. That is the goal for spring 2019."
Growing your own "is a topic we have discussed at length and I think it will be one of the issues that receives the most scrutiny and as a result will be the slowest to be resolved," he said.
"I come at this largely as a personal freedom issue. I think there should be safeguards in place for minors and then for someone who uses and then interacts with the public, as in gets behind the wheel," he said. "I think there are reasons for reasonable regulations although this is largely a personal freedom issue.
"So should someone be allowed to grow their own? There are two sides to that. One side is the freedom argument and the other is how do you regulate it? One of the biggest arguments we've had is how do you police it? If someone is permitted to grow their own, doesn't that create an opportunity to also grow it for your neighbors? That is not the intention. Then it's untaxed and it's unpoliced, and it's difficult for police who may know of behavior in a home that they believe is illegal behavior but if you're allowed to grow your own, it isn't."
"A concert by Kenny Chesney has been announced for the State Farm Center next April. No date has been announced for when tickets go on sale, and yet if you go online you can find tickets on sale from resellers. Why are they allowed to purchase tickets before the general public? I never buy from those sites because they jack the prices up so high they become unaffordable."
Just like you they don't have tickets, said State Farm Center Director Kevin Ullestad.
"They don't have tickets, the show is not even on sale yet," he said.
Ammons' old job
"Did (newly elected Champaign County Clerk) Aaron Ammons resign or take a leave of absence from his University of Illinois job?"
Ammons told me that he took a four-year leave of absence from his job as a building service worker at the University of Illinois. He said he can go back to the position if he decides not to run for another term or loses his bid for re-election.
"After completing my ballot in this last election, when the election judge verified the initials at the top of my ballot before it was fed into the counter, I happened to take my ballot out of the sleeve by the top and ended up feeding my completed ballot into the machine face down and bottom first instead of face up and top first. Were my votes properly counted by the machine with the ballot entered in this manner?"
Your vote counted, said Champaign County Clerk Gordy Hulten.
"The tabulators will accurately count votes marked on ballots regardless of which direction (top/bottom/face up/face down) the ballot is inserted into the tabulator," he said.
Urbana business site
"What is happening at the southwest corner of Illinois and Vine (in Urbana) where there used to be a gas station?
Nothing yet. The city of Urbana has no applications for any building-related permits at 501 S. Vine St., said John Schneider, the city's community development services director.
Champaign school district attorneys
"I would like to know how much the (Champaign) school district is paying the attorney from Chicago to negotiate a teacher contract when the school district already has an attorney on staff. Specifically, what is the hourly rate and how much have they spent on the Chicago attorney to date?"
As of Nov. 1, said the school district, it has been billed $40,110 on contract negotiations. School district spokeswoman Emily Schmit said she could not provide the hourly rate because Tom Lockman, the district's chief financial and legal officer, is out of town this week.
New design building
"There is new construction on 4th Street in between Gregory Huff Hall and The art building any idea what they are doing?"
That is the site of the Siebel Center for Design.
The $48 million building is scheduled to be completed in early 2020.
From an earlier News-Gazette story: "The 60,000-square-foot building, just south of Huff Hall, will include five team-based collaboration studios for up to 400 students; workshops for 3-D printing, metal fabrication, laser cutting, water-jet cutting and computer-controlled machining; two digital media studios supporting video and audio recording and virtual reality applications; and public gathering spaces, meeting rooms and galleries to encourage informal interaction."
Here's a link to its web site ... https://designcenter.illinois.edu/
Downtown hotel project on track
"Is there an unexpected problem with the plans for a hotel at the northwest corner of Hill and Neil Streets? Is it possible that the promise of a second hotel downtown could be as elusive as a Golden Corral to call our own?"
"There are no problems and the hotel project is moving forward," said Rob Kowalski, Champaign's assistant planning and development director. "Details are being finalized for a real estate closing between the city and developer, Doug Altenberger."
Altenberger, the former Illini basketball star and television announcer, took over the downtown hotel project earlier this year. Under details presented to city council members last May, Altenberger paid the city $275,000 for the lot and isn't asking for financial assistance to complete the hotel. The project also will include new streetscaping on Hill and Neil streets and the leasing of 100 spaces of patron parking in the top floor of the Hill Street parking garage.
Kowalski said that permitting and construction is expected to start early next year."More details on the project will be available before the end of the year," he said.
"What do you know about 'Amazon flex?' Private contractors are delivering packages from Amazon. The way I understand from Facebook (very reliable, you know) is that county has been called to at least a couple of area towns where people are reporting unmarked cars, occupants knocking on doors, peeking through doors, generally alarming residents and neighbors."
Sheriff Dan Walsh said that he is not aware of any calls to the sheriff's department about people in private delivery vehicles alarming residents and neighbors, although he said the department noticed the Facebook post.
"But if people see something that they are concerned about they should call us first. When you see it report it. Don't get on Facebook first. Call our department right away and we'll send someone out," Walsh said.
Sheriff's sale ads
"Question about public notices that appear in The News-Gazette classified section, specifically notices of sheriff's sale of real estate. What I've noticed is the same announcement generally appears two times in the same issue of the paper, once in the 'Real Estate' section and then again as a 'Public Notice.' The content of each appears to be identical, with the only difference I've noticed is a numerical code at the very bottom of the advertisement.
"One might speculate as the reason for the redundancy — but before I reach to InfoWars for a good conspiracy I thought I would start with you. Can you offer any insights for the notice duplication in the same issue of the paper?"
Sheriff Walsh said that Illinois law, specifically 735 ilcs 5/15-1507, or the "Judicial Sale" section, governs the process.
He said that plaintiff's lawyers handle the newspaper publication after coordinating a sale date with the sheriff's office. The sheriff's office conducts the sale, he said, "and I sign the deed either back to the plaintiff (usually bank) or a third party buyer."
It's a long section on the statute but here's the relevant part: "2) The notice of sale shall be published at least 3 consecutive calendar weeks (Sunday through Saturday), once in each week, the first such notice to be published not more than 45 days prior to the sale, the last such notice to be published not less than 7 days prior to the sale, by: (i) (A) advertisements in a newspaper circulated to the general public in the county in which the real estate is located, in the section of that newspaper where legal notices are commonly placed and (B) separate advertisements in the section of such a newspaper, which (except in counties with a population in excess of 3,000,000) may be the same newspaper, in which real estate other than real estate being sold as part of legal proceedings is commonly advertised to the general public; provided, that the separate advertisements in the real estate section need not include a legal description and that where both advertisements could be published in the same newspaper and that newspaper does not have separate legal notices and real estate advertisement sections, a single advertisement with the legal description shall be sufficient; in counties with a population of more than 3,000,000, the notice required by this item (B) shall be published in a newspaper different from the newspaper that publishes the notice required by item (A), and the newspaper in which the notice required by this item (B) is published shall be a newspaper published in the township in which the real estate is located; and (ii) such other publications as may be further ordered by the court."
Man, that is some awful writing. And it's a single sentence with (unofficially) 256 words!
As bad as that is, it is nowhere near the longest sentence ever written. That shameful record, according to the web site Open Culture, belongs to Jonathan Coe's "The Rotter's Club," which ends with a 33-page-long, 13,955 word sentence.
Carle at the Fields
"Can you give us an update of what is going in at The Carle Fields in the next few months? I know the El Toro restaurant hopes to start in January sometime, per article in The News Gazette recently. I also did hear that some departments from Christie Clinic will be moving to The Carle Fields, presumably due to collaborations between Carle and Christie. Can you find out which ones from Christie are moving sometime in the new year? When will the surgical centers be operating? When will the new portion of Fields South Drive have speed limit signs? And perhaps when will the city do the lane striping that is needed? I am seeing people driving too fast and too erratically on that street in pulling out/in from Carle, The Y, the apartments across from the Y, and construction sites. Can you conduct a poll asking your readers what stores, businesses or restaurants that they would like to see at Carle Fields?"
Here's a list of the departments that will be located in Christie Clinic at the Fields:
Ear, Nose & Throat (ENT), Audiology and Hearing Aid Services
Foot and Ankle Surgery
The Champaign surgical center, owned jointly by Christie and Carle, is scheduled to open in early 2019, followed in the spring by Carle's medical office building next door on Fields Drive South.
The Carle medical office building will house Audiology and Hearing Services, Otolaryngology/ENT, Ophthalmology/Optometry/Optical, Oral & Maxillofacial Surgery Services (located today at Champaign on Kirby), General Surgery and Plastic Surgery.
Carle said it will notify patients and the community when it is able to solidify move dates.
As for the traffic issues you cited, Champaign Public Works spokesman Kris Koester noted that many of the city's local and collector level streets do not have pavement markings.
"While pavement markings are not required along the entire length of Fields South Drive, the south end, near the Carle at the Fields development, was striped to help delineate turn lanes. There are no immediate plans to stripe the street north to Windsor Road," he said. "With respect to speed limits, throughout the city, the speed limit on any unposted street is 30 mph. The city will look to reinforce the speed limit with some signs on Fields South Drive near the cross streets."
As for polling readers about which businesses they'd like to see at the development, we'll leave that to the marketing and real estate experts. Any kind of "poll" asking for responses would be unscientific and pretty much irrelevant.
Carle bus service
"Will there be bus services to get to Carle (at the Fields in west Champaign) and the other businesses that will be there?
There already is service.
Champaign-Urbana Mass Transit District buses began serving the Carle at the Fields area "immediately upon our board's approval of Carle's annexation petition in June of 2017," MTD Managing Director Karl Gnadt said.
"The area was added to our ADA Specialized Service area the next day. In February of this year, we started operating the 14 Navy route directly into the area serving Carle and the other businesses," he said.
More on MTD and road damage
"A recent Mailbag response from the MTD director regarding the MTD and road damage perplexed me. The director (Karl Gnadt) said that they keep spending earmarked for specific purposes by department. MTD provides public transportation and that's it. Then he goes on to describe how the MTD provided $4 million toward (the MCORE) road repair/improvement project. So which is it?"
Gnadt said that "the questioner's descriptions of my last answer are not mutually exclusive from one another. I indicated that different forms of government have different purposes.
"MTD's purpose is to provide public transportation and enhance the area's mobility options. We advocate for all kinds of mobility. But our purpose is not to maintain roads, anymore than it's the school district's purpose to maintain roads due to running school buses on them. And the city's purpose is not to operate public transportation or schools. Think of it like this: would you call the police department if your house was on fire? Now, I know what some people will say — the police department didn't start the fire, but MTD contributes to road wear. True, but missing the point."
Different governments provide different services, he said.
"Townships provide assistance to economically challenged members of our community and cities don't. Cities provide fire and police protection, but the park districts don't. The list is long. I do understand the question, and MTD could contribute to the road maintenance — but that would be like robbing Peter to pay Paul," Gnadt said. "We would be levying taxes to pay for roads, instead of to provide service. And then citizens would be paying taxes for roads to the city and the MTD.
"The MCORE project, while it does include rebuilding roads, is not exclusively a road project. It's a multi-modal project, and MTD is one of four governmental partners paying for it. The project improves the roads, but it also builds new and enhanced
amenities for transit, pedestrians, and bicyclists. So in addition to being the TIGER grant applicant/recipient, MTD is paying for a portion of the local share of the project — along with Champaign, Urbana and the university."
Creative electronic messages
"It's been great seeing the new digital sign on I-57 North, just south of the Monticello Road exit, finally in use. Some of the messages are pretty funny and made me wonder who is the lucky person who thinks them up?"
The messages on IDOT's dynamic message signs are from the IDOT communications staff, said Kensil Garnett of IDOT."However, there actually is a contest currently under way to allow motorists to submit suggestions. Here's a link to the contest web site where you can find additional information ... http://www.idot.illinois.gov/dms-contest"
Lower speed limit through C-U?
"Why can't the 60 mph speed limit on Interstate 74 be extended to a point east of the westbound onramp at University Avenue (in east Urbana)? There are so many vehicles that merge into the interstate traffic at that onramp that it seems safer to decrease the speed east of that point rather than closer to Cunningham Avenue. This would also be true for keeping the speed going east at 60 mph to a point east of the University Avenue onramp."
Extending the 60 mph speed limit on I-74 from Cunningham Avenue to University Avenue was not justified by the data collection and analysis guidelines, which are outlined in the Illinois Department of Transportation Speed Policy Manual, Garnett said.
"Though the University Avenue interchange is a main interchange to the Champaign-Urbana area, it has different characteristics than the other interchanges," he said. "It does not have auxiliary lanes like what is seen between Prospect Avenue and Cunningham Avenue, nor does it have the volume of traffic that the I-57 interchange has."
That wasn't vandalism
"What can you find out about the defaced interstate signs on southbound I-57 between Kankakee (at least) and Curtis Road (at least). I traveled from Midway Airport (last week) and noticed that every single road sign is significantly splattered/stained/covered with what looks like black paintball paint. This is such a major act of vandalism because in almost every instance important information is obscured — mile marker numbers, exit information, number of miles to locations, etc. It made me very sad to see this and recognize the amount of work and taxpayer dollars it will take to replace these hundreds of road signs."
IDOT checked this and so did I. There was no vandalism.
"Our staff investigated and could not find any signs that were vandalized," said Garnett, the Region 3 engineer. "Depending on the time of day and conditions in which they were traveling, it may have been frost. Frost will wipe out the reflectivity and often looks splotchy. Thankfully, that's only temporary."
Northwest Champaign stoplight?
"I work on Boardwalk Drive right off of the Olympian Drive exit from I-57. Up until recently this area has been mainly office buildings. However, Boardwalk has become a popular road to get to the movie theater, Meijer, Sam's Club, etc., without having to go to Prospect Avenue. Over time, traffic on this road has continued to grow and now they have opened a new building that houses Rogards and soon coming an Amazon pickup. As it is now, if you try to cross Interstate Drive from Olympian, it is an extremely busy road to cross especially during peak hours. I just can't imagine how much more busy it is going to get with the added businesses and rumor is they are going to be building more.
"Do you think the city could get out and do a survey to determine whether or not this intersection could be eligible for at least a 4-way stop if not eventually its own stoplight?"
You may be right.
Here's Champaign Public Works spokesman Kris Koester: "In 2015, the city did a comprehensive analysis of this intersection and determined that, at that time, the intersection did not meet the requirements for a traffic signal, or for a multi-way stop. The study looked at volume of traffic at different times of day, vehicle speeds, the number of crashes, and the types of crashes. As it turns out, none of the warrants for installing a traffic signal were met, and only a couple of the warrants for a multi-way stop were met.
"The area, however, is experiencing more development and it might be time for the city to take another look to see just how much traffic patterns in that area have changed since 2015."
Leaf vacuum trucks
"Many towns have trucks that go around in the fall sucking leaves off the right of way, instead of requiring raked leaves to be bagged. Has Champaign and/or Urbana ever considered that?"
Koester said that it was considered in Champaign, and rejected. The cost was a big factor.
"The city has developed a leaf collection program that most closely works not only within allowable budget, but available staffing and equipment, which are used for multiple purposes throughout the year," he said. "To switch to a program where leaves were vacuumed, it would require the city to purchase several pieces of costly, specialized equipment that could only be used for vacuuming leaves. Vacuuming leaves would also require more staff hours and possibly additional city staff.
"There would also be a change added to the city code, which would govern alternate side street parking to allow for the equipment to efficiently move through neighborhoods. One final barrier would be increased disposal costs due to the increase in the amount of leaves picked up. Based on these factors, it was determined that picking up bagged leaves is much faster and more cost efficient than vacuuming leaves raked to the right of way."
Urbana plowing policy
"Urbana doesn't always plow the residential sides streets when it snows. Does Urbana only plow certain streets depending on the amount of snowfall? I pay some of the highest property taxes in the county. Having my street plowed isn't too much to ask, is it?"
There's a lot to unpack with your question.
First, do you really want the city to unleash its snow plowing force and all the costs that come with it for a 2.6-inch snowfall (the official depth of the Nov. 15 snow)?
Second, you should realize that the vast majority of your property taxes goes to the school district ($5.97 per $100 of assessed valuation out of a total tax bill of $10.69 per $100 of assessed valuation) and not the city government ($1.36 per $100 of assessed valuation).
Third, all of the following relevant information is online at the city's web site along with much more:
— "Depending on the severity of the storm, all residential streets will be plowed within 20 hours after the storm ends. The city is divided into 16 residential zones that are cleared on a systematic rotational basis."
This year's top two zones are Numbers 16 (the neighborhood in north Urbana south of Airport Road) and 3 (the east Urbana neighborhood bounded by Washington Street on the north, Florida Avenue on the south and between Kinch and Lierman).
— "When snow accumulation begins to exceed 2 inches the crews will begin plowing operations."
— "The downtown and South Philo Road business district routes receive special attention. After primary and secondary roads are cleared, part of the snow crew then concentrates on the streets and parking lots in these areas."
— "Dead-end streets and cul-de-sacs will be cleared when equipment becomes available or after all residential streets are complete."
Recycling and sorting
"I am concerned regarding the closing of the Republic Service public recycling drop-off option. Illini Recycling is now an option, but requires sorting of the items, which is OK. I understand that there is also curb service locally that is available that requires sorting. I live in the country and do not have that option. My concern is that the items taken to the Republic facility were not sorted and went into a common Dumpster. I always wondered who sorted it. I have also heard that the recycle just went to regular trash anyway. That is discouraging."
Joe Eversole, the general manager of Republic Services for the Danville and Urbana market, said that the transfer station in Urbana separates items into trash and recyclables.
"But we don't actually sort it in Champaign-Urbana. It gets offloaded onto a semi truck and then our recycles actually goes to Indianapolis to a sorting facility that our company owns," he said. "There they use a very technical process to sort it."
"I took a look at the 'Constellation Energy' whom the city of Champaign is considering for electrical aggregation, and saw that it is 'an Exelon company.' Is that the same Exelon company who tried to leverage five extra years of the Clinton Power Plant's operation to get the Illinois state government to changing how power is metered? I remember they were claiming that the Clinton shutdown was related to 'unfair' metering rules, and yet they are still operating five other nuclear power plants in Illinois. And their aggregation advertisement seems pretty rosy about how big and powerful they are (even without those 'important' changes to metering rules)."
You got some of that correct. Yes, Constellation Energy — with whom the city has a municipal aggregation contract through July 2021 — is an Exelon company. And yes, Exelon owns six nuclear plants in Illinois, including Clinton.
But Exelon got 10 years of subsidies in 2016 from the state (under the Future Energy Jobs Act) to keep the Clinton and Quad Cities nuclear plants open. Among its arguments at the time were that nuclear power should be considered renewable energy, that the two nuclear plants employed thousands of people and that they provided millions of dollars to the state economy.
It's also worth noting that earlier this year Exelon said that its Byron and Dresden nuclear plants needed help to compete against low-cost natural gas.
Finally, let me point out that Homefield Energy, which contracts with Champaign County and the city of Urbana for municipal aggregation in those areas, is a subsidiary of Dynegy, another large electricity provider in Illinois.
Campus Rec questions
"Can you solve a locker room debate — does Campus Recreation pay for the 'Campus Recreation Radio' they pipe into the locker rooms at the ARC or do they earn money from the ad revenue?
"Also, can anyone there explain the wisdom of piping in a radio station and still spending money and energy on all those TVs in the locker rooms that no one watches. People are showering and dressing, most of whom couldn't see the TV sets from their locker location if they wanted to, the sets are muted anyway so why is DCR wasting money on the TVs?"
Yes, the university does pay for the radio through a subscription, campus spokeswoman Robin Kaler said.
"That allows us to air our own public service announcements about our programming, as well as selling ads to our promotional partners," she said.
As for the TVs, she said there are four each in the men's and women's locker rooms. Two of each are for regular channels, and the other two are reserved for our digital signage that includes Campus Rec programming, advertising and other outside vendors' paid promotional advertising, Kaler said.
"ARC patrons tell us they appreciate the TVs, and they like the fact that we enable the closed captioning feature," she said.