Illinois Public Media News
Residents and supporters of a tent community for homeless people made their case to the Champaign City Council Tuesday night.
Neighbors of the St. Jude Catholic Worker House in Champaign had complained about disorderly people living outdoors in tents. But Catholic Worker volunteers say the tent residents now enforce rules banning such behavior. Jesse Masengale is one of about a dozen people living at what has become the Safe Haven Tent Community on the Catholic Worker House grounds. Addressing city council members Tuesday night, Masengale said, "We have established agreed-upon rules, policies and procedures. We have the benefit of following rules already established by legal tent cities from across the country."
One such tent city is Dignity Village, which the city of Portland Oregon recognizes as a transitional housing campground. Supporters of Safe Haven say Champaign city officials could do the same. But Councilwoman Karen Foster says the tent city worries the neighbors and clearly violates the city zoning code. She says it should go. "If they are in need of housing", says Foster, "then -- like we did with the Gateway people -- we can try to work with them to try to find them affordable housing."
Fosgter referred to the crisis that residents of Gateway Studios suffered in May, after the owner failed to pay utility bills and the property closed down. But Safe Haven supporters say that incident illustrates a shortage of affordable housing that the city needs to address.
Council members Mike LaDue, Deb Feinen and Will Kyles said they'd be willing to meet with people from the Catholic Worker House and Safe Haven. But Foster and City Manager Steve Carter say Safe Haven residents will eventually have to fold their tents.
Ameren is planning a summer of public input as it proposes a new high-voltage electric transmission line around Champaign's western and southern outskirts.
The 138-thousand volt line would link substations in Bondville and Champaign's south side and would bring more capacity to the area around the University of Illinois campus, including the future Blue Waters petascale computer project.
Marty Hipple is supervising the planning for the line. "It provides capacity to serve that future load that's forecasted, and it provides a loop in network transmission to improve the reliability of existing transmission," Hipple said.
Doni Murphy, a planning consultant working with Ameren, says lists of "sensitivities" will be drawn up so that those planning the route of the new line can watch out for them. "Existing developments, proposed developments, whether they be residential, commercial or what have you," Murphy said. "And often times you'll see the traditional environmental considerations like wetlands, archaeological and cultural sites, protected species habitats, things of that nature."
Ameren says it will hold open houses and meetings with local officials to find three recommended routes for the line. The utility would submit those proposals this winter to the Illinois Commerce Commission, which would decide if and where the line would be built. Ameren hopes to finish it by 2014.
Starting Thursday, Champaign-Urbana will have two farmers markets.
The parking lot just north of Champaign Police headquarters will be the site of the North First Street Farmers Market every Thursday afternoon and early evening. Its coordinator, Wendy Langacker says it's not meant to compete with Urbana's long-running Market on the Square Saturday mornings - instead, it's meant to put fresh food within walking distance of a neighborhood where it's been hard to find in the past.
"For a lot of people in this neighborhood it might be difficult," Langacker said. "Even for people who live across the (CN) tracks, in downtown condos and apartments, it's still a ways away. So it's a nice way to bring fresh food to people in this downtown area."
Langacker says 26 vendors expect to have booths at the market, including a few merchants from the North First Street area. The farmers market will also include entertainment each week. Its 11-week run wraps up at the end of August.
Supporters of relocation aid for tenants who are forced to leave condemned buildings took their case to the Urbana City Council last Monday night. The idea was sparked by the sudden closures recently of apartments in Rantoul and Champaign, after their owners failed to pay utility bills.
Danielle Chynoweth of Champaign-Urbana Citizens for Peace and Justice says that in such cases, the city should provide emergency funding to help displaced tenants find new housing. The former Urbana alderwoman says the city could recoup the money through fines on landlords whose negligence led to the shutdown. Chynoweth says there's little danger of the landlords being unable to pay.
"The first question the Council should ask its staff is how many condemnations have happened against landlords that were bankrupt," Chynoweth told the Council. "I think you will find not very many in Urbana. So in most cases, you'll have recouped the costs."
But Urbana Neighborhood Services Director Libby Tyler says the proposed level of relocation assistance --- at least 2-thousand dollars for each displaced tenant ---- is too expensive for the city. "You can imagine situations where a municipality would not be able to afford to condemn an unsafe building, would not be able to afford the relocation costs," Tyler said.
She also worries that money might sometimes go to tenants who don't need the help. Tyler says Urbana will work with Champaign and other agencies to create a coordinated plan for helping displaced tenants. That plan could be ready in the fall. Meanwhile, Tyler says Urbana already has a small fund for tenant relocation assistance, and the city may look for ways to boost it.
Area General Motors dealers are looking at the automaker's bankruptcy from different perspectives.
Most dealers in east-central Illinois expect to keep selling cars despite GM's decision to cut hundreds of dealers. Bill Abbott owns a GM dealership in Monticello -- he says his company didn't receive a contract cancellation notice, and they are looking forward to being there for a long time.
Hoopeston dealership owner Dave McFadden says he's also not worried about the future of Anthem Chevrolet Buick Pontiac, and he's optimistic about what a new GM will look like.
"I'm looking forward to a new GM emerging, being more competitive with less liabilities and returning to the giant automotive manufacturer that it has been for almost a hundred years," McFadden said.
But a small Chevrolet dealer in Iroquois County may not be a part of GM's future. Still, Rust Chevrolet doesn't plan on closing anytime soon, despite receiving a letter ending its franchise agreement with GM.
Co-owner Karen Rust Walder says the family-owned operation in Cissna Park will continue offering parts and service and plans to keep selling used vehicles when their agreement with GM ends in 2010.
Walder says she knows that some dealerships plan to fight the contract termination, but as for Rust Chevrolet, she says they don't really know what their next step will be.
The Rust family has sold Chevrolet vehicles since her grandfather signed on with the car company in 1915. Walder is the only salesperson at the dealership.
The central Illinois community of Peoria has approved a memorial to singer Dan Fogelberg.
The songwriter _ whose hits "Leader of the Band'' and "Same Old Lang Syne'' helped define the soft-rock era _ was a Peoria native whose music career was nurtured in Champaign-Urbana as a University of Illinois student. He died in 2007 at his home in Maine after battling prostate cancer. He was 56.
The city council this week unanimously approved plans to place the memorial at Peoria's Riverfront Park. The man leading the push for the memorial, Hugh Higgins, says he's thrilled by the decision.
Higgins supports a memorial featuring a boulder etched with the lyrics of one of Fogelberg's songs. The project will be paid for by donations. Higgins estimates the cost at around $10,000.
Wilco lead singer Jeff Tweedy says he's "deeply saddened'' by the death of former band member Jay Bennett.
The 45-year-old Bennett was found dead early Sunday in his Urbana home. Tweedy said in a statement Monday that Bennett made "significant contributions'' to Wilco's songs and the band's evolution. Tweedy said Bennett would be remembered "as a truly unique and gifted human being.''
Bennett worked as a sound engineer and played instruments for Wilco from 1994 to 2001.
An autopsy was planned for Tuesday by the Champaign County Coroner.
Earlier this month, Bennett sued Tweedy, claiming he was owed royalties for songs during his seven years and five albums with the group.
The Champaign City Council is not protesting the Champaign County Board proposal to allow wind turbine farms in the county --- but it does have a suggestion.
Council members voted 5 to 4 Tuesday night to ask the county board to consider extending the city's buffers outside its borders where it has a say in zoning decisions to 2-and-a-half miles for wind farms. It's currently 1-and-a-half miles for all city zoning issues. Councilman Tom Bruno says he supports wind farms, but believes it's important that they not be built close to areas the city has slated for future development.
"I think that sound planning would have these wind farms, if they're appropriate for Champaign County, be built at a little safer distance from what is already inhabited municipality to allow for years of possible future growth without the conflict between wind turbines and residential housing," Bruno said.
Bruno supported a protest of the county board proposal, but the measure was narrowly defeated, 5 to 4. By the same margin, the Champaign City Council passed a resolution asking the county board to simply give them the 2-and-a-half mile zoning buffer. It's a request that's already been turned down by the county board's Environment and Land Use Committee. The full Champaign County Board will consider the wind farm proposal Thursday night.
Film Critic Roger Ebert's name will have a prominent place in the University of Illinois College of Media.
The Sun-Times columnist has announced a one million dollar grant to establish the Roger Ebert Program for Film Studies.
The dean of the U of I's College of Media says it'll be the foundation for a media and cinema studies department on the Urbana campus. Ron Yates says the department will give students a chance to learn skills in an evolving industry, like screenwriting and film criticism.
It could help pay for several things: workshops, symposia, seminars, research efforts that might be done in films," Yates said. "It will enhance the program as it begins to take off."
Yates hopes total donations for the program will reach five million dollars.
Ebert announced the grant during the first night of his Ebertfest film festival in Champaign - Yates says Ebertfest offices would be housed under the new College of Media program.
A free prescription-drug dropoff program is taking place this week, a year after the first effort brought in an unexpectedly high number of old drugs.
Carle RX Express locations in Champaign-Urbana, Mahomet and Monticello are collecting old, outdated or unused prescription and over-the-counter drugs all this week.
Greg Puszkiewicz is the director of the pharmacies - he says last year the stores accepted 526 pounds of medications and turned them over to the City of Urbana, which is helping sponsor the dropoff.
"The City of Urbana comes and picks it up and takes it to their facility, then the next day the EPA comes and picks it up and they take it to Texas where it's incinerated," Puszkiewicz said.
Puszkiewicz says last year, the first-ever dropoff happened just as news stories appeared about traces of pharmaceuticals found in drinking water supplies. He says that spurred patients to take action and get rid of their old drugs in a safe way, instead of flushing them down the drain or the toilet - in some cases, participants had been holding onto the medications for more than twenty years.
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