Illinois Public Media News
A neighborhood group's dream of a new playground has come closer to reality. The Champaign County Board voted Thursday night to lease the group some county-owned land in the neighborhood, where the playground can be built.
The Dobbins Down neighborhood in northwest Champaign is mostly in unincorporated territory. And its location north of I-74 puts its far away from any public park. But with the Champaign County Board's approval of a $50-a-year lease on a vacant lot it owns, the Dobbins Down Improvement Association looks forward to a small park where neighborhood kids can play. Association Chair Lesley Kimble says it's been the group's longtime goal.
"We want to see playground equipment that kids can have an option, a healthy option in their neighborhood to go do, other than play video games and hang out and not get in trouble."
The Dobbins Down group has applied for assistance from KaBOOM, a non-profit group that builds playgrounds using local volunteers and corporate funding. Kimble says getting the lease on the vacant lot was the last thing they needed to be recommended for funding. If all goes well, she says the park could be built in September. The Dobbins Down Improvement Association would assume liability for the park, and be responsible for its upkeep. Kimble says they hope to name the playground in memory of the late Mable Thomas, a longtime Champaign city employees who worked on neighborhood issues.
The city of Urbana has been trying to make the area friendlier to bicyclists, and tomorrow an organization will give some recognition to that effort.
For the first time, Urbana will be listed as a Bicycle-Friendly Community by the League of American Bicyclists. It's also a first for any downstate Illinois community.
Jennifer Selby is a civil engineer for the city. She's overseeing Urbana's pro-bicycle effort, which involves what she calls the "5 E's" -- engineering, education, encouragement, enforcement and evaluation.
"Engineering means bike lanes, bike paths and those types of things," said Selby. "Education is the types of education programs you have, for adults and for kids -- campaign programs, videos, any kind of printed materials. Encouragement means programs such as Bike to Work Day, which we held the first one in May of this year."
The city also stepped up enforcement of bicycle safety issues - both for riders and motorists - and having a long-range plan for further improvements. Selby says more bike routes and year-round efforts to encourage bike use could raise the level of the bicycle-friendly community recognition from bronze to silver.
The League of American Bicyclists formally announces the title at a Saturday morning event at Urbana's Market at the Square.
Tests have found little to no toxicity from the algae in Clinton Lake, but state officials still say swimmers and other users should be concerned.
A 12 year old girl from Urbana had become ill after swimming there over the Fourth of July holiday. The state Department of Natural Resources posted an algae advisory. But they've amended it now that 2 out of 4 water samples found only very low levels of the type of algae that would cause a public health concern.
DNR spokeswoman Januari Smith says blue-green algae scum is common in most bodies of water, but it's best avoided. "We didn't close the lake to swimming or boaters or any other lake users," said Smith. "We just advised them -- we did this last week and we are still doing it -- to be very cautious. Do not swim in stagnant water or in obvious algae blooms."
Smith says Clinton Lake is not treated for algae and they don't plan any treatment.
A long-troubled resort inside Shelby County's Eagle Creek State Park is now in the hands of a new manager which promises an extensive makeover.
The state-owned hotel, conference center and golf course were closed last summer after years of declining business - mold had crept into the hotel, making it a significant challenge for the next manager. But the winner of the contract, Mike Ballinger of Decatur-based BMDD Resorts, says his firm will invest in Eagle Creek and try to make it profitable.
"It's going to be a 3.8 million dollar project," Ballinger said. "It's going to be more obviously if something unforeseen pops up. There's a mold remediation. The roof needs to be repaired. Drywall needs to be removed in some areas. Major cleaning."
Ballinger says it will take about a year to reopen the conference center, but the golf course could be open as soon as next month.
Ballinger's firm won the contract over four other bidders last winter - one of the losing bidders, nearby marina owner Dennis Fayhee, unsuccessfully challenged the state's decision claiming BMDD had a conflict of interest. Fayhee and his attorney have not been available to say whether they plan to further challenge the contract.
The Urbana Park District and the public will spend the next few months poring over three separate proposals for a new outdoor pool.
A team of consultants is putting together those three plans, along with what it would cost to build and operate each of them. Park District Executive Director Vicki Mayes says public input has already been a large part of replacing Crystal Lake Pool. She says the park district will soon be taking comments on these three proposals on line ,and through its 'neighborhood nights' events held around town this summer. Mayes says the goal of a new pool is making it unique to Urbana, striking a balance for its younger and older users. "Features that attract and are really positive for families who have children," said Mayes. "And also to hold onto those folks that are core users, which are fitness swimmers, swim lessons. It will be some combination of traditional pool elements - definitely a zero depth, which is an easy entry element."
Mayes says amenities like the 'lazy river' found at Champaign's Sholem Aquatic Center are likely too expensive for a new Urbana pool. Building a new pool will require a tax referendum, but Mayes says it's too early to say whether that will happen next spring when factoring in the economy. She says the district may also consider building the pool in different phases. At Tuesday's Park District Board study session, the board will ask consultants to come up with those three designs, a rough idea of their cost, as well as possible fee structures for pool admission. Urbana has been without a public outdoor pool since Crystal Lake Pool closed in 2008 due to electrical problems. The Park District hopes to have a new one built by late 2012 or early 2013.
The bicycling community in Champaign-Urbana hopes to start commuters on a new habit Tuesday morning.
"CU Bike to Work Day" has attracted about 500 people who have signed up to receive a t-shirt and pledge to ride their bike instead of drive. Rick Langlois of the group Champaign County Bikes says the group is now out of shirts, but it still expects lots of unregistered riders to take part too.
He says the goal of the event is to encourage more bicyclists to overcome their worries and take to the streets. Langlois says some are concerned about safety, which is why his group advocates bike lanes for a little more peace of mind.
"Bike lanes are very much an effort to assist those less comfortable or average adult riders feel more comfortable," said Langlois. "A bike lane is not a magic force field and it doesn't keep somerone from being struck by a vehicle, but it does designate a space where a bicyclist is expected to be."
But Langlois also reminds drivers that bicyclists also have the right to use a traffic lane in areas without bike lanes.
He says the bike group is also collecting information on bicycle use for planners in Champaign and Urbana as they consider infrastructure in the years ahead.
The father of speed skater and Champaign native Katherine Reutter says the amount of effort put into Winter Olympic events should be viewed as a victory in itself.
Jay Reutter says getting past the intensity level in Vancouver served as a wakeup call for a daughter whose highest competition prior to last month was in the 2009 Speed Skating World Cup. Before Reutter earned silver and bronze medals, she competed in the women's 1,500 meter finals, finishing fourth. Jay Reutter says getting anywhere near the top in that event is a struggle, with a lot of bumping and pushing along the way. "I was happy with the way she fought," says Reutter. "I was happy with the way she handled herself in the races. She never gave up. She fought as hard as she could, and that's all I could have ever asked of her. But it was probably significantly more intense than she was prepared for. And some of that she had to try to play down just to try to keep control and be able to perform well."
Reutter later won the bronze medal in the ladies' speed skating 3,000 meter relay, and the silver medal Friday night in the ladies' 1,000 meter race. Jay Reutter coached her daughter through much of her youth, but says he can't take sole credit. He says former Olympic figure skater Erin Gleason did some additional coaching, while Champaign Centennial High School football coach Mike McDonell helped out on Katherine's approach to sports. She graduated from Centennial High in 2006. Jay Reutter says his daughter probably won't be satisfied until she's recognized as the world's top speed skater, and already plans to start training for the 2014 Winter Games in Russia.
After winning the silver medal, Reutter told her parents she'd donate the monetary value of both her medals, about $25,000, to her parents to remodel their basement. But Jay Reutter says they won't hold her to that pledge.
The Prairie Meadows subdivision in Savoy is among the areas that could be annexed into the Champaign-Urbana Mass Transit District later this year.
Managing Director Bill Volk says the CU-MTD Board has directed his staff to prepare annexation and legal notices for five areas. Public hearings will be held before the board takes a vote on annexation.
Prairie Meadows is the first major residential area of Savoy to be considered for CU-MTD annexation since the village and the transit district signed an agreement two years ago. Volk says that agreement protects some parts of Savoy from MTD annexation --- but not new residential areas.
"There are sections in Savoy that we cannot annex for 23 years, but other areas of Savoy, as they become annexable we are allowed per the agreement to annex that territory," Volk said.
The Stone Creek subdivision in southeast Urbana is also on the CU-MTD annexation list. Non-residential areas up for annexation include the Clearview commercial development site in northwest Champaign, some industrial tracts near the Apollo Industrial Park in north Champaign, and Willard Airport.
Volk says the CU-MTD Board will not vote on annexing the territories until after the next fiscal year begins July 1. If annexation is approved, property owners would not pay taxes to the MTD until the summer of 2012.
Bicyclists in Champaign will get their own lanes on two major north-south arteries if city council members approve.
The city is proposing adding a bike-only lane to State and Randolph streets, from their north ends at Bradley Avenue south to Hessel Boulevard. City planners are holding an open house Monday afternoon at the Champaign Public Library to discuss the plan for the two one-way streets.
Planner Mishauno Woggon is aware of the grumbling that came from some motorists after one of the first high-profile bike lanes was developed along Urbana's Philo Road commercial area. She says the new lane configuration restricted vehicle traffic through what planners call a "road diet."
"With the State and Randolph project there is no lane reduction so there is no road diet as part of this project," Woggon said. "So for drivers they're really not going to notice a difference in terms lof less lanes to drive in or congestion or things like that."
Woggon says in some narrower parts of State and Randolph streets, the bike lanes will be marked as so-called "sharrows," meaning bike and vehicle traffic will share them. The open house at the Champaign Library runs from 4:30 to 6:30.
Champaign's city council and park board want to make collaboration the key factor in getting parks built in new residential developments. They reached that conclusion during a joint meeting Wednesday night at the Park District's Virginia Theatre.
Park officials say the newest areas of the city are underserved when it comes to parks --- and they'd like more cooperation from developers in setting aside land for new facilities.
But Shawn Luesse of the Devonshire Group says developers are wary of any ordinance that would require them to provide a certain amount of park land, because they add to the cost of development. But he says negotiations can lead to agreements for new parks --- he sites a small park that Devonshire agreed to make room for in the new Applewood Valley subdivision in southwest Champaign. Luesse says doesn't mind talking with park officials when new developments are being designed.
"The idea that we are required to go the park district to talk about land donation is an Okay concept", says Luesse. "But I don't believe it requires an ordinance. But I don't believe that it requires an ordinance. I don't think an ordinance would add anything to the process. And there would be what I believe to be substantial pushback from the development community, if there were an ordinance in place."
After hearing from Luesse, some council members were way of using the word "mandatory" at all. Assistant City Planning Director Rob Kowalski says they'll keep working on an approach that will satisfy the city, park district --- and developers, too.
"We're going to continue to try and find a collaborative way between the city, the park district and the development community", says Kowalski, "that we can come up with a proposal that works fro everybody. I think it's going to be very challenging to do that, but we're going to continue to head down that path."
Champaign Park Board President Jane Solon says new developments added to the city in the past decade don't have enough park land to serve their residents. Developers who came to the joint meeting said they're willing to talk about adding parks to new subdivisions --- but are wary of any mandatory commitment, because of the cost factor.
Assistant Planning Director Rob Kowalski says it will be challenging, but his staff will try to find an alternative to the "mandatory" approach, that will give the city, park district and developers a way to work together on placing parks in new residential areas.
Page 3 of 4 pages < 1 2 3 4 >