Illinois Public Media News
Health officials are moving forward with a plan to transfer residents living in Rantoul's Cherry Orchard apartments to new homes.
This is in response to health concerns that have marred the apartment complex for nearly two and a half years. Health inspectors learned in Sep. 2007 that there was something wrong with the Cherry Orchard apartments after discovering sewage seeping from a septic system into nearby farmland. Since then, there have been reports of mold, inadequate heating, and power outages.
The landlords of the property, Bernard Ramos and his father, Eduardo, promised that by late last year they would address the septic tank issue by moving tenants into housing units that were up to code. Ramos told health officials that he would vacate two of the apartment buildings (#7 and #8) by Dec. 3. Then two other complexes (#2, #3, and #4) were supposed to be unoccupied by Dec. 20. Jim Roberts is the Director of Environmental Health with the Champaign-Urbana Public Health District (CUPHD). Roberts said there is only one building known to have a fully functioning septic system (#6).
"Ramos agreed to move people from occupied buildings to maybe another building that would have a properly treated sewage, and he failed to do so," Roberts explained. "What we're trying to do is we're trying to eliminate the people from the places that we know have raw, untreated sewage."
By Wednesday afternoon, there were still around a dozen residents living in the apartments. The landlords of the Cherry Orchard apartments are scheduled to appear in court on Jan. 24 for failing to move their tenants and fix their sewer and septic systems as originally promised.
"I don't have enough money to move to another apartment," said one tenant who has lived at Cherry Orchard with her four children for the last year and a half. "It's not good for someone to live there."
The Cherry Orchard apartments are home to many migrant workers who spend part of the year in Rantoul working for one of the large agricultural companies, like Pioneer, Monsanto, or Syngenta. Many of those workers move to Rantoul in the summer to work during the harvest season, and leave before the winter.
"We need to prevent people from moving in there until this (health) issue is addressed," CUPHD administrator Julie Pryde said.
After a meeting Wednesday night between health officials and the tenants, the Salvation Army agreed to temporarily move Cherry Orchard's current residents into hotels. The CUPHD is now trying to move those individuals into permanent homes with assistance from other human service agencies, like the United Way and the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services.
The Cherry Orchard apartments, located on U.S. 45, are in an unincorporated part of Rantoul, making it difficult for health officials to enforce zoning ordinances. Pryde said her department is pushing to tighten the county's housing codes.
"It's not a problem that does not have a solution," she said.
(Photo courtesy of the Champaign-Urbana Public Health District)
The head of Champaign's Judah Christian School hasn't given up on plans to relocate in a developing area to the southwest.
Tuesday night the city council rejected the annexation agreement for 50 acres with developer Jacob's Landing, located at Kirby Avenue and Rising Road. School Administrator Tim Hayes the decision comes as a shock after hearing positive remarks in the past from city leaders.
The council voted to 4-4 with one member abstaining, but the item failed since it needed a two-thirds majority. Some council members were concerned that the non-profit school couldn't reimburse property taxes for emergency services, and that building a new school to the Southwest would set a bad precedent as Champaign's Central High School looks to rebuild in a few years.
Hayes said he is working with Judah Christian's real estate attorney to see if the school can go back before the council with an amended request for the same area.
"At this point, we're trying to decide whether it would be in our best interests to move forward," he said. "We'd like for it to be this piece of property, but I don't know what our options are, and I think we're trying to establish that before we make a decision on whether we're going to move forward or look for another piece of property."
Judah Christian is nearly at capacity with just under 600 students, and the lack of athletic facilities means the school has to rent out areas for baseball and soccer games. The school on Prospect Avenue has been trying to re-locate for the last few years, including to an area in North Urbana.
In 2008, city leaders there rejected the plan since the industrial location wasn't compatible with a school. Champaign Planning Director Bruce Knight says it's possible the school could alter its relocation plan to include a payment in lieu of taxes. Unless the city council suspended its rules, Judah Christian would have to wait six months to come back before the council.
An attorney for imprisoned former Illinois Gov. George Ryan says his wife, Lura Lynn Ryan, is hospitalized in intensive care, and doctors say she may have only hours to live.
Mr. Ryan's attorney, former Gov. James Thompson, told The Associated Press on Wednesday that Ryan's family has been called to Lura Lynn's side. He says an emergency motion has been filed in federal court to allow George Ryan to be released from prison so he can join his wife of 50 years.
Thompson says attorneys have also appealed to prison authorities to release Ryan under a program that enables inmates temporary leave to visit gravely ill family members.
Lura Lynn Ryan was admitted to the hospital Wednesday after apparent complications from chemotherapy. She has been diagnosed with lung cancer.
Champaign city council members have rejected an annexation agreement that would have allowed Judah Christian School to relocate.
The plan called for the re-development of 50 acres just outside Southwest Champaign, at Kirby Avenue and Rising Road. The private school on Prospect Avenue has sought a new location due to space concerns.
Council member Marci Dodds said she has nothing against Judah Christian, but since it is a not-for-profit religious school, she said it does not provide any property taxes for the city, so it will not reimburse for emergency services. The proposed location is not served by Champaign-Urbana's Mass Transit District, and Dodds said heavy traffic will cause wear and tear on the roads. The land was originally zoned for single-family homes.
Council member Tom Bruno said he is troubled by the pressure on Champaign schools to locate in the same area when a new Central High School is built.
"Facilitating the movement of any school to the very periphery of town, out in the cornfields, where every single kid will arrive by private motor vehicle for years, decades, maybe a century to come - just bothered me." Bruno said. "We need to continue to send the message that the community ought to be more compact and contiguous, and we ought to build things in the heart of town and re-build things things in the heart of town rather than just sprawl."
The land was originally zoned for single-family homes. The council tied 4-4 with one member abstaining, but the annexation failed since a two-thirds vote was required.
Those interested in applying for a vacant Champaign city council seat have until next Tuesday to apply, but a name won't be chosen for nearly a month.
Members are expected to choose a temporary appointment to the vacant District 5 seat on Feb. 1. In Tuesday night's study session, the council chose Jan. 11 as the deadline for applicants, and will hold interviews at its Jan. 18 meeting. Gordy Hulten resigned from the seat Tuesday to be sworn in Wednesday morning as the next Champaign County Clerk.
Paul Faraci, Jim McGuire, and Cathy Emanuel have already filed to run as write-in candidates for the District 5 seat in April's election, but applicants will be considered whether or not they plan on running this spring. Council member Deb Frank Feinen said she has real concerns with naming one of those three to the seat, saying it gives them an edge before voters have a say.
"It provides an advantage for someone that we as a group of 8 have decided maybe is the best fit for the council, but that the voters haven't had the opportunity to decide about," Feinen said. "And I find that troublesome."
But Council member Marci Dodds said that is part of the democratic process.
"This sort of idea that we're giving an instant leg up to the three people running as write-ins, I think, is premature," Dodds said. "It also means it voters in District 5 have a chance to say 'yeah, we don't like what you did. You're out of here."
Mayor Jerry Schweighart has already suggested one possible appointment to serve in the seat, but only until May. Mike Hosier formerly served on the city council in the 1980's. Council members decided against leaving the District 5 seat vacant until May, which would violate a state law requiring it to be filled within 60 days. Meanwhile, those seeking a write-in candidacy to run in for the seat in April have until Feb. 3 to file.
Hulten spent less than nine months with the Champaign City Council, but he said last night's resignation was still an emotional one. The District 5 Republican said as a result of serving on the council, he has learned much more about the issues facing his neighbors, and how a well-run body of government should function.
"You can have vigorous disagreements over fundamental issues facing the city," Hulten said. "We can discuss them in a cordial way, we can vote our conscience, we then can move on to the next issue and we don't become mortal enemies. And that's a rare and special thing in politics these days - and I'm glad there's some a commitment to nurturing that on council."
Hulten was given a round of applause by his council colleagues before the meeting adjourned.
A Cook County judge says Rahm Emanuel is eligible to run for Chicago mayor, but the ballot dispute involving the ex-White House chief of staff isn't over yet.
Circuit Court Judge Mark Ballard heard arguments for a bit less than an hour Tuesday morning in a Daley Center courtroom just steps from city hall.
The anti-Emanuel legal team claimed the candidate gave up his residency when he rented out his Chicago house while working for President Obama in Washington. Lawyers for Emanuel argued he left only to serve his country, and always planned to return.
In a written opinion, Ballard sided with Emanuel, upholding a decision last month by the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners.
"We find there was sufficient evidence to support the Board's conclusion that Candidate Emanuel intended to remain a Chicago resident during his temporary absence, and did not, therefore, abandon his Chicago residency," Ballard wrote.
Burt Odelson, an attorney for the objectors, told reporters he expected to lose in circuit court. Oldeson said he will appeal the ruling on Wednesday.
"Those of us who practice election law, we don't look at these as losses. They're just stepping stones to get to the appellate and [state] supreme court," Odelson said.
Emanuel attorney Kevin Forde said "at some point" Odelson has "to call it quits."
"He's lost before a hearing officer," Forde said. "He's lost before three [election board] commissioners - all of whom are very, very familiar with the election law. He's lost before a very experienced judge here."
The legal challenges could drag on for weeks, complicating things for city election officials who, by the end of the month, must prepare ballots for early voting.
Meantime, Odelson declined to provide specifics about who was paying for the lengthy ballot battle.
"Well, for me it's been very expensive. Very time-consuming and very expensive," he said.
Odelson said he is getting paid by the two people officially listed as "objectors" in his filings, Walter P. Maksym, Jr., and Thomas L. McMahon. But when asked if anyone else is chipping in to pay the bills, Odelson told reporters it was none of their business.
"It's my business who's paying me," he said. "Just like it's your business who pays you."
Odelson is not required to publicly report how much he is being paid for the Emanuel challenge. But the Emanuel campaign is required to disclose its bills, though one of its lawyers, Mike Kasper, said he has not done the math.
"I've been busy on the case, I will say that," Kasper said.
(Photo by Bill Healy/IPR)
Some bumblebee populations in the United States are dropping at an alarming rate, and University of Illinois researchers are investigating the potential causes.
There are 50 species of bumblebees in North America. Researchers examined eight of them, and discovered that in the last 20 years, half of the species declined in relative abundance by as much as 96 percent and experienced a reduction in geographic range by as much as 87 percent.
The researchers compared historical data from 73,000 museum records dating back to the late 1800s with recent U.S. national surveys of more than 16,000 specimens from about 400 sites.
U of I entomologist Sydney Cameron, the lead author of the three-year study, said the rate of decline marks an important finding because bumble bees play important roles in the country's food production.
"That certainly could impact the efficiency of our food production for many crops, such as cranberries, blueberries, tomatoes," Cameron said. "Bumble bees are especially good pollinators of these types of crops."
Cameron said the bumblebees with significant population declines have a lower genetic diversity than bumblebees with healthier populations. She also said it has been hypothesized that North American queen bees may have brought a parasite, known as Nosema bombi, back to the United States from Europe after being raised in the rearing facilities of native bumble bees. However, she said it is unknown if these factors contributed to some species dying out.
"No one's pointing a finger at anyone," she said. "We're just trying to figure out where the Nosema that we're finding in our North American bees came from."
Scientists last year looked at another phenomenon affecting honeybees called "colony collapse" in which large numbers of a hive's worker bees disappear. Research suggests a fungus and virus may be to blame.
The reason for the population decline among the honeybees is still being determined. It may have something to do with climate change, disease, or even low genetic diversity, according to some researchers. But Cameron noted that it is too early to jump to any conclusions.
The report was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
(Photo courtesy of Johanna James-Heinz)
Residents of the Wilber Heights subdivision are barred by zoning rules from making major house repairs and renovations, because the area is zoned for industry, not homes. Now, the Champaign County Zoning Board of Appeals will consider a change in zoning rules that would allow work on such "non-conforming dwellings" to go ahead.
The proposal was put together at the county board's request by Planning and Zoning Director John Hall. County Board member Stan James (R-Rantoul) said allowing major work on the non-conforming houses will provide relief for the remaining homeowners in Wilber Heights.
"And John's trying to provide some relief so those folks now there can add on and enjoy the homes they do have, with the knowledge that it may come down in the future that even by doing that, it's not going to increase their value much," James said. "Because if it stays Light Industrial, eventually all that will be bought up."
Under the proposal, non-conforming dwellings in Wilber Heights and other parts of the county could receive major repairs and even be enlarged. Garages and other accessory buildings could also be enlarged. Currently, repairs and renovations are barred if they take up more then 10 percent of a building's total area. James said he thinks the residents may be entitled to additional compensation, but believes the zoning change is a good start.
Wilber Heights is located east of the Market Place Mall, in an unincorporated area just outside of the city of Champaign. It contains a mix of industrial and residential development. First built as housing for employees of the nearby Clifford-Jacobs Forging Company plant, Wilber Heights was rezoned all industrial by the Champaign County Board in 1973, with the assumption that the homes would eventually be torn down. But dozens of them are still occupied today.
County Board member James said he thinks the residents of Wilber Heights may be entitled to additional compensation for the burden placed on them by the 1973 zoning change. But he said the proposal to allow greater home repairs and renovation is a good start.
The proposed change in zoning rules will get its first hearing before the Champaign County Zoning Board of Appeals on at its regular meeting, Thursday, January 6th, beginning at 6:30 PM, at the Brookens Center in Urbana. Planning & Zoning Director Hall says he hopes the measure can receive county board approval this spring.
Illinois Democrats edged closer to a vote on raising income taxes during a lame-duck session of the state Legislature, as the governor met with legislative leaders Tuesday and lawmakers considered measures that would put new restrictions on state spending.
Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago, said Democratic leaders want the House to approve a version of the tax increase that passed in the Senate nearly two years ago. That plan would boost the personal income tax rate to 5 percent, from the current 3 percent.
Meanwhile, a new report from a University of Illinois think tank concludes that the state's budget crisis is even deeper than most people realize. The deficit is usually placed at $12 billion with a possibility that it will reach $15 billion, but the Institute of Government and Public Affairs says the shortfall is really $17 billion and climbing.
"It is hard to overstate the depth of the fiscal hole the state is in," the report said. "If nothing is done soon, the state of Illinois faces a very bleak future."
Cullerton and House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, want some Republican support for a tax increase. That would help insulate Democrats from the potential public outcry over higher taxes. So far, however, Republican leaders have opposed any tax talk.
Democrats are pushing several measures that might help attract GOP support and blunt public criticism.
Madigan, for instance, is sponsoring two constitutional amendments. One would limit government spending growth to the same level of growth that Illinois taxpayers see in their own paychecks. The other would make it harder for state and local government to approve costly benefit increases in pension plans.
Both amendments have been approved in committee and now await action on the House floor.
Democrats also are trying to reach deals on Medicaid costs, school management and worker's compensation.
Together, the measures could be used to argue that Democrats are serious about handling tax money more responsibly if an increase is approved.
"I think what we have to do is pay our bills," Cullerton told reporters after meeting with Madigan and Gov. Pat Quinn. "I think we have to make sure our bond rating is improved and people see that, going forward, we can pay our bills. If people look at it from that perspective, I think it's something that they would accept."
A new Legislature will be sworn in Jan. 12. It may be easier to pass a tax increase before then, while Democrats still have a large majority and some outgoing members can act without worrying about a future voter backlash.
Democratic leaders, however, won't say whether they're prepared to try to pass a tax during the lame-duck session if they can't pick up any Republican support.
A spokeswoman said House Republican Leader Tom Cross met with the governor Tuesday morning and Quinn discussed raising income taxes by just half a percentage point and using that revenue to pay off $14 billion in new debt. Spokeswoman Sara Wojcicki said Quinn offered few details and that Cross reiterated his calls for government spending reforms before considering higher taxes.
There was little evidence Tuesday to suggest that Democrats and Republicans were coming to any accord.
The governor and Democratic leaders did not include top Republicans in their meeting. Republicans opposed Madigan's constitutional amendments to control spending, arguing either that they don't go far enough or they go too far. And a Senate committee voted along party lines to borrow roughly $4 billion and use the money to make the state's annual contribution to government pensions.
A longtime columnist for The News-Gazette has left the paper after nearly 60 years.
Malcolm Nygren, a former minister with Champaign's First Presbyterian Church, joined the Gazette in 1953 along with about a half dozen other ministers recruited by the paper. Each of the ministers quit after writing a single column, but Nygren stuck around.
Nygren's columns often described different aspects of his life through the lens of the Christian faith. He said his editorials were never overtly religious, but reflected his feelings about major events ranging from the assassination of President John F. Kennedy to the birth of his daughters. He added that many of his columns could be read and interpreted on multiple levels.
"For some people it came at a time in their life when it was something they really needed, and it was useful for them," Nygren said. "It means different things to different people."
The Gazette's opinions editor Jim Dey was the first person each week to read over the column. He praised Nygren for always meeting a deadline, and writing in clear language that rarely required an edit.
"Writers come and go, and newspapers hopefully are here for the duration, and so people will get used to it," Dey said. "Nothing good lasts forever, and (Malcolm) Nygren's column is an example of that."
Dey said the News Gazette has no immediate plans to replace the column.
In his final editorial, Nygren wrote, "For the writer, it is a lot better to quit before you have to quit." But Nygren said he is not give up writing just yet. Readers can still follow his columns on his blog, "Byline: Malcolm Nygren."
"I will write when I want to, not on a deadline," Nygren said. "I'll get the good part of the job, and not have to have the pressure of it."
(Photo courtesy of Malcolm Nygren)
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