One loaded Council agenda followed by a Council meeting complete with nine, yes nine, special orders of business made for some long nights at City Hall on June 10 and 17. Aside from the typical City expenditures, the highlights were new theater seats for Next Theater, continued debate over a greenhouse addition at the Ecology Center, a coming assault -weapons ban and revisions to the City’s Comprehensive Plan.
Items passed without debate included fire hydrant painting (almost $28,000), the 2013 50-50 sidewalk replacement project ($100,000 in City funds), a number of sidewalk cafés (Carmen’s, Forever Yogurt and the newly expanded Starbuck’s) and Great Merchant grants to five neighborhood business associations. Also passing without discussion was an ordinance authorizing the City to borrow nearly $1.9 million from the state Environmental Protection Agency for the construction of the large-diameter sewer rehabilitations on Central Park and Main Street/Sheridan. Debt service will be paid through charges on the sewer portion of residents’ water bills.
Next Theatre will get new seats that cost nearly $47,000. There was no discussion as to how the possible rehab of the Noyes Center, in conjunction with the Piven proposal, will affect such seating, but Alderman Delores Holmes, 5th Ward, and Jane Grover, 7th Ward, both pointed out how uncomfortable the current seats are. “The lobby space needs attention, too,” said Ald. Grover, signaling possible future agenda items.
The Ecology Center’s greenhouse addition proposal returned at committee level, but could not advance to Council, as questions about its use and cost continued to raise concerns. Because the space may be used as more of a teaching area than a traditional greenhouse, aldermen requested that staff reexamine the specifications to see if a cheaper addition could be built without certain items specific to a greenhouse, such as a drain in the floor and water system.
The City’s legal staff is preparing an assault-weapons ban that will go into effect after Governor Pat Quinn signs the new conceal-carry state law. Under the law, municipalities, home-rule or not, have only ten days in which to act or they lose the right to ban such weapons. Corporation Counsel Grant Farrar said that after researching the concept, “I do have much more of a grasp of what an assault weapon is.” Council instructed him to prepare a ban for immediate passage when the time comes.
Commercial indoor recreation facilities are now a permitted special use in industrial zoned areas, now that Council has managed to address the definition of “commercial purpose” to everyone’s satisfaction. The concern over not-for-profit entities’ taking over industrial areas and then taking property off the tax rolls was a primary one for Eighth Ward Alderman Ann Rainey. A new special-use application may be coming soon, as Alderman Peter Braithwaite has indicated that someone is interested in opening such a facility in the Second Ward.
At the June 17 meeting, Scott Peters, chair of the Plan Commission, said that the City was working on revisions to the City’s Comprehensive Plan. Of note was the incorporation of neighborhood planning documents, such as the Downtown Plan, Lakefront Master Plan, and Central Street Plan into the Comprehensive Plan. Mr. Peters said neighborhood plans may be functionally unenforceable. In revising the Comprehensive Plan, the City can determine whether or not to incorporate neighborhood plans.