Decatur Issues

In the midst of finals week for school I learned that the city of Decatur is planning to harvest trees on city property and sell the lumber.  The money would then be used for beautification projects.  The profits for the lumber appear to be split 50-50 with the company harvesting the trees, so the amount the city walks away with isn’t substantial.

I have several concerns about this, of course.  If you’re not already aware from my blog postings over the past 4 years I am a natural resources major and forest ecology is certainly something that I have learned a great deal about.  I can say with good certainty that most of the forests in Decatur are not in good shape.

Before European settlement fire shaped the natural habitat in Macon County.  Trees that were fire-resistant survived, most notably oaks.  Maples, which are killed by fire were thinned out. Fire in the tallgrass prairies carried the fire into the woodlands.  Much of Macon County was oak savanna and along the Sangamon River was dense woodlands of various species.

Today, there are almost no oak trees regenerating in our forest  because there’s too much shade for oak saplings to establish.  Oaks need sunlight to grow.  Our forests are densely shaded and maples love the shade so they are taking over.  Throw in thick, impenetrable thickets of honeysuckle and few trees of any species are growing in the most infested regions.  The forests are basically becoming a monoculture of a single species which reduces biodiversity and the availability of food for wildlife.

The city has one thing right about their plan.  The woodlands in and around Decatur need to be thinned out but they’re thinning out the wrong species if they care at all about ecology and sustainability.  If we harvest the oaks, there will be almost no oaks at all in our woodlands within the next few decades.  The same can be said for walnut and hickory.  I can take you through Garman Park and show you exactly what is wrong with our forests very quickly.

Maples are not invasive species or undesirable species but they need to be managed.  They simply take over if fire or other means aren’t used to control them.  If we had plenty of oaks and other commercially desirable species in our forests, I wouldn’t be opposed to harvesting some.  Trees are a renewable resource after all but not under the conditions they’re growing in today in Macon County.  In about 50 years, they’re will be no more oaks in many of our forest even without harvesting them for lumber.  Young oaks simply are not growing in most areas.  Period.

Other cities do harvest trees for profit but these are generally trees that are storm damaged or are potential hazards to structures or people.  I think it makes sense to sell lumber and firewood in these cases.

If you want to see how oak woodlands should be managed, visit Rock Springs.  Walk past the pine forest and look how the conservation district burned the understory of the forest on the other side.  Not only will oaks and other species be able to grow but also native woodland wildflowers and forbs that are ecologically valuable.  Fire may not be the best choice in more urban areas but mechanical thinning can be used to achieve similar results.

I hope that the city reconsiders their plan once they understand the ecological consequences of their actions.  I’ll be sending all the members of the council a message.

 

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I just wanted to share a video that I think has a lot of great ideas for improving Decatur’s neighborhoods and the city has a whole.  The first half discusses many things that could pertain to Decatur, while the second half is probably more for larger cities but there’s still some neat ideas in there.

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I don’t know how long the city has had the service up and running on its’ website but you can search for city code violations by address, owner, parcel or just browse the map with the satellite view through the city code enforcement database.  Violations show up as red dots and wow!  Half the city appears to be violating some municipal code.  Most of them are nuisance, demo, housing, or 72-hour cases.

Below is a screenshot of just one neighborhood with several violations.  The map gives a good idea what structures are on the demo list.  Many people are curious as to what buildings are on the list for the coming year.  So, if there’s a particular house or building that you’re wondering about, you can look it up.  The data is updated frequently, so you may want to check back as things change.

 

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I don’t even want to think about how horrid national politics will be in 2017 so I’m going to turn my attention to Decatur.  I’m not in the inner circle so I hear things about the same time everyone else does, unless I just happen to know somebody that knows somebody and I get a heads up warning.  But here’s some things that I think we’ll be discussing in the community in 2017.

Demo Days Ahead

The city is getting really aggressive about demolishing many vacant buildings in Decatur’s inner city.  About 1,000 homes and structures are going to be coming down.  That’s a lot!  It’s sad on one hand but probably the only real option to make areas of town marketable again for residential or commercial development.

New Businesses/New Locations

Sonic’s will be opening a second location on Decatur’s northend directly across from Dairy Queen.  Good news for Decatur.  Bad news for my waistline.  Some well-known chain restaurant is supposed to be locating in the old Ruby Tuesday location.  The name hasn’t been revealed yet.  Doctor’s offices are springing up too.  The old Maverick’s Steak House building will be new offices and on the corner of Pershing and MacArthur Ave, the VITA Center for Women will be moving in.  It’s currently located on the DMH campus.  A new Dollar Tree store will be on Pershing near the recently closed Kmart.

Unfortunately, Decatur will be losing TJ Maxx to Forsyth.  I’m just not a big fan of Forsyth shopping, so I doubt I’ll be visiting it very often.  It’s not that I don’t like Forsyth, it’s just that I like supporting Decatur more.

Northend Struggles

I have a good hunch that Decatur’s northend will continue being the target of proposed changes.  I think it’s a matter of time before the corner of Ash and 51 goes commercial.  Aldi’s wasn’t the right fit but if something comes along that is highly desirable, I think the neighborhood will have quite a fight on its hands.  I just hope the city spends a lot of time in proper planning to ensure the best for all.

Even my old stomping grounds are being threatened.  The street I grew up on, South Court Drive has commercial interest.  A particular property owner has contacted nearby property owners to see if they would be willing to sell.  Obviously, the rest of the neighborhood isn’t impressed.  My dad is ready to set up cannons and other artillery if necessary. Ha.  Even if I didn’t grow up on that street, I wouldn’t think the area would be right for commercial development.  It would destroy the whole character of the neighborhood.

Overall Predictions

I’m not going to really give predictions because I don’t have enough inside information but I think Decatur will do okay in 2017.  I think we’ll have some positive news and some not-so-positive news but overall I’m optimistic.  I’d sure love to see new stores go into the old Haines & Essicks building.  I missed it during the holidays but at least Del’s is back on Merchant Street.

I’m eager to see the addition of a new amphitheater and aquatic center in Nelson Park.  Both are very positive things for the city, even though I’m still pulling for a lazy river.  The expanded rail line at Scovill Zoo should be a fun addition and I’m looking forward to continuing volunteering there.  I miss the zoo in the winter but I’ll be there for volunteer classes soon.

One thing we shouldn’t see a lot more of in 2017 is more gambling locations.  The city put a cap on the number of those establishments.  We’re already at the limit!

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Well now that the election is over, for better or worse (don’t get me started) I’ll turn my focus once again to good ole Decatur.

Overlook Adventure Park New Aquatic Center

On one hand I’m happy that the park district is moving ahead with an aquatic facility for Nelson Park, aka Overlook Adventure Park.  With the amphitheater coming soon, it makes sense to get much of the original vision coming together in a timely fashion.

overlook-adventure-park-sign

The new aquatic center is going to be located adjacent to the miniature golf course.  Looking at the conceptual drawing the plan looks okay and that’s the problem – it’s just okay.  If it’s trying to be marketed as a waterpark then it really needs to have waterpark features.  Probably the two most important ones are a lazy river and a wave pool.  They did leave the option to add a lazy river in the future, so I guess that’s good.

I’m also not thrilled with closing Fairview’s Pool.  It seems like such a waste.  I’d rather it be leased to a private club than just have it sit and decay or be demolished.  Having both facilities would ease overcrowding.  I stopped taking my kids to Fairview a long time ago because it wasn’t enjoyable.  It was always too crowded to truly swim and I spent most of my time frantically keeping an eye on my then young son hoping he didn’t get separated from me and drown.  Honestly, I think Decatur needs both facilities open to ease overcrowding and leave an important amenity for the West End.

New Playground

I hate to be a party pooper but I’m not really all that thrilled about the new playground for Nelson Park either.  It’s pretty much the same thing we already have at Scovill Zoo, which isn’t that far away.  I think that money could have been put towards neighborhood parks or something else that we don’t currently have.  That’s just my two cents.

City Is Going to Demolish 1,000 Structures

The city is really getting aggressive and serious about demolishing dilapidated houses in Decatur.  The city council will be discussing this more soon and I’ll wait to comment in detail about it till then but I think it’s a good idea.  Some parts of town just need to start from scratch again.  That opens up so many possibilities.  I’d love the city and private developers to push for ultra-energy efficient homes. It’s something that isn’t offered yet in Decatur or nearby communities but it is the future of home design.  Imagine living in a home with no power bills!  It would definitely help paint Decatur as a progressive (not talking politics), forward-thinking community.  Go for it!

 

 

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