Decatur City Council

Tonight the city council will likely make a decision on the rezoning request for the new owners of Northgate Mall.  U-Haul purchased the property several months ago and is seeking to turn it into a a major rental center.  This requires rezoning to M-1 Intense Commercial/Light Industrial District.  The planning commission has recommended the proposed changes, while city staff is recommending denial.  City staff feels that the location is ideal for retail development due to its location and the U-Haul center would completely change the character and vision for a high-traffic commercial corner.

The plan as I understand it from reading the council agenda is that the former K’s Merchandise building would be a climate controlled storage center and the former Hollywood video store would be the retail front for U-Haul.  Rental trucks and cars would be parked in front of the old video rental store along Water Street and possibly the lot to the north.  I’m not clear on that one.

I’m reserving judgement until I hear more at the meeting.  Pershing Road has seen significant development and redevelopment in just the past 5 years and new things are coming.  If my sources are right, northsiders should be happy with what is coming to the former Maverick Steak House lot.

A vacant motel was recently torn down directly across from Northgate Mall on Pershing and is generating interest by new retailers.  Now if we can just get rid of that old car wash but that’s another story…

Other changes have occurred on Pershing in the past few years.  New development has occurred in front of the former WSOY radio station where several new buildings have been constructed.  The lot on the corner of Jasper and Pershing Road, which formerly had a car wash is also seeking rezoning in tonight’s meeting and new retail will likely be locating there soon.   So, a lot of development has recently happened or soon will be happening on Pershing Road.  Now, the city council has to decide if U-Haul’s request is a good decision for the continued redevelopment of the area.

I think if the rezoning request came a couple years ago, the decision probably wouldn’t be so difficult but since Decatur is seeing significant new interest in this part of town, it’s not so easy.  I’m leaning towards supporting the approval of the zoning change but it depends upon what impact it will have upon the desirability of other large vacant spaces in the mall.  If the lot is going to be full of U-Haul trucks, rental cars, trailers and so forth, how does that jibe with other types of retail?  That’s my concern.  If some type of landscaping changes could be made separating the U-Haul parking lot from whatever might come to the rest of the shopping center, I’d be in favor.  I think the impact would be minimal with some attractive, clever traffic flow changes making each area distinct.  As the lot looks now, I think it would look odd.

Below:  How it looks now.

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And the proposed changes: (click on image for larger view), courtesy of the agenda packet:

uhaul

UPDATE:  Okay, I watched most of the discussion last night regarding the development and I think I would have approved the rezoning.  I realize it’s a prime commercial retail location but I don’t think this would have jeopardized future development elsewhere in Northgate Mall, or along Pershing Road.  Another issue is now that U-Haul owns the property, what are they going to do with it now that they can’t operate the type of business they would like to?  Are they going to sit on it for years like the previous owners did?  That issue wasn’t addressed last night.  I hope it works out but I think the council made a hasty decision.  I feel something could have been worked out to the benefit of all.

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Last night Decatur city manager Tim Gleason presented his suggestions for improving Decatur.  Many of the priorities focused on neighborhood redevelopment, though “aggressive” annexation of 450+- properties was also suggested, as well as improving customer service and relationships between city employees and residents.

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From Decatur City Council Presentation

Three new revenue streams were also proposed, a 4-5 cent motor fuel tax, increased gaming & liquor revenue, and ambulance service revenue.  The council had discussed the city possibly getting into the ambulance business to generate revenue but that idea was shot down because it pitted the city against a privately-owned ambulance service in town.  The council nixed the idea this time too.  Councilwoman Ray went as far as saying, “Let it die.”  However, the motor fuel tax will more than likely happen, as well as increased gaming & liquor license fees.  Gleason also suggested taxing each individual gaming machine.

The gaming & liquor revenue was projected to generate $750,000 annually to fund demolitions, brush & weed clean-up, land banking & vacant land reuse, and a housing committee.  The motor fuel tax would fund badly needed road repairs on Decatur’s secondary streets, largely in neighborhoods, as well as repairing/installing sidewalks and curbs as an incentive for new housing development and investment.  Projected revenue from a 4-5 cent fuel tax is $1.2 – $1.5 million annually.

Gleason also spoke about targeting specific areas for redevelopment including demolitions and saving homes that are still salvageable.  Much of this targeted area is along the US 51 north corridor, which is a highly visible area.

The Wabash area, directly to the northeast of the Water Street viaduct is being targeted as a social services campus.  A recently constructed public health center was completed earlier this year at the location.

Overall, I was okay with the suggestions.  Actually, many of them I suggested this spring, though I was more aggressive and off-the-wall with my thinking – as usual.

I’m not crazy about a fuel tax but I don’t see any other viable tax revenue option.  I’m no fan of video gambling machines either.  Councilman Dawson said that he personally hates them too but would let the market limit their numbers.  They’re a necessary evil now that the city is depending on them for revenue.

I’m interested in seeing a much more detailed plan and like Councilman McDaniel, a packet containing all of the presented information would have been helpful.  Hopefully one will be coming soon.

I’m interested in finding out what $750,000/year for our neighborhoods can actually do.  I’d also like to know the costs and benefits of the proposed annexations.  There was a map of the proposed areas the city would annex and I’ll try to get a hold of that.

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There was a time when writing about the Decatur City Council was fun.  I looked forward to watching the meetings every other Monday when the council was composed of warring factions during the Change Decatur time period.  If you don’t remember Change Decatur, it was an attempt to change Decatur’s city government style from the present city manager system to a strong mayor and alderman system.

To make a long story short there were legal challenges and missteps along the way that led to the voters of Decatur not deciding on a strong mayor system but a commissioner form of government.  It was a mess but it was fun to write about and watch.  This council doesn’t give me any good material to work with at all.

I was against both the commissioner and strong mayor forms but I did like the idea of a hybrid form that was proposed as a last-minute option before the election.  It was an appeasement approach to turn voters off on the commissioner form.  This option would retain the city manager and “weak” mayor but the council would be composed of members elected at-large and some by district.  I remember the discussion on that idea lasting about 4 and half seconds by the newly elected council, after the voters had shot down the commissioner form.  The hybrid form was never really discussed in an amount of seriousness but everyone was sick of all the drama at that point.

The current council has been on cruise control for the past couple years while the city has seen some recovery from its worst economic years.  There’s still so much more work to do but Decatur is improving.  Downtown has never looked better and downtown businesses are doing well.  Lakefront projects aren’t just sketches displayed in a PowerPoint presentation but being built. I don’t want to gloss over things but there’s something happening here that I haven’t seen happen in the past 25 years:  Good things are finally happening.  I don’t attribute that success to the city council necessarily.  I think Decatur only had one way to go and that was up. Ha!  Whatever the reasons, I’m ready for new glory days.  Decatur had a great past, a lousy stretch from the mid 1980s to early 2000s, and now we’re in a rebuilding period.

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With all that said, it’s important to have a city council that won’t screw things up too badly.  Personally, I’m ready for some new blood on the council with new ideas and a new perspective.  It’s never good to go stale.

I’m looking forward to learning about the new candidates as they announce their intent to run.  Lisa Gregory announced today and I’m sure we’ll hear more names very soon since petitions will be out and about.

 

 

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Soon the Decatur City Council will be considering passing a gasoline tax to help fund street repairs in the city.  Decatur does not currently have a gasoline tax.  It is estimated that a 1 cent tax per gallon of gasoline will bring in about $600,000 a year.  That doesn’t seem like enough money to fix many roads, considering the cost of repaving even a short section of road can easily run into the millions.

I don’t think anyone would argue that many Decatur streets need repaired.  We have to remember that the city isn’t responsible for many of the major roadways inside the city.  Pershing, Eldorado, most of Water and Main, and 22nd Street are state highways, so if we want to complain of their condition, we have to take our complaints to the state.  However, the city is responsible for many, many miles of neighborhood streets.

I’ve lived in my current neighborhood for almost 20 years and my street has never had work done on it, other than patches from a water main break or a sewer line caving in.  It’s still in decent shape considering everything but there are other roads nearby that definitely need resurfaced but not until water main and sewer problems are taken care of. That’s kind of where the city find itself:  Everything needs fixed at the same time and we’re being hit with taxes and increased rates from every direction.

It is hard to stomach another tax in Decatur.  Our sales tax rate is one of the highest in the state at 11%.  Ouch!  Not everything is taxed at 11% but even at 9%, it’s still painful.  Property taxes aren’t cheap.  Water rates have been raised.  Then there’s all those other taxes we forget about, like what is added to our landline and cell phone bill, cable, Internet, and power bills.  Of course our unemployment rate is still one of the highest in the state and the percentage of residents living at or below poverty levels is unacceptably high.  The city isn’t rolling in the dough, but we are wading knee-deep through a myriad of taxes.

A gasoline tax creates a few problems.  One, it gives an advantage to gas stations in nearby communities.  They’ll probably charge the same amount as Decatur stations and just pocket the extra cent or two, or whatever the rate is, for themselves.  Gas stations in Mt. Zion and Forsyth would have an unfair advantage over Decatur stations.  Secondly, even if Mt. Zion and Forsyth had lower gasoline prices, it would benefit the more affluent communities the most, and stick the highest prices on the poorest inner-city Decatur neighborhoods.

For the reasons above, I’m against the gasoline tax.  I think we’re taxed enough.  I don’t think the gasoline tax is outrageous or unreasonable but considering what we already pay, the line has to be drawn somewhere.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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It’s been a crazy and stressful summer and in that time I had forgotten till last week to get my dogs vaccinated and registered with the city.  They were due about the time that my father-in-law passed away and I simply kept forgetting.  I’m also a college student who is working and well, life is busy.  Last week I bought the tags through the veterinarian and thought I was good to go.

In one week we spent close to $1000 on our two dogs and cat.  My cat had become sick and I found out he has feline leukemia which is incurable.  Eventually he will die because of the disease.  Most cats who have it live less than four years and he’ll be three next month.  It was quite a shock to learn his diagnosis because he’s been so healthy.  I expected him to be here for many years.  It was very upsetting, especially since I love animals so much.

While all that was going on, we had already had a vacation planned so I spent much of my time on vacation worried about my cat.  I had him boarded at the veterinarians office.  My dogs went to their sitter.  All three were thrilled to come back home and I was thrilled to be back home with them.

Waiting for me in the mail were two citations from the City of Decatur for not registering my dogs.  $150 a piece plus late fees.  In the past, we had always received notices that the dogs were due but none ever came, so I thought I had time to get them registered.  I was wrong.  There were no notices, just a big hefty fine out of the blue.  It was a great welcome home after worrying about my pets.

I’m not an irresponsible pet owner.  Anybody who knows anything about me knows I would throw myself between them and a train to save them.  I’m an environmental science major who will eventually be getting a degree in wildlife management.  I care about animals.

This year has been rough.  We lost a family member and have been through layoffs at Caterpillar.  The last thing I need is to deal with a cheap, lazy, heartless, thoughtless, money hungry city getting high on sin taxes.

Our city is more than willing to give tax breaks to big businesses (who don’t need it) but when it comes to its citizens, there’s no mercy.

Yep, City of Decatur you stepped in it. I’m going to be the stink on your shoe.  I’m going to call you out on every offense you make towards that citizens of Decatur.  I’ll be fair, unlike you but I’m going to write the truth whether you like it or not.

The city will get their lousy $300+ dollars from me but I hope they realize they tossed gasoline on the wrong fire.  I’m not the only one they’ve taken advantage of with outrageous fines for minor offenses.  One day, politically speaking, I will clean house.  So let it be written, so let it be done. (I’ve always wanted to write that.  It’s my favorite line from The Ten Commandments.)

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