25 years ago, residents of DeKalb organized to pressure the city to reduce the amount of radium in our drinking water. The city, which already had obtained a variance that allowed it to exceed EPA limits for radium, required a second variance in 1996 to obtain permits to extend water mains for new construction. This presented an opportunity to argue for a higher standard for the long-term health of the community. Upon discovering the Illinois Pollution Control Board regulations allowed for citizens to request public hearings, that’s what they did. Here’s the letter to the editor that Linda Lahey wrote to alert her neighbors of the upcoming public hearing:
And here is the city’s rebuttal, two days later:
This was city government attacking an individual who disagreed with its policy, and the newspaper of record approving the hostilities. The double betrayal must have been devastating at the time. But the residents persisted. They filed suit against the city in December 2016 and, just shy of a year later, they won.
Continue reading A look back: DeKalb and its radium water
It’s no secret that my main concern for the Annie Glidden North revitalization effort is the possibility that City of DeKalb and NIU are preparing to push a secret agenda to the detriment of public input and outcomes.
As I exhaustively outlined for you earlier, email discussions of private planning, from the “DeKalb 2020 Prospectus” to the hiring of a neighborhood design consultant for “West Hillcrest” (a neighborhood designated as part of Annie Glidden North) suggest secret interference is a reasonable concern. They reveal that an actual redevelopment plan for this portion of AGN made it at least as far as a second draft, that it was enabled and supported by NIU staff from the beginning, and that City of DeKalb stated a willingness to “kick in” $18,000 to get it finished. Continue reading Task force a potential bright spot for Annie Glidden North revitalization
In case this is new to you, we’ll start with a recap. From a post published April 2015:
[DeKalb Planning & Zoning Commission] has discussed a request made by Central States Tower (CST) for a permit to place a Verizon cell tower/antenna at 1300 South 7th Street even though CST did not follow procedures required by city code in the application process — and despite city staff’s recommendation to reject the application for that same reason.
Public hearing proceedings revealed that CST did not arrange a pre-application conference with city staff, nor did it pursue a feasibility investigation into co-locating its tower on an existing site, such as the parcel hosting the AT&T tower a couple blocks north of the proposed site. The pre-application conference and co-location due diligence are required by DeKalb’s Unified Development Ordinance.
CST withdrew its application in May 2015 just before city council was to vote on it, presumably because the company anticipated a negative vote. But now they’re back with what looks to be the same plan as before, and will come before Planning & Zoning on Wednesday, August 23 at 6pm. Continue reading Fourth Warders on/near South Seventh Street: Cell phone tower application is back
***Update 8/12*** Added city manager Anne Marie Gaura and fixed clarity issues.
As our city council prepares to discuss a revitalization plan proposal for the Annie Glidden North (AGN) section of DeKalb, we should be aware of the possibility of a “done deal” already worked out by NIU and private interests, promoted by city staff who are ready to sell it hard. As I’ve already explained:
Emails obtained from NIU via Freedom of Information Act requests reveal that in spring of 2014, then-NIU vice president Bill Nicklas met at Campus Cinema with Chuck Hanlon, principal urban planner with Wills Burke Kelsey Associates, and arranged for Hanlon to create “a proposal for us that looks at the commercial strip along Hillcrest and Blackhawk, as well as a wider area in all directions to envision a different neighborhood.”
A hypothesis that the city has already secretly bought into a plan certainly fits with its top-down approach in the matter so far, and would help explain the exclusion of DeKalb Park District and other interested public bodies from discussions of the proposal.
Anyway, there are a lot more of these emails. Coming mostly from the account of then-NIU vice president Bill Nicklas, they trace growing involvement of Nicklas and other public officials in private redevelopment and city rezoning issues from late 2012 through much of 2014.
This business involved “Neighborhood 3” of the three neighborhoods identified collectively as Annie Glidden North (AGN), so our purpose is to look not only at how city players have operated generally, but also at how events in the past might be driving today’s behavior.
Heads up: This post is longer than most, and I’ve placed an album on Facebook containing about two dozen of the emails in a timeline that contains even more details. It’s kind of a project to read all of it, is what I’m saying. Continue reading Where the city’s interest in Annie Glidden North comes from
The DeKalb Park District (DPD) did not endorse City of DeKalb’s Annie Glidden North proposal.
The resolution on the issue, unanimously passed during a special meeting Tuesday night, reads as follows:
NOW BE IT RESOLVED by the Board of Commissioners of the DeKalb Park District, County of DeKalb, and State of Illinois, as follows:
That the DeKalb Park District does in good faith and through its cooperative nature support the City of DeKalb in its deveopment of a plan for the revitalization of the Annie Glidden North neighborhood and will actively participate in the development of the plan for the benefit of the residents of the Park District.
The commissioners support “a” plan that they “will actively participate in.”
DPD had the special meeting to hear the city’s presentation on the plan proposal. It was the only chance they had to hear the proposal before the DeKalb city council considers it next week.
That’s right, City of DeKalb plans to push through the proposal without ever consulting DPD, even though DPD operates four parks within the area designated as Annie Glidden North. Apparently, the city thought DPD would just rubberstamp the proposal.
I honestly can’t wait to read the minutes of this meeting. According to attendees, commissioners did not exactly mince words.
Council members: We love the new you, and we want you to succeed. Please remove Annie Glidden North from the agenda for the time being, and take steps to mend fences with the park district.
And please, take a good hard look at the unforced errors of your city manager.
To the Editor:
Regarding the Cornerstone DeKalb Project: This project is being considered as a downtown development. Tax increment financing funding is being requested, and the project seems to meet the TIF criteria. I have concerns, which include the following:
• Why a 40 percent request for project costs vs. the 25 percent guidelines?
• How carefully has the financial and population data been reviewed?
• Why is there a rush to approve a major project in fewer than 15 days?
• Has the city done a thorough cost/benefit analysis of past TIF projects to better understand where TIF has been used wisely and where it has not?
Continue reading Letter to the Editor: “Cornerstone” Project
***DeKalb city council will consider the special use permit during its regular meeting Monday, April 27.***
While the University Village Planned Development proposal seems to have grabbed the headlines today, last night’s Planning & Zoning Commission meeting was also notable for neighborhood pushback against approval of a special use permit for a new 140-foot cell tower on the southeast side of DeKalb.
Since last November, P&Z has discussed a request made by Central States Tower (CST) for a permit to place a Verizon cell tower/antenna at 1300 South 7th Street even though CST did not follow procedures required by city code in the application process — and despite city staff’s recommendation to reject the application for that same reason. Continue reading Citizen Action & a Cell Tower Project in the 4th Ward
For all of NIU’s having publicly “backed away” from a partnership for redevelopment with City of DeKalb et al last spring, it seems the institution had already secretly created a “charity” with a local developer and a banker in December 2013 for similar purposes.
The documents were Tweeted to me.
Continue reading Documents: College Town Partners NFP
Let’s start with a summary of events.
— The group now known as Preserve Our Neighborhoods (PON) was formed last spring in response to concerns that residents were not being included in DeKalb-NIU redevelopment plans that would directly affect them.
— Misty Haji-Sheikh of PON received unsigned documents from an anonymous sender regarding a corporation formed for the purpose of redeveloping the John Street neighborhood.
— The corporation, College Town Partners, was of public interest because NIU and City of DeKalb were named as partners in documents related to its purpose and operations.
— Haji-Sheikh asked NIU and City of DeKalb for documents related to College Town Partners under the Illinois Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). DeKalb denied her some of the information under an exemption to FOIA for preliminary drafts/proposals.
— Haji-Sheikh requested that the Attorney General’s Office of Public Access review DeKalb’s denial of information to ensure the city has used the FOIA exemption properly. The AG accepted this Request for Review.
— City of DeKalb responded to the AG’s request to provide the legal basis for using the FOIA exemption(s) but in an unusual move the city asked for — and received — blanket confidentiality of its response.
— Haji-Sheikh is allowed under the review process to respond to the city’s response and she did so even though she hasn’t been allowed to read it.
Michael Haji-Sheikh has provided Misty’s response to the AG via Twitter. Continue reading Latest on the College Town Partners FOIA Matter
I’ve read the College Town Partners documents that were leaked to the Preserve Our Neighborhoods (PON) group. (Want copies? Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.)
The agreements, which were never signed, lay out a corporate partnership between City of DeKalb, NIU, a local developer and two banks.
They strike me as kind of nuts, actually, being fraught with conflicts of interest that government bodies could never ignore. Whoever developed them — at this point I’m envisioning somebody’s partially demented but clout-heavy uncle who must be humored — possesses no grasp of the “public” part of public projects.
For example, the agreements place the DeKalb city manager in the position of manager of a self-interested company operating in the same community. They also attempt to make rules for the participation of the government bodies (e.g.: confidentiality, non-compete clause, predetermined developer) but that’s the flip of what’s supposed to happen.
The plans as written didn’t stand a snowball’s chance in sunlight. Still, somebody thought enough of them to stuff 60 pages into an envelope to mail to the PON folks. Why? I think it must be a warning that an awful lot of planning has been going on behind closed doors, and that some of it may not represent the public interest.
Speaking of which, let’s look at the recent naughtiness of your mayor that ties in here. Continue reading College Town Partners Agreements are Kind of Cray, but Still Important