The new year has brought with it comings and goings and ups and downs as reflected in the City Council meeting on Jan. 23. Three new staff members were introduced –Meagan M. Jones and James Furey, economic development specialists, and Melissa Klotz, zoning planner – and Council waved goodbye to City Engineer Paul Schneider, who is leaving “for the private sector,” according to City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz.
At Administration and Public Works, the City’s affordable housing program absorbed another blow with the foreclosure of the City-funded project at 241 Callan Ave. Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, asked about the $250,000 the City provided to the project. “I opposed it from the minute I heard the developer was going to purchase the building. It was a bad choice for conversion,” she said.
“We’ll do our level best” to recover City funds, said Corporation Council Grant Farrar. A staff memo, however, indicates that the bank is “in first position” legally, meaning they get paid before the City does. The bank is owed about $880,000, making it unlikely that the City will recover anything.
Without discussion, the Council approved over $860,000 for parking lot and locker room renovations at the City’s Service Center. The Service Center, described in staff memos as serving “as the heart of City operations,” is tucked away in the triangle formed by the Metra tracks along Green Bay Road, Ridge Avenue, and Simpson Street across from the Civic Center. The locker rooms, which serve about 115 employees and have not been upgraded since 1980, will be replaced for $310,000. The parking deck gets about $550,000 in repairs. The parking deck also includes the salt dome, which will almost certainly require the City to finally address that issue before next winter hits. Construction on the parking deck will not begin until late spring; the locker rooms should be completed by May 2012.
Software packages came next. “The City continues to spend lots of money on ‘legacy’ [software] systems,” said Mr. Bobkiewicz, but is “looking forward to the future – the next generation of software.” He described the current landscape as “in flux,” with a new generation of options just around the corner. Until the next generation, however, the City needs to renew existing support agreements. Council approved about $131,000 for Accela permits and licensing software and $145,000 for J.D. Edwards accounting software. Expect big changes soon, though Mr. Bobkiewicz said the same thing last year.
The licensing of home-based businesses returned to Council, but it was only a cameo appearance this time. The Planning and Development Committee referred the issue to the Plan Commission, complete with a proposed ordinance. In a preview of possible coming arguments, the committee sparred briefly over the issue, particularly landscaping businesses.
“I know everybody is different, every business is different,” said Ald. Rainey. She said she has a “couple of landscapers” in her ward who cause no problems in the neighborhood; she said she “would hate to see them not able to run their businesses out of their homes,” but under the proposed ordinance they might be excluded.
Alderman Don Wilson, 4th Ward, said he had a similar concern. The challenge, he said, was to address the “bad guys” while “leav[ing] alone those who are good citizens.” The restrictions on the use of a garage in a home business were a particular concern.
Alderman Delores Holmes, 5th Ward, long a champion of the home business measure, said, “Maybe the only bad guys live in the 5th Ward.” The matter will be massaged and debated at Plan Commission before it returns to Council at some point in the future.
In leftover business, the Bright Horizons Center on Orrington also passed without debate. The center expects to be complete and operating in the fall, said its representative, Debbie Brown.
Finally, the prohibition against bundling together individual bottles of beer passed without debate. It will now be illegal to package together individual bottles, though the ordinance specifically exempts bundling six bottles. Therefore, retailers can now offer six bottles together, but not four, five or seven. And definitely not two.