Normal Council Extends Outdoor Dining Program
The Normal Town Council voted Monday night to extend its outdoor dining program in Uptown through 2021, and to explore the possibility of expanding it to other parts of the community in the future.
The 6-0 vote means despite Gov. JB Pritzker’s emergency order expiring, the current Uptown Normal businesses that have seating areas on the street will be able to continue that program.
Council member Chemberly Cummings was absent from the in-person meeting at Uptown Station.
The council also approved retroactive pay raises for City Manager Pam Reece, and learned Normal Public Works Director Wayne Aldrich is retiring this summer — after more than two decades with the town.
Reece said adopting the rules for outdoor dining and service simply continues the status quo for the rest of the year. “I believe there’s strong support for continuing outdoor dining in the Uptown area,” she said during the meeting that also was livestreamed.
“This is just a technicality of the governor’s orders are expiring, so we need to make sure we’re changing the line of authority for this,” added city attorney Brian Day.
The town already planned to continue the program this fall, before anyone knew when Restore Illinois restrictions would be lifted, he said.
Reece said Uptown businesses, as well as the Normal community would be surprised if the program didn’t continue during the pandemic.
Town planner Mercy Davison said this fall staff will explore what kind of modifications would be needed in city code to allow outdoor dining in parking areas outside of Uptown, adding many questions are on the table, including possible modifications to the current program in Uptown, too.
The town already had a pilot program in place offering businesses “parklet” areas, such as one in place prior to the pandemic at Stave, the Uptown wine bar. But Reece said she doesn’t anticipate anyone requesting a parklet, while the town offers the current street dining areas.
City manager raise
The council voted 5-1 to retroactively OK raises for Reece for 2020, and another one effective in April of this year. The roughly $7,000 total increase wasn’t voted on previously because of budget uncertainties during the pandemic, Mayor Chris Koos told WGLT last week.
Reece's new annual pay now will be $201,000. Her contract runs through the end of March 2024.
Council member Stan Nord was the only "no" vote.
Public Works director retiring
Reece also told council members that longtime Public Works Director Wayne Aldrich is retiring this summer.
"Wayne led what probably has been the most impactful and remarkable municipal project — in probably much of Illinois, but certainly for the Town of Normal," said Reece, referring to Aldrich's role as Uptown Development Director circa 2000. That was the key period of reinvigorating the area into its current form.
After the meeting, Aldrich said his time in public service has been rewarding, but he's ready to get out of the way for the next generation of leaders. He said some people speak of Uptown Normal's redevelopment as a singular event, but it really wasn't, he said.
"Uptown was a bunch of smaller projects, and some major ones — like the transportation center," said Aldrich, adding the upcoming nearly $23 million underpass planned for Uptown is the next major chapter for the public works department.
"It's multifaceted-type of project. So, it benefits Amtrak, the railroad, the Town of Normal and transportation in general — and the efficiency of trains that move through here. And then the other thing is, primarily, safety," he said.
Aldrich, who started working for the town in 1997 as an engineer, acknowledged the project's price tag has made it controversial to some, noting its not that common of a municipality-led project. But he said Camelback Bridge renovations, and the creation of Constitution Trail also were controversial during his tenure, but later came to be appreciated. He expects the same of the underpass.
Aldrich, who retires in August, said Reece will announce this summer who will lead the department.
In another matter, the council voted 6-0 to award a $320,000 contract to J.G. Stewart Contractors Inc. for a Landmark Drive sidewalk project, extending from College Avenue to Arborwalk Drive.
Reece said the work, which has been planned for some time, addresses a town priority to improve Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) access to bus stops.
Nord supporters address board
Several people addressed the board during public comments. Three people — Doug Fansler, Karl Sila and David Paul Blumenshine — criticized the council’s special meeting last week. Sila and Blumenshine ran unsuccessfully for town council in November.
All three characterized the meeting as an attack on Nord, who was rebuked by other council members at that meeting for earlier statements questioning Reece's ethics.
Blumenshine, who hosts a local conservative radio talk show, said the meeting was uncalled for, and unprofessional. He described the council’s behavior toward Nord as “cantankerous and belittling inventory-taking.”
State- and federal-level politicians no longer can work together, he said, adding he doesn’t want that to happen at the local level. “We are one of the last holdouts of organized, civil government,” he said.
Fansler said only a few people were privy to the agenda’s intent, and that wasn’t fair.
On an unrelated topic, Uptown business owner Jennifer Pirtz spoke during comments, presenting a petition signed by 200 people asking the council to consider tightening zoning rules.
Pirtz said she, her Uptown Dance students' families, and others are disappointed that current zoning rules make it so decisions on which businesses open are at the discretion of building owners. She said Indy Smoke, which recently opened next to her decade-old North Street dance studio, disrupts the family-oriented atmosphere of the block.
In other business, the council approved:
- A $54,000 planning services agreement with the McLean County Regional Planning Commission.
- A 5-year contract with M.E. Simpson Co. for large meter testing services.
- Spending up to $115,000 for a hydraulic model of the water distribution system from Crawford, Murphy and Tilly Engineers. The council also OK’d adjusting the town’s budget, which originally planned for $20,000 less on this project.
- An amended preliminary subdivision plan for Blackstone Trails.