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Making a list: Normal council setting priorities for near future

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Staff
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WGLT
Uptown Station in Normal.

By the end of the month, Normal Town Council members will have registered with staff their individual priorities for the next few years.

Assistant City Manager Eric Hanson said the exercise will merge individual tallies before a final council vote on the list that includes short-term goals and long-term ones, like finding a site for a new police station.

"I believe, and I think from a staff perspective, that if and when we were relocating the police station, it would still be central in nature so we can respond to all sections of the community," said Hanson.

A new police station could come as its current site in Uptown South is redeveloped.

Among the possible long-term goals for the town is establishing the community's economic development identity that Hanson called a complicated effort that uses existing community assets like Rivian to attract new manufacturing and other businesses.

"And if we don't capitalize on that, then that's on us, right? So let's just take one component of that, an industrial park. That does not happen overnight. To identify a site, acquire or at least get under control a large site of hundreds of acres, get infrastructure to it and put the various programs in place that we would need to support it, it just doesn't happen fast," said Hanson.

Implementation of a third fire station also is on the list of potential priorities along with more routine items such as a review of zoning codes, executing a strategy on water, sewer, and other infrastructure replacement, and a holistic review of town fees. There also is an item that would explore increased dedicated spending on public art.

Concerns over parking questions in the development plan for Uptown South are part of the perennial debate over the difference between available parking and convenient parking. Some worry that a large-format building or dense housing will not have enough parking. But Hanson said that remains to be determined.

"We obviously have a number of parking options already available within Uptown. The underpass, I would say, makes that parking much more accessible and available to things that are going on, and will be going on on the south side of the tracks," he said.

Just because the Uptown South plan is heading to the town council early next year does not mean everything is set in stone. Hanson said, for instance, that parking facilities depend on the kind of large-format building that eventually goes up south of the railroad tracks.

"Depending on how everything plays out and lays out, and if it is more housing driven versus more public facility driven, or a third option is a privately driven type of development scenario that is more promotional in nature or mixed use in nature, ultimately is going to determine parking priority," said Hanson.

One hope for the plan is that housing in Uptown South will attract residents who can raise the level of activity in Uptown proper, he said, adding the housing component of the redevelopment plan could help create a walkable environment for urban living in the area.

That, in turn, could attract a critical mass of people that would foster an 18-hour walkable environment for urban living instead of a district active mostly during business hours.

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WGLT Senior Reporter Charlie Schlenker has spent more than three award-winning decades in radio. He lives in Normal with his family.
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