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Normal mayor wants town to draft rules to allow auxiliary housing


Normal Mayor Chris Koos is praising Bloomington for enacting auxiliary housing rules that allow a small second dwelling on a property that can prevent sprawl.

"It allows you to maybe have a relative or a friend of family maybe going to to Illinois State University in a single-occupied small unit on your property. If it ends up being a rental, it helps the homeowner cover the cost of his or her housing," said Koos.

He wants Normal to follow Bloomington’s move with an ordinance of its own, acknowledging rules governing the practice can be complicated.

"You have to get the details right: setbacks, size of the lot, access to the lot, parking possibly. Those are things you have to look at. And the easiest way to start is to see who is doing it successfully and see what they are doing," said Koos.

He said large cities have allowed auxiliary housing for a long time.

Koos said the presence of ISU would likely not make potential auxiliary housing units in Normal much different than the ones in Bloomington, though that is an issue to be concerned about.

“If you limit the occupancy and the size of the property, it should not be a problem. There's always the 20% rule and it applies to the 21,000 university students. Maybe 20% of them, probably less than that, would be what we call a problem or unruly. The rest of the ISU students are here to get an education. They're serious about it. I'm more focused on that group of people,” said Koos.

Setback rules and lot size limits for auxiliary housing often are meant to be safety and fire code related. But Koos said there should be aesthetic considerations in the code, too.

“Absolutely. Most of these units tend to be in the rear yard and kind of isolated, so you have to be probably paying as much attention to your back fence neighbor as you do your next door neighbor. Certain aesthetics should probably apply to that. A lot of them I've seen have been on top of garages and the garage is an existing footprint already,” said Koos.

In an interview for WGLT’s Sound Ideas, Koos also addressed issues raised recently in problematic communication by council member Stan Nord to town staff. Nord sent a two-page email to the city clerk’s office staff hinting at felony prosecutions if staff did not correctly publicize petition filings by candidates seeking to run for offices that do not exist or which are not elected positions.

He said the other council members were very clear this week that they condemn Nord’s action, and he is disinclined to seek a formal censure vote by the council.

“They really don't carry any formality or legality,” said Koos. "Really, in terms of the law around municipal elected officials, censure really doesn't exist. It's more of a formal position from a body and if the body wants to do that, we can move forward with it,” said Koos.

Nord after Monday's council meeting that he was sorry if deputy clerk Jodi Pomis felt intimidated by his email. He said the emails content was meant to be "helpful and informational."

Koos said that given the language in the note that the law doesn't protect town employees who knowingly engage in felonies, he didn't find Nord’s assertion of helpfulness credible.

“I actually don't. Mr. Nord may have thought his intentions were helpful. But his rhetoric was not, as evidenced by the reaction of Ms. Pomis and other people in the office. They were very upset,” said the mayor.

Koos also raised an issue of proper chain of command. Council members are supposed to go to the city manager first with questions or concerns.

“Mr. Nord has been told time and time again, to take it up with the city manager or me if he has issues, which he has yet to do. I've talked to Mr. Nord, maybe twice in four years outside of the council chambers,” said Koos.

Koos said he didn't want to go on the record defining what Nord has created as a "hostile workplace environment," leading to potential legal liability issues.

“But are the indications in that direction? Absolutely,” said Koos.

Koos said the town legal staff is exploring whether the town would be liable for not doing enough to forestall Nord, if a court were to find that there was a hostile work environment, adding he is not aware of any statute that can protect town employees from similar Nord missives.

“We have looked at that. We'll probably revisit that again. But in terms of legal action against an elected official state, law pretty much dictates that you almost have to commit a felony for any kind of action,” said Koos.

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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