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Normal Council OKs Senior Apartments at Fairview

The Normal Town Council met remotely, Tuesday, January 19.

A project that will create an affordable senior housing development in a renovated building near Fairview Park moved forward Monday, with the Normal Town Council’s support.   

During the virtual meeting, the council unanimously approved the amended site plan for 901-905 N. Main St., at what’s known as the old Fairview building.

Also Monday, the council accepted an amended plan for a local church to install ground-mounted solar panels; authorized spending $930,000 on a Towanda Avenue bridge project; agreed to refinance some of the town's general obligation bonds; and heard a report on Connect Transit’s search for a new general manager.

Credit Town of Normal
An apartment complex for low-income seniors could revive McLean County's Fairview building, once used as a tuberculosis sanatorium.

With Monday’s vote, the Fairview Senior Apartments projectwas conditionally approved, meaning developers can move forward with their $9 million plan to create 41 units on the property that is owned by McLean County, and once served as the tuberculosis sanatorium.

Tim Ryan, of Laborer’s Home Development Corporation, said the firm will renovate the old sanatorium building and construct a three-story addition. LHDC is a nonprofit that specializes in affordable housing. 

The apartments won’t be assisted living, but are geared for independent living for residents 55-and-older, said town planner Mercy Davison.

Mayor Chris Koos called the development exciting, saying it is something the county and town have been concerned about for years, and adding the proposal offers an eye-appealing solution that meets an economic need.

“It takes a significant building in our community--a historical building--and puts it through an interesting, adaptative re-use,” said Mayor Chris Koos. 

The building is just north of Fairview Aquatic Center. So, tenants also will have access to nearby parks and Constitution Trail, as well as access to nearby bus stops, said Davison.  

Council members Chemberly Cummings and Kathleen Lorenz said they’re excited about the project because it adds more diverse, and equitable housing options in the community. 

Fellow councilmen Kevin McCarthy and Scott Preston echoed those sentiments, adding the development  meets a longtime housing need. 

Church to add solar panels

Also on Monday, the council OK’d First Presbyterian Church’s amended site plan to put in a ground-mounted solar panel array along the northwest corner of its property. 

The Rev. Matt Wilcox, pastor of the church, told the council First Presbyterian is excited to add the solar-energy option because it's a way to be good stewards of the earth. He also said energy cost savings would allow the congregation to better help some of its local mission partners. 

Several council members and Koos praised the project as forward-thinking.  

Koos said the project really hits two key points of the town’s comprehensive plan--environmental sustainability and smart-city technology. 

Tall evergreens will be planted on the north and east sides, to keep the 6.5-feet-tall panels hidden from view of adjacent residential areas. The church is at 2000 E. College Ave., near Hershey Road.  

The original proposal called for 9-feet-tall panels, but after discussion with neighbors the amended plan calls for the shorter panels. Davison said they are no-glare and low-glare panels that face the church building.

Refinanced bonds

Also at the meeting, the council authorized the refinancing of some general obligation bonds from 2010. The refinancing of up to $2.1 million should result in savings of nearly $420,000 interest payments, said Normal finance chief Andrew Huhn.

He said the bond structure gives the town flexibility at a time when the market is good.

Council member Stan Nord said he’d prefer Normal simply pay off the $1.9 million debt from the Series 2010A bonds. However, several council members as well as town staff disagreed.

City Manager Pam Reece said the town expects to be in a position in summer 2022 to pay off $8 million in debt. 

In the current climate, with the pandemic, the Federal Reserve has created an extraordinary environment to allow municipalities to refinance, said Todd Krzyskowski, the town’s financial advisor. “In your case, you’re not extending your debt,” he said. “You’re locking in the savings, but keeping the capital,” he said. 

Council member Karyn Smith said Nord appeared to have some confusion about the structure of the bond. “During a pandemic, taking away our liquidity is not good,” she said. 

This allows the town to take advantage of a known low-interest option, while keeping its current terms and savings in place. Especially during the pandemic, that’s a sound financial decision, said Lorenz. 

Towanda Avenue bridge project

The council OK’d allocating an additional $550,000 to the Towanda Avenue bridge project. That is on top of the $379,000 previously set aside in February. 

The bridge crosses Sugar Creek at Vernon Avenue. During the Farnsworth Group’s design development, planners found extensive additional work would be needed, including expanded sidewalk and median repairs, a temporary support system required for certain concrete repairs, and more. 

The project’s total $930,000 cost will be paid from state motor fuel tax funds that are used for such road repairs, said Ryan Otto, Normal’s engineering director. Bids should go out this spring, with construction expected later this year, in the fall.

Work will be staged to maintain traffic flow, when possible. However, the bridge will be closed between 30 and45 days. And at times, the project also will require closure of the section of Constitution Trail that runs beneath the bridge, according to council materials.

Connect Transit report

Also Monday, the council heard from Connect Transit board chairman Ryan Whitehouse, who said that by March, the transit board expects to name both its new GM, as well as the final site for a new transportation center in Bloomington.

The board of Connect Transit, the Twin Cities' public bus system. includes appointees representing both Normal and Bloomington.Whitehouse reiterated many of the points he shared with the Bloomington City Council during its Jan. 11 meeting.

He said Connect’s $14.5 million operating budget got a boost last year thanks to nearly $20 million in federal and state grants, mostly earmarked for capital projects. He noted the COVID safety features in place to deal with the pandemic include no-fare rides through March, and masks required for drivers and riders.

He also outlined the negative impact the pandemic has had on ridership numbers, but noted with that figure still at roughly 1.7 million, it demonstrated  the city buses are a necessity for many of the people in the Twin Cities.

In other business, the council:

  • Agreed to refund about $215,000 to Central Illinois Regional Broadband Network (CIRBN). The network’s employees have been covered as town employees since 2014. But as of Jan. 1, they’ve transitioned back to CIRBN. The funds represent those employees' retirement plan contributions.
  • Waived the formal bidding process, and OK’d spending $60,000 to replace Dell Computer equipment.

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Michele Steinbacher is a WGLT correspondent. She joined the staff in 2020.
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