© 2023 WGLT
NPR from Illinois State University
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Normal Council Postpones One Normal Plaza Vote Again, OKs Biking/Walking Plan

Council members
The Normal Town Council met remotely Monday, Oct. 5, 2020.

Possible zoning changes for the One Normal Plaza area are on hold, with the Normal Town Council voting Monday to postpone hearings on the matter until COVID-restrictions loosen and allow in-person meetings.

Also at the remote meeting, the council approved the Bicycling and Pedestrian Master Plan update that revisits the original 2009 plan; authorized city administrators to apply for up to $2.1 million in federal reimbursements for Normal’s pandemic-related costs; and discussed alternatives to traditional Halloween trick-or-treating. 

One Normal Plaza

A proposed zoning amendment calls for One Normal Plaza to be divided into four areas, with related zoning rules for what can be located in each. However, the town’s process requires the Planning Commission to present its recommendation on the issue to the council prior to any vote. 

Monday’s unanimous vote specifies the hearing won’t convene until Gov. JB Pritzker returns the Twin City area to Phase 5 of the Restore Illinois Plan. The planning commission now is expected to table the issue, according to council documents.

A June 4 remotely held public hearing drew public comments both against and in favor of the zoning changes. The commission wanted to allow for more public comment, so planned to continue with an in-person hearing in July. However, it was postponed each of the last three months.

The proposed changes became a hot-button issue this summer when the possibility was floated to house a microbrewery in one of the subdivided areas of the Planned Unit Development (PUD). 

Council member Kevin McCarthy said postponing the hearing until Phase 5 rules, and sticking with the process at hand, would allow for a fair and open public forum.

“It allows for a very public process that is open and transparent for everybody,” McCarthy said.

“This is a process that has gotten garbled,” said council member Kathleen Lorenz, referring to the summer’s concern among neighborhood residents and ensuing talks with and emails to council members, rather than the planning commission. 

Council member Stan Nord suggested the council simply remove the language in the amendment that pertains to alcohol. But the consensus among other council members was to keep the process that already is underway, moving forward. 

Normal city attorney Brian Day noted the steps call for the planning commission to conduct fact-finding, and then present a recommendation to the council.

Mayor Chris Koos said he has opinions on the content of the zoning changes. But he didn’t think Monday night's vote and discussion was the time to address those. First, he wants to let the matter go through the public process, and then wait to hear planning’s recommendation.

“I’m keeping my mouth shut right now, and letting the planning commission do their job,” he said.

Biking and walking plan

The updated Bicycle and Pedestrian Master Plan, which the council unanimously approved Monday, addresses the safety and needs of all transportation users. But it focuses on creating an atmosphere where walking, biking and accessing transit is a safe, easy part of a daily routine, said Kevin Neal, a consultant with Alta Planning and Design.

Several public comments at the meeting’s start praised the plan, and urged the council to support it.

Laurel Schumacher, a retired local teacher who is an active runner, praised the quality of life in Normal and the master plan's vision for runners, cyclists and others.

She told the council, "the plan will only further serve to enrich and enhance our community." Runners like herself appreciate the safe and traffic-free space to enjoy sports, she said. 

Tim McCue, said he's been working with the steering committee since March. As someone who uses a wheelchair, McCue said he was particularly interested in the plan's approach to expanding accessibility. He praised Alta's effort to keep access a key part of the plan.

"This plan makes so many more resources in our community accessible to so many more people," he said.

Neal said he and a steering committee, made up of representatives from town government, Illinois State University, the Unit 5 School District, Friends of Constitution Trail and others, worked on the plan for more than a year. The plan will serve as a long term guide, using The Constitution Trail as the spine, and identifying other corridors, he said.

Koos said getting so much community involvement in the plan allowed the update to really reflect residents’ views. “It’s what people really wanted out of their trail system,” he said.

Early actions call for sidewalk repairs, public events supporting walking and biking, and taking a close look at trail crossings on busy roads. 

The plan recommends Normal update design standards for streets, sidewalks and trails, that it create a system to monitor and evaluate the biking/walking pathways usage, and that it develop communication and outreach strategies to encourage diverse groups within the community to participate.

Community feedback from a November open house, a spring online survey, and a fall review of the final draft brought views from about 500 people, Neal said, calling that kind of response impressive for a community of this size. 

Among the updated plans’ focus are connectivity, safety, equity, and quality of life, he said. The seven-chapter plan also provides sections on how to identify and pursue external funding, both public and private, for the cities walkways and bikeways, said Neal.. 

Town officials expect the plan to be updated in five to 10 years.

Federal aid

Also on Monday, the council authorized town administrators to apply for up to $2.1 million in pandemic-relief from the Local Coronavirus Urgent Remediation Emergency (Local CURE) Support program, a state-funded mechanism created to distribute federal coronavirus relief funding, including related grants.

City Manager Pam Reece told the council the vote allows the city to cast a wide net: “It’s for reimbursement," she said, but noted Monday's vote also authorized her staff to pursue other funding opportunities through the CURE program.

McCarthy noted that while the CURE program focuses on aid to municipalities, a separate federal program the The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act provides help to individual U.S. residents. The town’s website has information about that, he said.

In other business, the council:

  • Approved a 4-year contract with Normal’s firefighters’ union that calls for annual increases of 2.3%, and covers April 2020 to March 2024. That represents about $110,000 already allocated in the fiscal 20-21 annual budget. The most recent collective bargaining process with International Association of Firefighters Local 2442 began in February, but paused this spring due to the pandemic. In September, Normal and the union met again.
  • The pandemic has led to city officials, including Normal police, to discourage traditional trick-or-treating this Halloween. On Monday, the council discussed alternatives, including the Normal Parks and Recreation Department’s Candy Corn Lane that is scheduled for Oct. 9 and Oct. 16 at the One Normal Plaza campus. The cost is $5 per carload, and the socially distanced activity will feature a parade of costumed characters and candy bags for kids.

  • Reapproved a preliminary subdivision plan, for the North Bridge subdivision in northern Normal at the corner of Ziebarth and Pipeline roads. North Bridge has seen steady development since the town first OK’d the plan in 2000. However, the preliminary plan must seek re-approval every three years. Council member Scott Preston asked if the plans call for a park in the area, but Reece said at this point no park development is in the plan.
  • OK’d plans to build a new structure for storing road salt. Normal will pay about $121,000 to Princeville-based Greenfield Contractors, LLC, to build a modern salt storage structure at Normal Public Works, 1301 Warriner Street. The project should be completed by December. The older salt dome, built in 1983, still will be used for overflow storage. The town uses about 3,200 tons of salt each winter to de-ice roads.
  • Announced winning bids for a variety of water treatment chemicals to be used during the next year. If usage is similar to the past year, the combined chemicals will cost about 4.7% more than the previous year, according to council documents.
  • Appointed R.C. McBride to the Normal Planning Commission, for a term that expires March 2021. Nord opposed the appointment. The seat opened up when commissioner Tejas Jani stepped down because he was relocating. McBride formerly served on the town's planning commission from 2006-2015, and on the council from 2015-2019. As a matter of disclosure, McBride also is general manager for WGLT and WCBU.

WGLT depends on financial support from users to bring you stories and interviews like this one. As someone who values experienced, knowledgeable, and award-winning journalists covering meaningful stories in central Illinois, please consider making a contribution.

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