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VG City Council discusses abandoned properties in town

The Villa Grove city council met on June 28, 2021 for their regularly scheduled monthly non-voting Committee of the Whole meeting, with all aldermen, plus City Clerk Osborne, Administrator Athey, Public Works director Lake and Police Chief Rea in attendance. 

After the Pledge of Allegiance, mayor Eversole Gunter called for public comments and Mike Beesley was on hand to discuss a variance in an ordinance prohibiting the use of sliding doors on garages and sheds in the city limits. When queried by Alderman Garrett about whether any of his neighbors had any objections, Beesley noted that he had polled at least six of the houses neighboring his and found no one who objected to the building. After further discussion, during which it was noted that the structure would be located at the end of a dead-end street, a consensus was reached which would give permission for him to proceed. However, City Attorney Mark Miller, on hand for another issue, noted that the city was required to post public notice for three weeks about the proposed ordinance variance, and therefore it would not be able to formally vote to give the variance until the August meeting, though all were in agreement that it would almost certainly pass at that time.

Next, Mayor Eversole Gunter then called on administrator Athey to make her report. Athey stated that due to health-related issues, the office had been short staffed. She also stated that she had been given notice that the annual audit would begin on July 12, and that the community building construction project had been officially put out for bid.

The Public Works director had no items to report, and Chief Rea reported that the upkeep ordinance was being enforced on property owners. He also noted that there are 22 unoccupied homes in Villa Grove at this time.

* With that being said, the council then moved to the discussion of new business. 

Attorney Justin Brunner was on hand to discuss the status of property maintenance ordinances within the city. Alderman Pangburn raised the issue of potentially beginning the condemnation process on some of the abandoned homes in the worst condition. Brunner answered by saying that condemnation orders can only be used to get residents out of dilapidated buildings, and can’t be used to demolish property. He then noted that a property is considered abandoned if it is unoccupied for two years, and that even if the city were to gain possession of the property, demolition is an expensive proposition. He encouraged the city to continue to enforce ordinances on exterior issues. Brunner noted that there were incentive programs for homeowners to attain funds for fixing their property, but those probably wouldn’t help in this instance because nearly all properties in question are unoccupied.  There was further discussion of what the city could do, including finding volunteer groups to clean the exterior and yard of the abandoned structures and finding funds to pay for the yards to be maintained.

* Next, the board was informed that city officials must attend annual open meetings act training online, but that the website was currently not functioning, and Administrator Athey was to inform the council when it came back online. 

* The council then discussed the possibility of renting the “Zest for Life” Center, including pricing and whether alcohol could be brought into the structure. After a brief discussion, it was decided that the ordinances governing the use of city property should be reviewed for possible update.

* Mayor Eversole Gunter asked if there was any other business to discuss and Alderman Garrett mentioned that a representative for Loman-Ray insurance had asked to be allowed to provide a quote on liability insurance for the city. Administrator Athey mentioned that the city has many benefits that stem from their association with IML, where the insurance is currently being provided, but consensus was reached to allow the local business to provide a quote for services so that each could be compared side by side. Alderman Blaney then thanked Public Works director Lake and his employees for their rapid and professional response to the damage the recent high winds had done, especially for their assistance in clearing debris from the town’s roads.  Alderman Cheely then asked about repurposing the poles that are currently laying at Richman Park to provide lights for the basketball courts up town, and it was agreed that the idea had merit. 

* Finally, City Attorney Mark Miller was on hand to update the council on progress regarding the potential sale of city property.  He noted that a Champaign newspaper had failed to run a notice of property sale announcement in time for the city to move forward in July, pushing the issue back to the August meeting. He also noted that he will be putting together another fact sheet regarding the costs and benefits of keeping current utilities versus the sale of the same. 

Finding no other items, Alderman Hooker moved to adjourn at 7:44 p.m.

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