NORMAL – During a work session that preceded Monday’s regularly-scheduled Normal Town Council meeting and what she characterized as the first of a number of updates for Normal Town Council members City Manager Pam Reece and Town Finance Director Andrew Huhn mapped out for Council members

Huhn said the Town has been in contact with organizations such as Illinois Municipal League, National League of Cities, Gov. J. B. Pritzker’s office, and other sources in order to stay abreast of how the worldwide pandemic has affected many aspects of the State.

He said the Town, like the State, nation, and world have had to become familiar with new terms, such as social distancing, which businesses have needed to find ways to cope with in order to make sure folks stay at least six feet apart even while trying to conduct business. He reminded the impact of that vary depending on the industry a person works in.

Before the pandemic hit, and although “we are still closing the books on it right now,” Normal finds itself in a pretty good position, Huhn told Council members. He said the Town, thanks to the fiscal strategies it employed was in a good fiscal shape before the crisis enveloped the country.

He said the Town’s general fund is meeting the mandatory 15 percent set by Town Council members. He said the Town’s water and sewer fund was in good shape, as well. The only fund in need of some care, he said, is the Town’s health and dental fund, but Huhn was quick to remind that the Town “is in the process of resolving that.”

“Generally speaking, the Town has entered the economic impact of this stay at home order with what I characterize as a very strong balance sheet,” Huhn said.

Rivian Passes On Town’s $1 Million Grant Offer: Reece also announced during the session that Rivian Automotive opted not to take a $1 million grant offer from the Town, citing the COVID-19 pandemic’s effect on the Town.

Meeting’s Video Suffers Technical Issue: Viewers who tried to watch Monday’s Council meeting and the work session which preceded it on the Town’s website or its YouTube Channel, would have needed binoculars to get a full view of the session which lasted over 90 minutes. The culprit for the glitch was a system crash which undid settings used to show meetings at a full screen size, according to the Town’s director of innovation and technology.

Vasu Vgadhiraju explained the Town turns on the live stream equipment roughly 30 minutes prior to any meeting the Town is going to stream, giving potential viewers an opportunity to watch, and to make sure the streaming equipment is operating properly. Council meetings are live streamed on the Town’s website and on the Town’s YouTube page.

But roughly 10 minutes prior to Monday’s Council work session, the streaming system crashed. The result was either audio with no picture or audio with video barely as large as a postage stamp. As a result of the crash, Vgadhiraju said, settings for the channel changed. She said a fix at that time would require shutting it off completely and restarting it, and under the circumstances, with a video in progress, that solution wasn’t possible. The Town would not need to spend any money to reset the system, Vgadhiraju explained.

Zoning Amendment Approved For One Normal Plaza: Town staff have been giving some thought to how the Planned Urban Development known as One Normal Plaza should be utilized in relation to goals the Town has set for itself while attempting to keep the area, which was once the Illinois Soldiers’ And Sailors’ Children’s Home, relatively untouched. To do that, in part, Council members voted 6-1 for approving a text amendment zeroing in on permitted uses inside the property which the Town has overseen since 1990. Among the changes the Town would like to have are more restrictive uses in one area and more expanded uses other areas.

In a report prepared for Council members by Town Planner Mercy Davison, “all new construction must be extremely sensitive to the historic character of the existing buildings and the overall area, and new parking surfaces should be minimized in order to preserve the green spaces.” A second goal of the location, Davison wrote, would be that “the utilization of One Normal Plaza should support the Town’s goals of promoting Route 66. One Normal Plaza should become a place that attracts visitors, whether to visit businesses within the PUD or to experience the outdoor spaces and remarkable architecture.”

Town Staff canvassed residents and business owners at the property late last year on the matter, according to the report submitted by Davison. Council members voted 6-1 in favor of a motion to initiate a zoning text amendment regarding the property with Mayor Chris Koos, joined by Council Members Chemberly Cummings, Kevin McCarthy, Scott Preston, Karyn Smith, and Kathleen Lorenz voting to support the motion while Council Member Stan Nord voted in opposition.

As a result of the vote, the item will be put on the Normal Planning Commission’s June 4 meeting agenda to receive public comment, after which Town Staff will evaluate any responses and send the item back to the Town Council for approval, most likely by the governing body’s June 15 meeting.

Passing the measure, McCarthy told Council members, “is a really great step to show those who live out there that we’re listening and we care and it’s very interesting that the business owners out there were listening as well. I’m just excited about some future development out there.”

Nord explained his objections to the measure, first by saying, “what concerns me is the optics of this. Seems like we’re missing a step here. Zoning should go through the Town Planning Commission, which is what their function is. The optics that we’re skipping a step is not good. This should start at a lower level and they should recommend to us if this is worthwhile.”

Reece said if there was a concern centering around optics, this situation “is an opportunity for the Council to clarify that, then, because what we are, in fact doing, is initiating this into a public process. So this certainly becomes a very transparent process where we seek public input.”

Reece added Normal Planning Commission leads the public process before the item is returned to the Council for a vote, up or down, on it. She called the initial action “a very common step” with which to begin the process. Town Staff put in roughly 40 hours on such a process, which she categorized as “not unique.”

Lorenz, a former Normal Planning Commission member, informed Nord the beginning this item is taking “is not circumventing anything in the process. This is the beginning of the very transparent process that is beginning to start.”

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