By Steve Robinson | May 4, 2021 - 1:48 pm
Posted in Category: Normal Town Council, The Normalite

NORMAL – Normal Town Council members unanimously approved three ordinances and one resolution related to a request by Rivian Automotive to expand its facility located on the Town’s west side. The first item Council members approved by a unanimous vote was an ordinance reducing the levy of the 2020 property tax for electric automaker in accordance with the Town’s 2016 economic incentive agreement.

The abatement Normal provides the automaker was part of its development agreement with the company and has contributed over $300 million in investments by Rivian as well as 1,000 new full-time jobs, according to a memo provided Council members by Town Finance Director Andrew Huhn.

The abatement will result in the Town estimating a reduction in property tax revenue in the coming fiscal year of $103,150. Huhn’s report said that loss of funds will have an impact on two of its funds – its general fund by $72,500 and the library fund by $30,650.

Patrick Hoban, chief executive officer of Bloomington-Normal Economic Development Council, informed Council members Rivian submits to that Council information concerning information on investments the company has become involved in as well as the number of employees hired and proof of the wages it pays employees. Hoban said, to date, Rivian has exceeded the figures not just for the current fiscal year but for the upcoming fiscal year, as well.

Next, Council members unanimously voted to approve a resolution conditionally approving an amended site plan for the property located at 100 N. Rivian Motorway for a new access road to College Ave. The new entrance would align with the driveway to its property at 2601 W. College Ave. Council Member Stan Nord wondered if the cost of the new entryway which would be used exclusively by the company would be repaid back to the Town.

Town Engineer Ryan Otto told Nord the new entrance would allow Rivian to have direct access from its warehouse on the south side of College Ave. to its manufacturing plant. He said the company would have to submit a traffic analysis report to the Town before construction for the new entrance would be considered.

Council Member Kathleen Lorenz took issue, however, with the notion of the Town looking to recoup its money from the automaker in order to complete the road it wants to add for access to its plant. Calling the notion of looking to get money back “such a slap in the face” to Rivian, she said, “Our job as a municipality is to provide, you know, roads and access to businesses and residential neighborhoods. This is what we do.”

Council members then voted unanimously to approve an ordinance annexing 380 acres of land west of the auto plant for its use. The land is currently zoned as agriculture. The company sought it to be rezoned as M-2 General Manufacturing. Changing the zoning would permit the company to expand its industrial uses.

Council members voted unanimously to approve an ordinance rezoning property at 419 Rivian Motorway and 320 acres surrounding that property which is primarily agricultural. The vote reassigns the land from Agricultural to M-2 General Manufacturing. Normal Planning Commission members voted 6-0 to recommend rezoning of 320 acres to the east of the plant from Agricultural to the new classification. Reece said Rivian officials were seeking to add such property to the Town of Normal by seeking the rezoning. She said if approved, Rivian would be included into the Town’s corporate boundaries.

But Nord expressed concerns over costs incurred for extending sewer service. Reece reminded the Town was simply adding land to the Town by annexing it. She said no annexation agreement was necessary in this instance. She added any issues concerning extending sewer service to Rivian would be brought before the Council.

Reece said Rivian officials have not expressed how or when they will use the newly annexed land, that they were simply asking the Town to approve its annexation for future use.

Lorenz said she didn’t want Council members to lose sight of the fact “there is a business here in town that wants to grow. They aren’t doing this out of the kindness of their heart, but because they have plans to use it.” She added while the plans for the automaker might not be immediate, “they are looking out five or 10 years.”

Council Member Chemberly Cummings added all Rivian is seeking is Council approval to make the parcel of land they have to become part of the Town of Normal.

Greystone Fields Preliminary Subdivision Plan Approved: Council members voted unanimously to approve a resolution giving re-approval to the preliminary subdivision plan for Greystone Fields Subdivision located just east of Normal Community West High School. Greg Troemel, Director of Inspections for the Town told Council members a slowdown in residential construction related to economic conditions in recent years was the culprit for no recent construction of new homes on the property.

As a result, the preliminary subdivision plan expired due to no activity and require being renewed for construction to expand the housing in the subdivision to resume. Troemel explained there had been no construction activity on the property for the past three years. Council’s approval of the preliminary subdivision plan was necessary for construction activity to resume.

When the homes are finished, considering the time that has gone by since construction last took place, in response to a question from Council Member Karyn Smith, Troemel said he believes the homes would be marketed at prices around “the low $200,000s range.”

Council members then voted unanimously approving a related resolution which would conditionally approve the final plat for Greystone Fields Subdivision 2nd addition located on Parkside Rd.

Omnibus Agenda Items Approved: Omnibus agenda items approved by the Council included:

• Approval of minutes of the Regular Meeting of April 19, 2021.

• Approval of Town of Normal expenditures for payment as of April 28, 2021.

• Report to receive and file Town of Normal expenditures for payment as of April 28, 2021.

• A resolution authorizing execution of a lease agreement with Illinois House of Representatives, by its agent, Illinois State Representative 105th District, Dan Brady and with the U. S. House of Representatives by its agent, Rep. Rodney Davis.

• A resolution to accept bids and award a contract to Pontiac, Ill.-based H. J. Eppel & Co., Inc. for the 2021 general street resurfacing project in the amount of $1,119,265.70.

• A resolution waiving the bid requirements and authorizing the purchase of a Ford F-350 truck equipped with a Perkins 8-Y yard satellite refuse body from St. Louis-based Key Equipment & Supply Co.

• A resolution authorizing the filing of the Town of Normal’s Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) Action Plan for program year 2021-2022.

By Steve Robinson | May 2, 2021 - 10:04 pm
Posted in Category: The Normalite

BLOOMINGTON – The aircraft flew as any other would – buzzing past Illinois State University’s quad and Uptown Normal, giving its passengers a bird’s eye view of Illinois Wesleyan University’s Tucci Stadium, and the Shoppes At College Hills, State Farm’s corporate headquarters, Eastland Mall, and assorted vehicles moving along Veteran’s Parkway. But it wasn’t a modern aircraft by today’s standards. For openers, in addition to no overhead compartments, it only sat 12 people.

While that doesn’t sound like an aircraft people would be accustomed to these days, flight enthusiasts received the chance to step back in time Friday at a hangar near the Prairie Aviation Museum near Central Illinois Regional Airport thanks to Oshkosh, Wis.-based Experimental Aviation Administration. EAA and the Museum arranged for a 12-seat 1928 Ford Tri-Motor airplane to come to town to give flight historians and others curious about such aircraft the chance to see and even take a short trip in the aircraft.

“It’s a beautiful plane, that’s for sure,” Bloomington resident Loren Leiseberg said. He added his curiosity of it and the beauty of the plane drew him to come out to see it. “I kind of like older things like that and antiques and art deco type things. This plane is just beautiful.”

On the inside, Leiseberg added, he admired its features which included an all-wood interior, art deco lamps, and the uphill slant passengers needed to adhere to getting to their seats once they climbed aboard. Powered by an original Pratt & Whitney Wasps 420 horsepower engine, and a cabin length of 18 feet 9 inches with a single seat on either side of the aisle, and small overhead lamps at each seat, it must have made those who took the trip nostalgic to think about grandparents taking such flights. The plane’s wingspan is 77 1/2 feet.

It wasn’t just older folks who had curiosity about the plane, either. Zachary Slater, 19, said he has been interested in planes since he was a child and came with his grandparents, Cole and Cherie Slater to check it out, too. “I’ve been interested since I was a little boy and I have seen this plane for what feels like half my life. I’m into old airplanes. They are my favorite planes of all because I love how they handle.”

Zachary wasn’t the only young person for whom there was a curiosity about the vintage aircraft. Hannah Holmes, a senior at Bloomington High School, joined her father, Tom Holmes for the trip, too.

“This Ford Tri-Motor, if you’re an enthusiast, is just a great plane to see,” Tom Holmes stated. “It’s a real piece of nostalgia that runs real well, and to be able to ride on that plane is something else, and I’m really looking forward to it.” He added he is an enthusiast who used to fly when he was younger, and once you have flown, he explained, “It gets in your blood.”

“Any enthusiast likes the earliest planes and the Ford Tri-Motor was a more luxurious plane for its time,” Holmes said. “What I like about it versus the modern era is it has big engines. Each engine is like 9 Harley Davison engines on one engine. And this has three engines, so that’s 27 Harleys, so you can feel the sound go right through you, and for a flight enthusiast, that’s a real exciting thing,” he said with a chuckle.

Hannah herself got a front row seat for the flight, boarding and walking the uphill aisle to the seat in the cockpit right next to the trip’s pilot and Chenoa resident Bill Thackery. When asked after the flight if she would like to be a pilot someday after sitting in a cockpit, she smiled and said, “Now I do, definitely.” She said the view of the area from that vantage point “was amazing.”

She will soon attend University of Wisconsin where she wants to major in biomedical engineering. She added if she leans toward the engineering angle of her degree once she graduates, she could be involved in how planes are built. The biomedical aspect of the degree has to do with things related to creating prosthetic devices, she explained.

When Thackery, who first flew a plane at age 16 isn’t piloting such trips in nostalgic aircraft on a volunteer basis for EAA, he said he’s a commercial pilot who will soon be retiring. His regular job has him in the cockpit at the controls of a Boeing 787 Dreamliner Wide-body twin-engine jet airliner.

He isn’t the only pilot in the family, either, as his wife, Janice, and their two children are also pilots.

Thackery said he is a member of EAA’s Air Tour Team which takes planes like the Ford Tri-Motor and others like World War II-era B-17s and B-25s around the country, letting folks see them for themselves.

He said his background includes a love of old airplanes which gave him a chance to fly aircraft like DC-3s when the Prairie Aviation Museum had one here. With previous experience with older aircraft, he said he learned to fly aircraft similar to the Ford Tri-Motor “without a lot of additional training.”

He added that once he retires from being a commercial pilot, that will give him more time to fly planes like the Ford Tri-Motor more, helping curious aircraft enthusiasts learn more about vintage aircraft.

Thackery said his love of aviation began as a child building airplane models and hanging them from his bedroom ceiling in his native Ohio. He said when he came of age in the 1970s, that decade saw people with an increased interest in people who wanted to learn to fly. “People don’t realize how many people learned to fly in that decade.” He said presently, though, a shortage of pilots is in progress.

Thackery said he considers himself “blessed” by the tools he gets to use in his vocation and his volunteer work. “I marvel at both of them,” he said. “I get to fly the latest, hottest, newest airplane that’s being produced right now, and I get to fly the first airplane that was produced to be an airliner. I’m pretty lucky and I think about that whenever I get into either one of these cockpits.”