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City Council Approves Creation of City of Peoria Land Bank

Robert Lawton
Wikimedia Commons

The Peoria City Council on Tuesday approved an ordinance establishing a city-managed land bank, a tool that assistant director of community development Joe Dulin said directly addresses the issue of neighborhood blight.

“The main benefit that it will have in the community is really focusing additional attention on vacant and abandoned property in the city of Peoria,” said Dulin.

That focus will come with the creation of a land bank board that will include neighborhood residents and by re-establishing a land manager at the city. The city could potentially fund that position with a grant from the Illinois Housing Development Authority (IHDA) that approached the City of Peoria to launch a pilot program to establish the first city-managed land bank in the state of Illinois.

At-large council member John Kelly was the only "no" vote on the ordinance, saying the city could accomplish the same work without involving state government.

“We have not a very good economic situation in a lot of these neighborhoods and I think that’s what we should address, and a land bank with another big bureaucracy isn’t going to change much of anything,” said Kelly.

Council member Andre Allen voted in favor of the ordinance and said he sees no harm in exploring the land bank while funds are available.

“If it doesn’t work then we go back to what we’ve been doing today,” said Allen. “And so I’m excited to see what we can do with this. I think it brings some intentionality and some focus to addressing blight in our underserved communities and I will be in support of it.”

The city held a public meeting about the land bank earlier this month where some residents asked city staff to make the program as transparent and inclusive as possible.

First district council member Denise Jackson said land banks “can be very successful if the folks impacted by them are heard and at the table, and have input.”

Council approves CSO Remediation District, fees for residents

The council also approved the establishment of the Combined Sewer Overflow Remediation District and the residential fees that will help to fund the $109M in green infrastructure projects aimed at mitigating the overflow of sewage into the Illinois River.

The new fees go into effect in 2023 and gradually increase over the following years. A Peoria household with average water usage will pay the city around $20 in CSO fees by 2026.

These measures are part of a years-long negotiation with the U.S. EPA after it ordered the city to develop a long-term plan to lower combined sewage overflows to near zero.

Council member Denis Cyr balked at the projected balance of the CSO fund in the decades ahead. He said the accumulated funds went far beyond the initial cost of green infrastructure improvements. City Manager Patrick Urich explained that beyond the improvements, the city would be obligated to maintain the systems far into the future.

“I hear from council members all the time about ‘we need to be maintaining our roadways and our infrastructure that we have,’” said Urich. “This is how we’ll pay for that.”

Council member Chuck Grayeb said the price tag to meet the original requests by the EPA sat near a quarter-billion dollars.

“What we have here is a plan that costs half as much as what the EPA originally wanted to impose on us,” Said Grayeb, adding that the CSO plan will create “head of household, union jobs and clean up our shabby infrastructure.”

Council urges Pritzker to reinstate COVID-19 moratorium

In another matter, the council approved a resolution calling on Gov. JB Pritzker to reinstate the recently expired moratorium on utility shut-offs citing a continued need of those impacted financially by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Council members said a moratorium would allow the additional time needed for residents to access state and federal funds that have yet to be released.

On May 17, the IHDA will begin accepting applications for the 2021 Illinois Rental Payment Program that provides grants up to $25,000 to cover past-due rent resulting from financial hardship due to the pandemic.

Peoria-area residents who are struggling to meet basic needs are encouraged to call 2-1-1 for information and resources.

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Tory Dahlhoff is a freelance reporter based at WCBU. He's also the host of the food and farming podcast Food Trek.