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Washington unveils plan to add to public parking inventory around the downtown square

Washington City Council members Brett Adams (center) and Mike Brownfield listen as council member Lili Stevens asks a question during Monday's meeting
Steve Stein
Washington City Council members Brett Adams (center) and Mike Brownfield listen as council member Lili Stevens asks a question during Monday's meeting

More public parking could be coming to the area around the downtown Washington square.

That's welcome news for those who believe there isn't enough nearby public parking for businesses and offices on the square, especially with the expected opening later this year of the Grist Mill restaurant and its accompanying event space.

Washington City Council members Monday discussed plans by the city to purchase an approximately 40-space parking lot at 105 S. High St. and the rear half of a property at 107 S. High St. that is vacant and behind a single-family home.

The approximately 12,300-square-foot parking lot would become a public lot, said Jon Oliphant, the city's planning and development director.

While the approximately 6,400-square foot vacant lot could be transformed into about 15 parking spaces, Oliphant said, there are no immediate plans to do that.

Work needs to be done first in the parking lot.

"Reconstruction is needed," Oliphant said, noting, among other issues, the parking space striping has worn off. He said the lot probably will have a few less than 40 spaces when work is completed.

Water runoff issues in both the parking lot and vacant lot also must be addressed by the city.

Both properties the city wants to purchase are owned by Francis Boley. The city would pay him $72,000 for the parking lot at 105 S. High and $23,000 for the vacant lot at 107 S. High. Boley also owns the home at 107 S. High.

This map shows the locations of the two properties the city of Washington wants to purchase to add public parking close to the downtown square.
City of Washington
This map shows the locations of the two properties the city of Washington wants to purchase to add public parking close to the downtown square.

In a separate but related transaction, Boley plans to sell the building at 104 S. Elm St., on the southwest corner of Elm and Walnut Street, to Cana Lutheran Church, which holds its services there.

As part of the sale, the church wants the parking lot at 105 S. High to be available from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. Sundays for church service attendees. The church could place signage in the lot at its expense expressing that request.

The church parking agreement was the subject of a council discussion, with attorney Jay Scholl from the Davis & Campbell law firm of Peoria addressing concerns when he said vehicles in the lot not driven by someone attending a Cana Lutheran service during those Sunday hours will not be ticketed or towed.

"The church just wants to make sure the property (at 105 S. High) remains a parking lot as long as it holds services in that building (at 104 S. Elm)," Scholl said.

Scholl represented the city in negotiations with Boley because city attorney Derek Schryer from Davis & Campbell is a member of Cana Lutheran.

Money for the 105 S. High purchase would come from the city's TIF fund, but money for the 107 S. High purchase would need to come from the city's general fund because that property is not in the TIF district.

The council will vote Feb. 19 on the purchases.

Emails sent to council members' personal accounts investigated

A contentious years-long council debate over the location of a replacement for the Farm Creek sewer trunkline took another twist Monday.

An October Freedom of Information Act request from Washington resident Joe Arnold uncovered several emails from members of the Pudik family, which opposes the proposed location of the trunkline and is advocating for a different location, to the personal email accounts of council members Brett Adams, John Blundy, Mike McIntyre and Lili Stevens.

Arnold is the son-in-law of a property owner who would be impacted by the placement of the trunkline that the Pudik family recommends.

City Administrator Jim Snider said Monday he brought in the Jackson Lewis law firm from St. Louis to conduct an independent investigation of the emails from the Pudik family to the council members' personal accounts.

In a memorandum dated Friday, investigator Contessa Brundridge said a careful review of the emails revealed "a quorum was never created, and nothing was discussed that appears to violate the law."

But she said emails about public business sent to an elected official's personal email account are subject to FOIA requests, according to case law, and should have been forwarded to city accounts prior to Arnold's FOIA request.

"While no crimes were committed, I hope it's clear now that only city email accounts should be used for city business and I've asked the council members involved in the investigation to take additional FOIA training to protect both themselves and the city," Snider said.

Council member Brian Butler, who favors the proposed trunkline location, was critical of the content of the Pudik family's emails, saying they were efforts to sway votes and "coach" council members about what to say at meetings, and the decisions of city staff members were disparaged.

Mike Brownfield, another council member who favors the proposed trunkline location, urged Washington residents to read the emails, which are posted with the meeting agenda on the city's website, and decide for themselves if they believe they are appropriate.

Park district request for a break on city water costs at the Washington Park Pool is back on the table

Several months ago, the council rejected a request by the Washington Park District for the city to charge only the city's cost for water for the Washington Park Pool.

Park District Executive Director Brian Tibbs was not at that meeting because of a personal commitment. Council voted 7-1 Monday to discuss the park district request again, with Tibbs in attendance, at next Monday's committee of the whole meeting.

Council member Jamie Smith said at the Jan.16 meeting that residents had asked her about the park district request in reaction to the council's Jan. 2 decision to relieve Five Points Washington of its obligation to pay the remaining $600,000 of the $1.25 million it owes the city in annual payments.

A major reason why Five Points officials made the reduced funding request is the anticipated $1.1 million it needs to spend in the next few years for infrastructure improvements in the aquatics center.

Brownfield voted against the holding the discussion with Tibbs at the committee of the whole meeting, saying if the park district request is approved, it could open the floodgates for residents asking for similar cost reduction for water for their pools.

Ledgestone Open receives a $2,500 Washington tourism grant

In his regular report to the council, Oliphant said city staff approved a $2,500 tourism grant request from organizers of the 14th annual Ledgestone Open disc golf tournament, which will be played Aug. 1-4 at 15 courses throughout the area, including Washington Park.

About 2,500 disc golfers from around the world are expected to compete in the sport's largest tournament and create a "significant regional economic impact" including 3,000 room nights, Oliphant said.

Steve Stein is an award-winning news and sports writer and editor. Most recently, he covered Tazewell County communities for the Peoria Journal Star for 18 years.