After adopting the Internal Property Maintenance Code (IPMC) during the previous meeting, the Hoopeston City Council moved forward with plans to better address the issue of vacant and dilapidated properties in the city Tuesday night.

The council approved an intergovernmental agreement between the city and the Central Illinois Land Bank outlining the roles of the land bank when it comes to working on properties in Hoopeston.

Central Illinois Land Bank Director Mike Davis said the agreement covers how the land bank will utilize abandonment petitions and what the conditions for abandonment are.

He said the conditions for abandonment are: two years back taxes and/or water shut-off.

“We’re only going to go after properties that are genuinely abandoned, there are no people living in that house, it’s an eyesore to the community,” Davis said. “Basically, the agreement is that the land bank will pay for legal costs.”

Davis said the legal process generally takes six months and the land bank will work with City Attorney Dave Wesner to move these petitions through the abandonment process.

“When we get title, if the properties are fit for demolition, we’ll demolish the properties,” he said. “If it’s at all possible to rehab properties that can be saved, we’ll do that as well.”

Davis said when title is obtained through the courts, the city would transfer the title to the land bank, the property would be demolished and then the vacant land could be sold.

He said this agreement would only be on a “as-needed” basis.

Davis said he was only bringing it to the council this week because he wants to file abandonment petitions on two properties in the city which meet the criteria he listed above.

The properties are 210 E. Washington St. and 520 E. Honeywell.

“They’ve both been flagged as a priority because they’re abandoned and the city would like to see the land bank demolish both of them,” he said.

Mayor Bill Crusinberry said the Washington Street property is located behind the old Sav-A-Lot store and was owned by the late Brian Suiter.

He said 520 E. Honeywell property is the burned out mansion.

“Those are two that have been high on our list to try and get something done,” he said.

Crusinberry said he’s been unable to get the previous owner of the mansion property to address the property’s condition.

He said the city has sent multiple certified letters to Suiter’s heirs, but they have come back refused.

Crusinberry said the city hoped that the heirs might just sign a quit-claim deed and allow the city to relieve them of any liability, but they haven’t wanted to communicate with the city.

Since they haven’t been able to come to an agreement with the heirs, Crusinberry said the abandonment petitions can be used to deal with the property.

He said the back of the Washington Street property is starting to collapse and there’s a fairly tall chimney that a neighbor is worried might damage his property should it collapse.

Crusinberry said the mansion property represents a public safety hazard as there’s not much to stop people from going in there and there has been a problem with squatters.

Alderwoman Lourdine Florek asked Davis if the land bank will retain ownership of the property once demolition is completed.

Davis said the city will have to approve any sales before any of the property the land bank works on is sold.

He said he’s big on transparency and making sure that any properties that are sold get into the hands of good owners.

Davis said any applicants who want to purchase any of the property the land bank has worked on have to fill out a form attesting to several items including: they don’t owe back taxes, they don’t have outstanding code violations, no recent bankruptcies or foreclosures.

“The whole point to this is really to just make sure that if a property was distressed or in bad shape, I don’t turn around and sell it to someone who isn’t going to take care of the property,” he said.

Davis said the hope is to utilize the abandonment petitions to deal with as many properties as possible in a timely manner.

The land bank will be demolishing four properties this summer, likely in June or July.

Davis said these properties were just ones that he was able to purchase through the Vermilion County Trustee.

“There’s a limit universe of properties I can purchase through the county trustee,” he said. “But there are more where the city wants to see action.”

If he can get the two properties he mentioned earlier through the abandonment process, Davis said he’ll move on to the next properties on the city’s priority list and spend down the grant money the city has access to for vacant and dilapidated properties.

Davis said these priorities are set by the city and the work that the land bank will do will be defined by the priorities the city sets.

Davis also reaffirmed that the abandonment process can be used to potentially rehabilitate vacant and dilapidated properties as well if feasible.

“The intention is not to demolish buildings,” he said. “It’s actually to get title and attempt to keep the property on the tax rolls and rehab it.”

Since the city has access to around $250,000 worth of grant money, Davis said they will likely do a mixture of both rehabs and demolitions.

He said they will likely focus on demolitions at the start, but he would love to find the right property and do a rehab project and sell the property to a first-time homebuyer.

Asked how quickly he might be able to address the two properties he mentioned earlier in the meeting, Davis said if he is able to get them through the process by October, he would reach out to developers for proposals and bids and try and get them taken down before the end of the year.

The council approved the intergovernmental agreement in a 7-0 vote.

In a related decision, the council also approved hiring Dave Biggerstaff as code-enforcement officer for the city.

Crusinberry said the city has a code enforcement officer who handles ordinance violations like junk in yards and tall grass violations.

He said Biggerstaff will be focused on bringing together all of the information needed to bring a property to court.

“This person will not be freelancing in Hoopeston,” Crusinberry said. “He will come here when we say we have a property we want the land bank to look at to see if it meets the criteria for abandonment. Basically, he will be an at-will, as-needed employee for the city of Hoopeston.”

Crusinberry said Biggerstaff will only be working on projects that the council has approved.

Davis said having someone to enforce the codes the city has adopted is key to the process of addressing these properties.

He said Biggerstaff will collect the information that is needed to bring a property to court and work it through the abandonment process.

“Dave isn’t going to be out there to issue tall weeds and grass violations,” he said. “That’s not his wheelhouse. What he’s going to be focused on are buildings.”

Davis said Biggerstaff will work off the city’s priority list when it comes to properties that need to be addressed.

The council approved hiring Biggerstaff in a 6-1 vote with Florek voting no.

In other business, the council approved a recommendation from the city’s planning commission to rezone a parcel of land on Route 9 for the building of a second Dollar General store in Hoopeston.

Crusinberry said the commission asked an engineer who has been working on the land questions during the meeting and the only concern was related to traffic flow coming over the hill on Second Avenue.

Crusinberry said he didn’t see how that would cause any more of a problem than people stopped at the railroad tracks.

He said the engineer informed the commission that the Illinois Department of Transportation will look at the site before they put an entryway into a new store.

Crusinberry said the parcel of land was previously zoned for heavy industrial when Joan of Arc owned it.

Crusinberry recommended the rezone it to B1 commercial and the commission approved.

He said this is the final step before site development can commence, which could start this summer.

Asked if Dollar General had approached the city about any kind of incentives for opening another store in the city, Crusinberry said the city hadn’t heard anything from Dollar General about any incentives.

Crusinberry said they did ask about obtaining a package liquor license, which would be for beer and wine only.

The council approved the zoning commission’s recommendation 7-0. Alderman Bill McElhaney was absent.

In other business:

- The council approved the 2021-22 budget.

The budget has a general income of $2,330,793 with total costs of $2,325,508.

Goodwine said the city expects to receive $300,000 in federal funds related to COVID-19 relief.

He said these funds will be used to pay for various one-time expenses around the city departments.

- Crusinberry read a request from Charlene Ervin seeking volunteers to help clean the headstones of veterans at Floral Hill Cemetery. Volunteers must provide their own gloves and buckets. The Ervins will provide the cleaner. Anyone interested in helping can email Ervin at cse4@frontier.com.

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