Wedding venue zoning request tabled

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A request to rezone a barn wedding venue in the 1400 block of Centerville Road in rural Columbia and the five-acre land parcel it is on was tabled Monday by the Monroe County Board after two sides on the issue expressed their relative support and dislike for the plan.  

This request was first heard in August by the Monroe County Planning Commission and Zoning Board of Appeals.  

The planning commission voted 8-5 to deny the request. The zoning board voted 3-2 in its favor. That vote failed to meet the 75 percent majority requirement, however.

Venue owners Greg and Melinda Meyer came to the county commissioners Monday to request the board’s approval.

Robert Hawkins spoke for his mother, Kathy Hawkins, the owner of 200 acres of rural land surrounding the proposed venue.  Several citizens on both sides of the issue also attended and attorneys for the Meyers and Hawkins spoke as well. 

People opposed to the zoning request cited traffic growth, light and sound pollution as concerns that would directly impact the value of their property.  

The Meyers replied by detailing their evaluations of when the venue would be used, its impacts on traffic density and sound and light on surrounding property, as well as their willingness to comply with Illinois Department of Natural Resources requirements for handling parking area runoff and sewage.  

It was learned during this discussion that the Hawkins family is contemplating developing a subdivision on their surrounding property.

The request was tabled by commissioners and will be sent back to the planning commission and zoning board with an added special agricultural district use request stating the facility will be used strictly as a wedding venue.

Oak Hill report

Oak Hill Administrator Kim Keckritz said things are going well at the county’s senior care facility with excellent census figures through the first 10 months of fiscal 2019 and occupancy running well above national rates.

She added that revenues are continuing to exceed budget expenditures. New rates for the coming fiscal year are being developed as well, Keckritz said, citing comparable figures at similar facilities in the region.

Finally, she said Rachael Giffhorn has achieved qualifications as a certified nursing assistant trainer and will head up Oak Hill’s program to develop more of these medical service providers locally. Individuals desiring to become CNA qualified can become so while working at Oak Hill, and in return will be required to work there for one year to pay for the training.

Levee project update

Chuck Etwert, Chief Supervisor of Construction and Works for the Southwestern Illinois Flood Prevention District Council, requested board approval to refinance existing bonds being used to pay for repairing the Mississippi River levee system in Madison, St. Clair and Monroe counties. He was accompanied by Khalen Dwyer of Columbia Capital Municipal Advisors.

Etwert requested bonding authority to refinance an existing $70 million dollars in bonds and to issue an additional $35 million worth to complete rebuilding the levees to their designed levels of protection as built in the 1940s and 1950s. 

They said the interest rate on the bonds would drop from 4 percent to the 2.5 percent level and they would be paid off in the same time as previously planned in 2035. Dwyer said he anticipates no difficulty selling the new bonds due to the excellent credit rating of the project.

Etwert answered question about work to be completed, noting the levee system is now at 100-year flood protection, obviating FEMA threats to withdraw federal flood insurance. 

The added work will restore levees to 500-year flood protection. He said the work is focusing on stabilizing and strengthening the system to that level by working to control underseepage with added relief wells, enhanced pumping stations, clay caps and interior berms.  

He said this work should be completed in 3-5 years, with some added work also being carried out by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Other meeting notes

• Regional Office of Education Superintendent Kelton Davis presented his proposed budget for the coming year, with a request for $155,535. This is a reduction of $1,027 from last year’s amount. The ROE serves both Monroe and Randolph counties.

• Monroe County Engineer Aaron Metzger answered questions from commissioners about altering speed limits on county roads. Metzger said the county adheres to state statutes to determine safe speed limits on county roads, including traffic volume and such engineering factors as hills and curves, as well as road conditions. The commissioners directed Metzger to draft an ordinance stating this is how the county determines or alters speed limits on its roads.

• Chris Howell, who oversees controlling noxious weeds throughout the county, requested Monroe County Board Chairman Bob Elmore to sign a letter to the Illinois Department of Transportation noting significant amounts of Johnson grass and other noxious weeds along state rights of way throughout the county. The county is required by state law to control growth of such plants on county property and along county and road district roads, but does not have oversight of state roads. The letter was signed and will be forwarded to IDOT.

The next county board meeting is set for 8:15 a.m. Monday,  Nov. 4.  An agenda is published beforehand at monroecountyil.gov.

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