Category Archives: Wall of Shame

Who owns that blighted property? Good luck with that!

Titled “Anonymous Owner, L.L.C.: Why It Has Become So Easy to Hide in the Housing Market”, this article by the NYT explains how blighted property owners can hide from cities, neighbors, and tenants. Neighbors of dilapidated rental property in Springfield are plenty familiar with the fact of unknown property owners, which can be used to avoid being held accountable for deteriorating property and troublesome tenants.

Excerpts from the article:

L.L.C.s shield property owners from personal liability while obscuring their identities. In some cases, so much anonymity also enables money laundering, and it can mean that tenants struggle to hold landlords accountable, that cities fail to fix blight and that researchers can’t answer basic questions about the housing market.

Because one unidentified buyer could be behind many L.L.C.s, it’s hard to know who is acquiring the most property, or which property owners are behind the most code violations or the most evictions. That makes it impossible for city officials to aim scarce resources at the most problematic owners. And it makes it hard for researchers to know, for example, if property has become concentrated among fewer owners.

L.L.C.s are required to list a registered agent who can receive legal and government notifications, but they’re often not required to name the people who financially benefit from the investments.

Read the full story at…

Council denies public input to all development projects under 12 acres

On Tuesday, May 16, the Springfield City Council voted to radically alter the definition of Large Scale Development to only include projects over 12 acres in size (previously the definition was any project over 1/2 acres involving 2 or more buildings, and any project over 5 acres regardless of how many buildings.)

The council vote effectively shuts out ALL public input to ALL projects up to 12 acres that do not require a zoning change – projects that could negatively impact quality of life and property values for nearby residents.

Ward 1 Alderman Chuck Redpath led the extreme change to the Large Scale Development trigger from 5 to 12 acres. The change was unknown to the public prior to the Committee of the Whole meeting on May 9. It was delivered towards the end of a lengthy 3 hour meeting with over 40 ordinances covering many significant issues. Redpath’s amendment reversing more that 40 years of “Large Scale” practice was made without hearing from any subject matter experts and without hearing from neighborhood associations – the only voices at the table were developers. At final passage barely 1 week later on May 16, 4 amendments were debated – of which the public had no prior knowledge.

Aldermen brushed aside concerns that new projects between 1/2 acre and 12 acres would no longer have city streets financially upgraded at the developer’s expense.  This potentially has the impact of making the City pay for street upgrades currently funded by developers.   This is because the so-called “Developer’s Agreement”, the Adjacent Substandard Roadway Agreement, is tied to the definition of Large Scale Development and requires developers to pay to upgrade substandard streets that are impacted by additional traffic caused by their developments and/or to provide letters of credit for future changes required by their development.

Aldermen initially approved an amendment proposed by the Mayor that would have considered multi-family dwellings and storage facilities as Large Scale Development, but Redpath also successfully proposed re-voting to remove even that limited requirement.

Do it Right?

Even though the Mayor and four aldermen expressed concern about the impact and the speed of the change, alderman were unwilling to consider the Mayor’s request to slow down and “do it right”. We thank Ward 7 Alderman Joe McMenamin for his “no” vote on this issue.

The city is currently updating it’s Comprehensive Plan, which specifies the preferred development for various areas of the city and which informs Regional Planning when recommending approval or denial of zoning changes. Waiting for that to be finalized and using the results to inform a decision on development would have been a forward-thinking move.

The city planners we talked with about this change were opposed and offered observations / suggestions:

  1. While it is true nearby cities do not have this particular process in place, our Central Illinois peer cities cities DO have robust planning departments which review for the same content as the Land Subdivision and large scale development committee does here in Springfield. Eliminating this review would eliminate the only effective planning process we currently have.
  2. If there is a desire to streamline this process, then there is a series of recommendations from an already-convened Chamber of Commerce advisory sub-committee which could help guide those decisions. This group is comprised of architects, engineers, and developers who have in fact discussed this very issue and produced several recommendations to address this process. It seems that this group of professionals may be able to offer more objective opinions of the process and how it could be improved without being gutted. It would not be difficult for the aldermen to request those recommendations from the Chamber and review those for potential implementation.

Long Term Negative Consequences

The most important negative consequence is removal of public input to the process for all development projects up to 12 acres. Neighborhood and residents will be denied the ability to oppose changes that could negatively affect our quality of life and property values – with NO opportunity to raise concerns that have recently resulted in changes requested by neighbors under the Large Scale Development process. This opens the door to strip malls, apartment complexes, storage facilities, industrial uses, commercial uses (including those with a history of problems within the city) and even WalMart stores without the opportunity for neighbors to weigh in on the potentially negative impact to them.

History of neighbor objections to developer projects

Developer Corky Joiner repeatedly addressed the council Tuesday night promoting the change. Joyner’s Cobblestone Estates development has been the target of neighbors who requested changes to the development through the Large Scale Development process & the city council. Although the Cobblestone project involved a zoning change, there are multiple projects that won’t – and those would be approved without a word of public input.

In an article on May 14 in the SJ-R, Cobblestone Estates Homeowners Association member Roger Kanerva said he and some neighbors successfully lobbied against a proposal to build a Wal-Mart between Archer Elevator and Meadowbrook roads 10 years ago. More recently, the association fought construction of 12 three-story apartment buildings backed by Joiner at the same site. “We presented written objections and testimony all the way through the process, and (the council) gave Joyner what he wanted.” Still, it was important for residents to have a voice in the process. “We didn’t win, but we got come conditions put on to keep it from being totally ridiculous”, he said, citing concessions over parking requirements and the height of new buildings. Kanerva warns that by changing the rules for large-scale developments, it reduces the opportunity for residents to have their concerns heard, as he and his neighbors did, saying “The aldermen and the city need to be accountable to the people that have got to live with this stuff.”

Homeowners’ group challenges city zoning decision on west-side apartment complex… (7/27/2015)

West side homeowner group continues to fight against apartments (3/15/2015)

Letter to the Editor: Residents will fight west-side apartments (11/9/2012)

Excerpt: The residents are understandably upset with this change of plans for this area and the potential adverse impacts on property values and the neighborhood. The residents expressed their concerns to the city Planning and Zoning Commission and the city council in a responsible manner. One can expect the residents to continue their resistance to this unfortunate development proposal.

In ICON’s remarks to the council opposing this change, we stated our concern over the urban sprawl that indefinitely commits limited tax dollars to service an ever-expanding city footprint – funds that are spread thin for infrastructure (streets, water, sewer, electric), police & fire services, yard waste and limbs and snow removal. Other cities are actively working to limit the effects of sprawl – quantifying the long term cost of sprawl vs. expected tax revenue. Because public school District 186 has been allowed to become landlocked, large developments on the outskirts of town no longer benefit the local school district. Finally, large scale development on open ground on the periphery of the city fails to redevelop vacant property in the city core.

ICON is not against development, but we are against development that potentially harms our city and our neighborhoods. We believe there are better ways to support development other than eliminating public input.

Why the Change?

Local developers claim the Large Scale Development process, which brings all parties together to review plans at a public meeting before going before the city council for approval, takes too long.  Out of town developers have stated the process is efficient and is what is expected in implementing new developments. In this process, the public has 2 opportunities for input, even if the project requires NO zoning or technical changes. Current (not Large Scale Development) projects that are less than 1/2 acre (for 2 or more principle structures) OR less than 5 acres (for 1 structure) still need to meet all technical and zoning requirements, but do not need any public or aldermanic oversight before proceeding.

When ICON attends neighborhood development conferences, we hear stories about Illinois city councils that are doing creative things with city planning, public / private partnerships, funding, affordable / energy efficient residential development. By doing this, they are successfully wooing & attracting quality development to their cities – and the residents, workers and businesses who want to be in successful and forward-thinking cities and who support positive growth.

 From the WalMart article linked to above, “One lesson learned from Walmart’s urban debut is that cities that want good design are going to have to demand it.”



Springfield ICON: Oppose change to Large Scale Development planning

The Springfield ICON Steering Committee wants you to know you can do something TODAY to limit urban sprawl, to support city planning, and to avoid having your city taxes spread over an even-larger area, which reduces funds for existing neighborhoods for infrastructure, police, fire, leaf & branch pickup, and snow removal.

Tonight, on May 16, the Springfield City Council will debate an extreme increase in the size of “Large Scale Developments”. Large Scale Developments currently undergo an efficient planning process. That process includes a public meeting with every entity involved in approval of developments. Then the development goes to the City Council for approval. This allows the public and aldermen to have input into larger developments that may negatively affect neighborhoods & property values – and to speak against the urban sprawl that stretches an already-tight city budget across more area long into the future.

This change would allow much larger developments to avoid coordinated planning and oversight by aldermen and by the public. 
PLEASE call or email your alderman BEFORE the city council meeting on Tuesday May 16 to voice your opposition to this  change.
“I oppose increasing the size definition of Large Scale Developments.”

Find your alderman’s contact information…
Find out which ward you live in…
(12 mb .pdf – click + to zoom in and read streets)

Read the SJ-R article on this ordinance…

Harvard Park Alley Clean Up

Just from the alleys in Harvard Park. Great workers in Harvard Park Friday afternoon and Saturday morning clearing out bulky items and “abandoned” garbage from the alleys.


Harvard Park alley cleanup, April, 2016

Wonderful workers from City Public Works will pick up and dispose of.

Waste haulers are not being required to “DO YOUR JOB!”  If so, this pile of waste from alleys would be one-twentieth in size. The FULL removal of garbage and bulky items from the alleys behind residences should be in the waste haulers’ contracts with the City. Failure of homeowners (this includes LANDLORDS who rent out the homes they own) to pay for garbage and waste pick up should result in fines that are levied AND collected.  All residents must show proof of paid waste collection.

Let’s take PRIDE in our homes, neighborhoods, the City we live in!
Demand comprehensive, effective and thorough waste management!!

SPRINGFIELD, IL:  The Most Beautiful State Capitol in the Nation. Let’s make that our goal!!

City Budget Razes Demolition Efforts

We’re disappointed that the proposed City of Springfield budget will not match 2014 funds for demolishing Springfield’s worst properties.  While we applaud the increased number of properties demolished in the past 4 years, there’s more work to do.  With a backlog of properties waiting to be torn down, older Springfield neighborhood residents still live next to and suffer reduced property values because of abandoned, neglected and hazardous properties.

From Dec 20 SJ-R:

One of the ongoing initiatives that isn’t seeing as much funding in the proposed budget is building demolitions, something Houston called “close to my heart.”

There is $415,000 in the budget proposal for demolitions, which is less than it’s been in the past because the public works department has more pressing software needs due to an outdated system. That pushed building demolitions down the priority list. Houston said he hopes there’s an opportunity for a supplemental appropriation for building demolitions in the coming year.

The mayor included $500,000 in last year’s budget proposal for demolitions, but the total increased throughout the year to more than $800,000 with supplemental funding. This winter alone, the department plans to demolish 100 structures in the city.

Read more at the SJ-R:

Springfield Budget Meetings Begin Wednesday…

Mayor Houston: City’s spending plan is ‘most difficult’ yet…

What can you do to help?

  • Please call or email your alderman and express support for older neighborhoods and specifically for full funding to demolish properties still on the demolition list.
  • Attend a City budget meeting – the schedule:
    • Jan 7 – 5:30 p.m. Budgets for city treasurer, clerk, city council, Lincoln Library, planning and economic development
    • Jan. 13 – Immediately following the 5:30 p.m. committee of the whole meeting. Budgets for the convention and visitors bureau, human resources and public works.
    • Jan. 15 – 5:30 p.m. Budget for City Water, Light and Power
    • Jan. 20 – Immediately following the 5:30 p.m. city council meeting. Budgets for police and fire departments
    • Jan. 22 – 5:30 p.m. Budgets for mayor’s office, budget and management
  • Get educated – attend ICON’s Aldermanic forum on Monday January 26, 6:30pm at the Dove Center.
  • Get involved – join ICON and/or your neighborhood association!



Crime-Free Housing Ordinances: middle ground leaves room for partnership & improvement

Attached is an article from the October 2014 issue of the Illinois Realtor newsletter.  Although the article – by Assistant Director of Advocacy and Local Issues Mike Scobey – argues against some local Crime-Free Housing Ordinances, several statements are in sync with ICON’s goal of improving the quality of life for residents in older neighborhoods:

  • Rental properties where there are recurring criminal activities can and should be identified.
  • Police resources and other municipal resources should focus on properties with frequent crime.
  • When a crime occurs on a property, the police should inform the property owner.
  • An automated reporting system can work in tandem with a building registration requirement.
  • With registration, the municipality can collect essential information from the owner to establish a point-of-contact for each residential rental building.

Just that much would be an improvement in Springfield.

ICON is eager to partner with realtors and landlords in uplifting good landlords and rental properties while limiting the impact of problem property owners and residents on their neighbors and the property values of homes in our older neighborhoods.

Download the article… (PDF)


City Legal interpretation of Chronic Nuisance Ordinance hamstrings Bel-Aire cleanup

At City Council’s Committee of the Whole last night, aldermen and attendees were told the chronic nuisance ordinance only applies to specific units of a multi-unit residential housing property.

Pattern of Renting to Problem Tenants

The result is that if the landlord evicts a resident whose actions caused a police report under the ordinance, the count of violations for that unit starts all over again.  Eligible police reports are tracked by unit, not by the property as a whole.  In addition, City of Springfield corporation counsel said a judge would not be willing to board an entire property for problems with a single unit.  That might make sense – until you step back from that single unit and see that there are over 600 police reports in the past 2 years for the Bel-Aire, indicating a patten of allowing problem residents to rent rooms at the Bel-Aire.

2 Years to Foreclosure

ICON supports efforts to address the Bel-Aire and other problem properties united as a community: with police, housing inspectors, county health inspectors, city legal, city leadership and neighborhood leaders in a full-court press to fight neglectful absentee landlords.  Applying fines to the maximum allowed under the ordinance is a viable strategy, but only if it’s actually used.  City Legal says it takes about 2 years to get a problem landlord to foreclosure.  The ordinance was passed June 2012, so we’re now at 2 years and counting.

Hold Slumlords Accountable

The city needs to get serious about holding accountable slumlords who are all about profit and don’t mind taking police and other city resources away from the rest of the city.  They often don’t live here to suffer the crime, fear, expense and reduced property values.

Residents Take Direct Legal Action

What other options do we have?  One option being used by Enos Park uses a state statute that allows a resident living within 1200 feet of a property in violation of a local or state ordinance to take direct legal action.  They’ve had some success with this tactic, and apparently it’s not an onerous process.  Even if a neighborhood association is strapped for cash, my guess is that a fund-raiser to go after the local crack house might be pretty successful.

Bake sale, anyone?


Swing vote defeats maintenance of 325 miles of Springfield roads

ICON’s support of a 1% sales tax increase to enhance the infrastructure of the city was defeated by one swing vote.  The Council did approve a .5% increase, but that will only help fill 325 miles of pot holes for the next three years.

There is no money in the ordinance for maintaining the other 325 miles and certainly none for any new projects. The city will still be in a catch-up mode during the next two years of this Council’s tenure. We’re not going to get ahead of the curve, and our streets and other infrastructure continue to deteriorate.

In addition to our fight to get the garbage ordinance changed, we have work ahead of us for the next two years to find city leadership with a greater vision of how to create more viable neighborhoods for all areas of our historic city.

Dave Bakke March 30: Some criticisms of Springfield justified

ICON applauds Dave Bakke for his column March 30 – we wish we had written it.  ICON is all about making Springfield a better place to work, live and do business – for ALL of Springfield.  Along with neighborhood groups such as Enos Park and MacArthur Boulevard, which have master plans in place for intentional redevelopment of blighted areas that include room for pedestrian and bicycle access, ICON supports planning for an improved Springfield.  We can’t agree more that developers who receive TIF money should be held to a higher standard.

We want to be clear that we welcome the new County Market at Carpenter and 2nd Street, a huge benefit to the Medical District / Enos Park area.  We’re pleased that, as of April 9, County Market owner Neimann has added two sidewalks (one on Carpenter, one on Second St.) to connect the city sidewalks to the County Market property and provide improved pedestrian access.

Excerpts of the article are below with a link to the full article on

…And this week, a St. Louis architect gave his assessment of Springfield’s new County Market on Carpenter Street. The headline: “Springfield, IL and Niemann Foods Don’t Understand Pedestrian-Friendly Design.” Steve Patterson wrote about this on his weblog, UrbanDesignSTL  Steve has a degree in environmental design from the college of architecture at the University of Oklahoma. His blog was named Best Blog in St. Louis by Riverfront Times and its readers and by St. Louis Magazine.  He writes, “Springfield and Niemann Foods had a chance to build a good urban prototype that would’ve been equally accessible by pedestrians and motorists, but they blew it big time. They need to at least provide an ADA pedestrian route from both Carpenter and 2nd Streets to each entrance.”

Having a new grocery store where it is located is a boost for Springfield. Nobody disputes that. But Patterson prints excerpts that show (1) Springfield officials knew the store would get heavy pedestrian traffic; (2) the recommendation 11 years ago (!) from the Regional/Urban Design Assistance Team for Springfield to get more pedestrian-friendly; and (3) one goal of Springfield 2020, 13 years ago (!), was to make Springfield more pedestrian-friendly.  Eleven years and 13 years. How long does it take? I suppose, compared to waiting 40 years for a second city water source, 11 and 13 years are not too bad.

Patterson compares our new County Market to the County Market on East Stoughton in Champaign, which, in Patterson’s view, was done right. He includes illustrations showing sidewalks next to the exterior walls of the Champaign store. Sidewalks lead to both its main entrance and secondary entrance. In contrast, he shows a man in a wheelchair at the Springfield store navigating through the parking lot.  I called Bruce Knight, Champaign’s director of city planning, and asked, “Did your city insist on a pedestrian-friendly design, or did the original plans already call for it?” In other words, could Springfield’s store have been designed like this if our city officials had insisted?  His response: “We were very much involved in that. It’s a heavy pedestrian area in our university district. We very much wanted to ensure that there was good pedestrian access, so we worked closely with the developer and County Market.”

Back to Champaign. I asked city planner Knight if that city had Niemann do more than is required by city ordinances.  “Yes,” he said. “Since the development was done through an RFP (request for proposal) and approved as a Planned Development, there was more done.”  Patterson on the issue: “Cities will often say they can’t force private developers to do things the way they’d like them to be done. If urban zoning … isn’t in place ahead of time, it can be difficult to force a private project to do something the regulations don’t require. But Springfield did a $2 million TIF with County Market. They had the ability to make the project better.”

I have had enough of Springfield being insulted and used as a bad example. It’s embarrassing, infuriating and painful. Especially when it’s our own fault. I live here. I want it to be better, and it could be.

Read the full story at…

Learn the Truth About the Proposed Garbage Ordinance

As reported in the SJ-R, local Waste Haulers are spreading misinformation in at attempt to sway the Springfield City Council to abandon ordinance changes that would help clean up Springfield by ensuring all residents have garbage service. “Lake Area’s letter and website is filled with scare tactics and factual inaccuracies intended to provoke and enrage senior citizens who are on a tight budget… ”  — The State Journal-Register, Our Opinion, October 5, 2012

Our garbage page has more information on the problem, the proposed solution, and an extensive list of questions and answers.
Find out the truth on our Garbage page…

Jeers to “No” votes on the noise ordinance

On Tuesday night, the City Council voted 6-4 AGAINST the noise ordinance that ICON had requested as a means of bringing peace and quiet to the older neighborhoods that are frequently plagued with thumping car stereos.

Read details from the City Council Minutes May 18, 2010
The original motion to place 2010-161 on final passage failed 4/5.
Voting yes:Ald. Simpson, Cahnman, Mahoney, and Cimarossa
Voting no:Ald. Edwards, Lesko, Theilen, Dove and Griffin
An amended version for towing on the second offense carried 6/3.
Voting yes:Ald. Simpson, Lesko, Cahnman, Cimarossa, Theilen, and Dove
Voting no: Ald. Edwards, Mahoney and Griffin

Read details from the City Council Minutes December 1, 2009
The Motion Failed 4/5.
Voting yes: Ald. Simpson, Cahnman, Mahoney, and Cimarossa
Voting no: Ald. Edwards, Kunz, Lesko, Theilen and Griffin