The DeKalb city council will conduct a public hearing on Monday, November 14 at its regularly scheduled meeting. The agenda item (item G-1) states that the public hearing is on the vacation of a portion of North Third Street for the expansion of the DeKalb Public Library (DPL). The action items that accompanies the public item are (J-1) an ordinance authorizing the Mayor to sign an intergovernmental development agreement with the DeKalb Public Library and (J-2) an ordinance rezoning the library property from RC-1 (residential conservation district) to PD-C (planned development – commercial). Both action items are up for First Reading.
The DPL wants to expand the existing library building across North Third Street and into the property currently occupied by the funeral home’s parking lot. The expansion will include additional parking areas around the new addition and across the street on the south side of Oak Street. The remaining portion of North Third Street north of the library will become a two way street so that the church, single family residence and library patrons can use the bidirectional cul-de-sac to get to their destination. The proposal includes the addition of eighty one parking stalls, the library along with their ability to use the new funeral home parking lot will provide needed parking stalls for the visitors of the new library campus.
RC-1 is a relatively new zoning designation. The idea behind its creation was to limit the expansion of multi-family units in certain residential neighborhoods. When the property for the proposed expansion was purchased by Castle Bank N.A. Trust #2222 (Steve Irving, sole beneficiary) a front page article in the Daily Chronicle announced that a townhome project was planned for the site.
Street vacations require a public hearing before the City Council. The obligation to vacate this street is embodied in the development agreement. The actual vacation would not occur until such time a building permit is issued for the expansion. Since the vacation of a street requires a super majority vote of the City Council, this development agreement’s approval will require a ¾’s vote in favor (6 out of 7 Council members).
From the agenda:
It should be pointed out that the agreement has language that indicates that upon issuance of a building permit to commence the construction of the Library Addition, the City of DeKalb will enact ordinances, adopt resolutions and take such other actions as are necessary to vacate that portion of North Third Street and approve the Library’s preliminary plan for the property including variations, exceptions and departures contained herein provided that the Preliminary Plan is in substantial conformance with the concept plan. So by approving the agreement the City in essence agrees to approve the library campus as proposed. The agreement does not constitute City approval of any funding/financing method, nor does it constitute City authorization to undertake the actual building project. If such approval is required, it will be brought forward separately.
The drafted intergovernmental development agreement and the proposed property purchase is dependent upon the City of DeKalb providing the DPL with $1,000,000 in TIF money so the library can combine it with a donation to repay a loan secured by General Obligation Bonds. The agreement appears to be in conflict with that plan as it states it does not constitute City approval of any funding/financing method, nor does it constitute City authorization to undertake the actual building project.
The DPL’s attorneys, Gary Cordes and Phil Lenzini, carefully posit that the loan to purchase the property is technically not a mortgage in their attempt to avoid compliance with Section 5/5 (BUILDINGS) of the Illinois Local Library Act. According to a memo drafted by the City attorney, Dean Frieders:
As expected the DPL lawyers are making their play on the difference between “may” and “shall.” Cordes told the Planning and Zoning Commission that there were many examples of case law that clearly indicate that the library may not follow Sec. 5/5.1 because it uses the word “may” and not “shall.” Interesting to note that no case law has been quoted by Cordes or Frieders, for that matter. Frieders attempted to check sources outside the close circle of library attorneys representing the DPl:
Frieders then concludes that the neutral source, the Illinois Institute for Continuing Education’s (IICE) guide for special districts including libraries is wrong because the DPL chooses to skip sections 5.1, 5.2 and 5.3 to section 5/5.4 that has language that supports their position. Et. Seq. anyone?
So let’s entertain the position that the DPL, Cordes, Lenzini, Frieders have taken. The city and library can ignore any law that use the word “may” and must follow those that use “shall.” If they are successful in getting city council to approve the land purchase without a plan (but armed with an Intergovernmental Agreement that Frieders described as “very owner friendly,” then according to section 5/5.4 the DPL trustees SHALL determine when it will proceed with the construction of a building. If they determine to proceed and enter into contracts the city’s taxpayers are on the hook to pay for it.
What if the city council does NOT approve the land purchase? Can they do that? They don’t have a choice do they? Watch for this excuse. It was used by the city council before. When the library’s tax levy was discussed when the DeKalb Clinic properties were proposed as the expansion site the city’s attorney advised that the council MUST pass the levy exactly as the library proposed because it was the law. The year before, the library tried to pass a levy that included a 2-cent increase for the library’s building fund. The levy was reduced on a motion by 5th ward alderman, Ron Naylor.
The city council MAY not approve of the land purchase (or the one-sided intergovernmental agreement).
In their strategy of skipping sections of Article 5 Sec. 5.1 they evidently missed an important sentence. The last one. Et. Seq. anyone?
The board shall make a record of their proceedings and determinations and transmit a copy thereof to the corporate authorities for their consideration and approval.
Many people believe the library project will not increase taxes. They believe the DPL will raise the necessary funds for construction through private donations. That’s possible. It’s also possible that such a fundraiser falls short. Donation pledges may not fully materialize. But if the city council approves any part of the project and the DPL board signs contractual commitments then in the event of a shortfall of donations or unfulfilled pledges then the taxpayers have no choice but to foot the bill with an increase in their property taxes. Such a predicament occurred in Sycamore around 1997 when their library expansion took place. Contracts were signed in anticipation of private fundraising goals that were not met. When it became clear that taxpayers were going to have to make up the difference pledges fell by the wayside.
A more recent example took place with the new football field at the new DeKalb High School. Canvassing prior to the passing of the $110 million referendum must have indicated a lack of support for tax dollars to be used for building a new football field. ReNew Our Schools pro-referendum committee promised taxpayers that no referendum dollars would be used for a football field. Dr. Paul Beilfuss told the Facilities Planning Committee that local donors pledged money for any new football field at the new high school. News of a construction grant eliminated any such pledges. Money that could have been used to reduce debt obligations or perhaps add furniture or equipment was instead used for the stadium.
Apparently the DPL Board and administrator want to piece meal the expansion project to the city council so when it comes to financing the construction costs there is too much commitment to vote against the likely debt obligation bonds required. That is in conflict with the Local Library Act and a contradiction to open, honest government. As state law requires the city council should be presented with a full plan that includes total project cost estimates and financing methods before acquiring property for expansion or construction purposes. To move the project, which will require public debt, along in manner that provides information bit by bit only is an abuse of Home Rule authority.
DeKalb is a city that generously supports education. A city with a median income in the $30k neighborhood passed a $110 million referendum for its K-12 schools and a $56 million referendum for Kishwaukee College. It’s a city that loves its library. Obviously from their actions the last thing the library board wants to do is put the issue of the library expansion up to the test of direct democracy — a referendum. The elected representatives might consider a referendum as their first choice.
What you can do:
Send the city council an email and tell them to follow the Local Library Act as intended. Call, email or tell your alderman to vote for Option 2. If possible, attend the public hearing.