Did city ‘fumble’ outreach?

December 28, 2018

KANKAKEE — The city says it waged a “public outreach” campaign to let Schuyler Avenue property owners know about planned changes to their neighborhood.

But the city’s reach apparently did not extend to the co-owners of a building at the northeast corner of Schuyler and Court Street.

Harold Jaffe and his daughter, Lynn Jaffe, said they found out about the Schuyler Avenue project last week when they read a newspaper story about its approval.

Because of a bike lane, the city is removing some parking spots from the east side of the 100 block of South Schuyler, which concerns the Jaffes and other property owners along the street.

In their building, the Jaffes lease out space to Magnum Insurance. Starting Jan. 1, they plan to rent out another spot in the two-story structure to a retailer.

“This project will hurt my new tenant,” Harold Jaffe said. “I have called the mayor, and she hasn’t called back.”

The targeted area is the 100 block of North Schuyler and 100 and 200 blocks of South Schuyler. The plan includes bike paths in both directions on Schuyler, requiring elimination of parking on the east side of the street. West-side parking would remain. The project also will feature new sidewalks and decorative string lights.

Last week, the City Council was told that city representatives started to do public outreach in June. That effort included a visit to a Saturday morning farmers market on Schuyler Avenue. During the event, representatives walked up and down Schuyler and talked to business owners available about the planned improvements.

City engineer Neil Piggush also said the city posted information about the project to its Facebook and Twitter pages six times. The city also posted flyers around downtown, ran advertisements in the Daily Journal and dedicated a website for the project.

Also, a steering committee, which included a downtown area business, was set up to help guide the downtown project, officials said.

Mayor Chasity Wells-Armstrong said the city picked the consultants involved in the project because of their commitment to community outreach.

Last week, the council voted 12-2 for the $1.9 million project. The money comes from a city tax increment financing account, or TIF, which was earmarked to improve the downtown neighborhood. The revenue is generated by property taxes from buildings such as the Jaffe property.

At the council meeting, Alderman Michael O’Brien, D-2, who voted for the project, said the city “fumbled the public engagement portion.”

“It seems like it was engagement with people who were cherry-picked to be supportive, but not the community as a whole,” O’Brien told his colleagues.

In an interview this week, O’Brien said it seemed like the city didn’t contact everyone involved. He said written communications with affected property owners would be appropriate.

“These are people who have paid into the TIF for a long time,” O’Brien said.

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