Danville lost one of its strongest advocates earlier this month with the passing of former alderman and Vermilion County Board member John Dreher. Few others did as much to shape the city from the mid 1980s until his retirement in 2015.
Dreher was among those who helped create Danville’s mayor-aldermanic form of government after a civil rights lawsuit was filed in the 1980s. Until then, the city had been run by a three-person commission and a mayor. The new city government kept the mayor’s post, but added 14 aldermen as a way to ensure residents’ voices would be heard.
“We were starting a government from zero, from scratch,” Dreher was quoted as saying in a January 2015 story in the Commercial-News. “We had to put it together.”
He helped put it together, then served as an alderman for about a decade before becoming the city’s community development manager. In that post he, along with Danville Development Services Director Mike Federman, crafted the city’s historic preservation ordinance in an effort to preserve some of the community’s past.
He also fought hard for the city’s Renaissance Initiative, a program designed to help revitalize the neighborhoods just west of downtown. The program recorded some initial successes, but management issues and a lack of enough support from city officials brought about its demise. Still, during its short tenure, the program led to significant improvement in neighborhoods where homeowners were able to take advantage of it.
Dreher also helped organize and support neighborhood associations across the city. He led the city’s efforts using Community Development Block Grant funds to help homeowners repair and renovate their houses. His commitment to that program helped save hundreds of buildings that otherwise might have fallen into further disrepair and find their way onto the city’s demolition list.
Never one to be without something to do for long, Dreher was elected to the Vermilion County Board and served with that body from 2000 to 2015.
He and his wife, Barbara, moved to Terre Haute, Ind., in 2015 to be closer to her family, but he never lost his love for Danville. He remained a strong advocate for the Fischer Theatre before its recent renovation — efforts which included midnight showing of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” with Dreher frequently in costume as Riff Raff.
Dreher also was involved in Native American activities, and helped bring a major event to the city’s Ellsworth Park.
Few others during the past 40 years or so put as much time, effort and affection as did Dreher into improving Danville and Vermilion County.
Visitation for Dreher will be 3-6 p.m. EST Wednesday at Samaritan Funeral Home in Terre Haute.
Even though he is gone, the results of his efforts to make Danville a better place will continue to live on for decades.
OSCODA — The Oscoda Township Board of Trustees completed the first read of the Commercial Marihuana Facilities Ordinance amendments at their regular Nov. 14 meeting. According to a memo by Planning and Zoning Director Nichole Vallette, the ordinance was approved by the Planning Commission and the Township Board in 2021.
Vallette reported that the Corridor Business District (CBD) has been finalized and that needed to be added to allow zoning districts for Adult Use Retailers. The Corridor Business District replaces most of the previous B-2 Zoning, however, according to Vallette there are still some B-2 parcels on the north end of town.
MANKATO — Owners of new homes on Mankato’s fast-growing eastern and southern sides will have to give streams and ponds a little more elbow room in 2023 and beyond.
A new shoreland ordinance that takes effect Jan. 1 will increase setbacks from certain state-protected bodies of water, meaning homes and manicured lawns will need to be behind a natural buffer area adjacent to wetlands, lakes and certain creeks and rivers.
“We’ll have to establish the normal high-water mark (of the body of water). And from there, there’s a 150-foot setback,” said Mark Konz, the associate planning director for the city, at a public hearing last week. “And then from that 150-foot setback, you would also have the property line and the property setback. So the distance should be substantially larger than what we’ve seen.”
The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources informed the city it needed a shoreland ordinance after the agency noted housing developments being proposed near Wita Lake just east of the Mankato Regional Airport and adjacent to another body of water between Mankato and Eagle Lake.
“Some of the property is adjacent to the lake that will be known as Unnamed Basin 07007100,” said City Manager Susan Arntz, laughing at the less-than-evocative name of the marsh just south of Madison Avenue/Old Highway 14. “I don’t know, I could see T-shirts.”
Unnamed Basin 07007100 — while it might not be attractive to swimmers, anglers or water skiers — has ecological value.
“They are these protected basins that are important,” Arntz said. “And as we continue to grow in that direction — east — we now touch them.”
The ordinance does not affect existing homes or other already-developed properties or those approved by the city prior to Dec. 31. But it will govern new development not only along the eastern lakes but also along Wilson Creek on Mankato’s southeast side and along the Blue Earth and Minnesota rivers.
Although there is little remaining undeveloped land along the major rivers in the city, a large housing project involving potentially hundreds of apartment units and townhouses is being planned on the former quarry land on the east bank of the Minnesota River just south of Highway 14. The project can still happen, although the total number of units might be restricted — something residents of the adjacent Germania Park neighborhood favor anyway.
“It might be limiting the density of the development in those areas,” Konz said, “which is actually somewhat complementary to what we heard from the neighborhood that we should be doing.”
The ordinance won’t impact the redevelopment of the former Dutler’s Bowl site just east of Hiniker Pond into large apartment buildings because the pond isn’t a DNR-protected water, he said. That’s also true of stormwater retention ponds around the city.
DANVILLE — The Danville City Council had a public hearing Tuesday night for a brownfields cleanup grant application for the site at Vermilion and Fairchild streets where First Farmers Bank, and before that a former gas station, and former Fonner’s Dry Cleaners were located.
Contamination was found at the former filling station’s and dry cleaner’s sites on the southeast corner. High levels of dry cleaning and filing station contaminants were found.
The city would apply for a grant to cover the projected $983,000 excavation remediation cost through the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Brownfields Program.
The program is a nationwide competitive grant program and applications are due Nov. 22. An announcement is not expected on grant awardees until May or June 2023. Funding would be available Oct. 1, 2023.
The city must own each parcel. There is no city matching funds requirement. The sites would be cleaned up and put back into productive use for future development.
The excavation process would take two to three months, with the actual excavation to take about two weeks and then backfill and testing.
The sites at 815, 817, 821 N. Vermilion St., the former First Farmer’s Bank and Fonner’s Dry Cleaners, and former apartment complex to the south, and 816 Hazel St. site to the east are about 1.14 acres for potential commercial development after the remediation.
The sites were enrolled in the Illinois EPA site remediation program pursuent to a no further remediation letter for brownfield redevelopment; assessed with contamination found with phase 1 and 2 testing; and now the city hopes remediation will be grant funded. The contamination hotspots would be remediated in the soil. They will be going down 14 feet in some spots.
The city also would rely on engineered barriers, and building control technologies installed during site redevelopment; and invoke a groundwater use ordinance.
If the city wouldn’t get the grant, city officials would try the next year for grant funding or re-strategize and phase it out.
Another remediation option, a chemical soil blending/injection process, was estimated at $1.069 million.
In other action, the Danville City Council tabled action on removing the requirement for a liquor license holder/ owner or manager to be required to live in Danville.
Ward 4 Alderwoman Tricia Teague wanted to see a final red-line version of the changes, language being removed, to the ordinance. Danville liquor licenses currently require a license holder or manager of an establishment that sells liquor to live in Danville.
City officials have cited restaurants being constructed at the casino and others, for example, that this is not practical, according to Mayor Rickey Williams Jr.
The only change is striking one line regarding residency, Williams said.
The item was tabled to the Nov. 15 city council meeting.
The council also approved:
- School resource officer, police and fire divisions emergency access to security video feeds and radio frequencies, and reciprocal reporting agreements with Danville School District 118.
- Authorizing agreements for: group health insurance, going back to Blue Cross Blue Shield of Illinois through Epic Insurance Brokers and Consultants, instead of Health Alliance; health insurance for Medicare Part B eligible retirees with Health Alliance; insurance incentive to employees to lower health insurance premiums; flexible spending program; and group and voluntary life, dental and vision insurance.
- Applying for a $5,000 grant for EMS supplies for quick response vehicle through the Illinois Department of Public Health for the fire department.
- Authorizing a $7,311 budget amendment to the fiscal year 2022-2023 information technology budget for needed phone lines.
- A memorandum of understanding with the Vermilion Housing Authority for law enforcement services beyond normal services at a rate of $55 a patrol hour.
- Purchasing 1212 E. Fairchild St., an owner-occupied house, for the Garfield Park improvements for $70,000 from Jose Cruz. Cruz also will receive $15,000 for relocation expenses.