Council to Consider Austin Mansion Question Next Meeting

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Published on February 19 2014 4:09 am
Last Updated on February 19 2014 1:15 pm
Written by Greg Sapp

Many of the 70-some people who attended Tuesday night's Effingham City Council meeting might have wanted to offer testimony regarding a proposal for the operation of the Austin Mansion, but they didn't get the opportunity.  

A proposed text amendment to the Municipal Code suggests how the Austin Mansion could be utilized by new owner Billi Jansen.  The proposal was recommended for denial by the Effingham City Plan Commission at their meeting last week, but the Council holds the final say in the proposal's future.

The matter was on Tuesday night's agenda for discussion, but Assistant City Attorney Aaron Leonard briefed the Council members just before the meeting that discussion needed to be limited to only the information presented by the Plan Commission.  In other words, no new information could be obtained before a decision was required by the Council.  

Leonard's advice was not well-received by some Council members, who hoped to craft an agreement on how Jansen could utilize the facility.  There were angry comments shared, mostly out of frustration, by some commissioners about the situation.  Mayor Merv Gillenwater said after the meeting that he, too, was surprised at the limits on what could be shared, but felt the Council needed to follow the advice of their legal counsel.

The upshot of the incident was that the proposed text amendment will be brought back for a vote by the Council at their March 4th meeting.  The Council could concur with the Plan Commission's recommendation to reject the proposed amendment, they could vote to reject the recommendation and approve the text amendment, or they could vote to send the matter back to the Commission for further review.

Even if the proposed amendment is approved by the Council, the issue isn't over.  Jansen would then need to return to the Plan Commission for a special-use permit to operate the facility under the amended Municipal Code and the Commission would then recommend to the Council whether the permit should be granted, with the Council having the final say.

Jansen is hoping to utilize Austin Mansion in part as a venue for outdoor events including weddings and receptions.  Small events could accommodate up to 50 people and larger events could accommodate up to 250 people.  Some neighbors objected to the proposal at the Plan Commission meeting, but other neighbors who favor the proposal attended Tuesday night's meeting and have signed their names to petitions supporting the proposed amendment.

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In other business Tuesday, the City Council discussed a proposed increase in water rates...heard about the activities of the Alliance, the group of businessmen and civic leaders who are wanting to help support economic development...annexed the Miller-Janis property along South Willow and a portion of the Yager property along North 3rd Street...passed an ordinance that imposes a cable and video service provider fee of 5% that replaces a fee that was part of the City's franchise with Mediacom...sold a strip of land to Fred and Cheryl Nuxoll behind Nuxoll Food Center...rezoned property west of the Effingham High School sports complex at 701 Schwerman Drive from non-urban to highway commercial district...adopted revised street construction standards for the City...approved an amendment to the agreement with Agracel and Roy Schmidt Motors Holdings and S and A Development extended the deadline to the end of March for purchase of property needed for the dealership at the Fayette Avenue interstate interchange...held over a proposed addition of street lighting along Miracle Avenue...approved a reimbursement of $124,000 to Hodgson Mill after the water meter was misread...and heard quarterly reports from Helen Matthes Library Director Amanda McKay and from City Administrator Jim Arndt.

The Council met in closed session, but there was no action following the session.