City in talks with Three Sisters Park

Marianne Gillespie

Chillicothe officials are revisiting issues that keep the city and Three Sisters Park at odds.

At a city subdivision/annexation committee Oct. 9, the committee of aldermen discussed essentially the same issues that divided the city and park officials last year: extending the noise ordinance, landscape burning, sale times of liquor, hunting on the property and using a well for water.

The annexation agreement between the city and the 400-acre park expired last year in September. Months leading up to that time and thereafter, talks have surrounded on needing resolution to these issues or the park may need to disconnect from the city, according to a letter executive park manager Chris Cassidy sent to the city at the end of December 2011.

Properties can disconnect from a municipality if six items of criteria are met, including the land is 20 or more acres, located on the border, would not isolate another part of the municipality if the property is disconnected, not "unreasonably" disrupt growth plans, not "substantially" disrupt existing municipal service facilities, and not "unduly" harm the municipality in tax revenue loss.

While city officials would argue that not all the criteria is met, park officials' position is that they meet the criteria, Seghetti told the aldermen.

With a switch in city officials serving on the committee and a new mayor, the aldermen looked at the issues again and tried to find some way to give a little to gain a little.

Once an annexation agreement's 20-year term is up, the land is already annexed, so another agreement cannot be made unless it is for additional land.

In this case, all of the park's land was annexed except for the main road running through the property as it is an easement for the Swain property behind the park.

To give both sides some guarantees, the committee theorized that property could allow the two parties to have another annexation agreement for 20 years and include solutions for the current sticking points. That is if the property owner is willing to annex into the city.

Under that kind of a situation, committee chairman Danny Colwell asked his fellow aldermen to think about what items could be advantageous to both sides.

For example, Cassidy had asked for a well for non-potable use, meaning not used for drinking. While wells are not allowed in the city, the committee did discuss that assisting the park in running water lines would be of benefit to the city as far as future annexation or development and fire use.

Another item could be to continue Plaza Drive as a frontage road through Three Sisters Park land, which could alleviate some traffic congestion issues.

The committee talked at length about extending the noise ordinance, mainly for Summer Camp during Memorial Day weekend. As City Attorney Mike Seghetti explained, park officials do not want to ask for an extension each year, especially when ticket sales and bands are booked ahead of time. The last time the committee discussed the measure, a compromise was to allow a one-hour extension with two years' notice if it was yanked because of problems.

The city's current noise ordinance allows for amplified music to be played up to 11 p.m. Sunday through Thursday or midnight Friday and Saturday night. An additional hour may be granted by the City Council.

While the request started out for music playing until 4 a.m., which is the same time that Peoria County would allow, aldermen discussed allowing a one-time extension of 2 a.m., subject to review.

Another issue was burning of landscape waste, which was essentially resolved in the last set of talks. The upkeep of the park revolves around needing time to burn even during non-specified burn times in the spring and fall. The proposal includes notifying the fire chief each time and burning 500 feet from a property line. Another suggestion was to not allow burning on Sundays or holidays.

Under the liquor ordinance, the park can sell alcohol until 1 a.m. under its current liquor classification. It could be changed to a later hour specifically for Summer Camp. Chillicothe Police Chief Scott Mettille said from a law enforcement aspect, the idea may be to limit how many places on the grounds alcohol is sold.

Using firearms on the grounds for private hunting was a no-go last time in committee meetings, but officials are considering the measure this time around. Cassidy said the park would be closed with a posted notice and barricades during the hunting time. A goose pit is what park officials seek to use. Past complaints included people saying that houses were hit or nearly hit, and while that talk continues circulating, no one can name whose home was allegedly hit.

The county's ordinance allows for hunting as long as it is 1,000 feet from a residence. Officials discussed limiting how many days the hunting could occur and a certain amount of feet from a residence or only allowing the hunting at the goose pit.

Mayor Doug Crew said at the end of the meeting that he felt like the city's top priorities from the recent strategic planning session played into the discussions at the committee meeting.

Colwell said after the meeting that officials from the city and Three Sisters Park are trying to find mutually beneficial ideas for both parties.

There was not a park representative at the meeting.