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Wednesday, March 28, 2007 02:32 pm

Line in the sand

Alderman says city needs to stop westward expansion

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Untitled Document If you’ve ever lived in an actual city, you might not think of Springfield and the term “urban sprawl” in the same sentence. Or the same paragraph. Or even the same series of paperback mysteries. Springfield’s urban sprawl is like Springfield’s “rush hour” or its nightlife — it does exist but in a sort of cute miniaturized form. After all, you can drive from one corner of Springfield to the far side of town in less time than it takes a pop-radio station to cycle through a set of commercials.
Still, urban sprawl is the kind of disease that’s easier to cure if you catch it in the early stages. So folks sat up and paid attention last week when Ward 3 Ald. Frank Kunz proposed halting it by drawing a boundary somewhere west of town and refusing to annex anything past that mark. His reasoning: The creeping ooze west strains city services such as police and fire protection, snow plowing, code enforcement, and pothole repair. “What we’re doing is spreading the city out farther and farther and leaving the old parts of Springfield to die,” Kunz says. The boundary concept bubbled up in a meeting he had last week with the editorial board of the State Journal-Register. The SJ-R board, preparing to endorse City Council candidates, had invited Kunz in for an interview. He describes the session as 70 minutes of freewheeling discussion. “I sat at a table where there were four tape recorders and six people asking me questions. I just answered ’em if I felt like it,” Kunz says. “We talked about everything under the sun.”
While they were chewing over the idea of city services, Kunz mentioned that Iles Avenue and Archer Elevator Road — thoroughfares so far west, they’re just this side of California — shouldn’t be broadened before older east-side roadways get needed repairs.
“The reason this came up is: If these guys running for alderman out west think that their roads are any more important than my roads, that’s ridiculous,” Kunz says. “These guys want firehouses and streets and all, and there is just not any money. I mean, it isn’t like we’re hiding money at City Council.”
He mentioned setting a boundary, almost as a detour in a different conversation. “You know me: I’m gonna say the first thing that comes into my mind. I’m not going to sit around and think about it,” he says. So he was somewhat surprised two days later to see that his remark had turned into a headline. The story below touched on a variety of topics — including Kunz’s contemplation of running for mayor in 2011 — but the boundary notion generated the bulk of comments on the SJ-R’s online forum. “Oh yeah, I read all 55 of ’em. I can be mayor of Bulpitt, one guy said. Another guy likes my wife, Glenda, better than me, and he doesn’t even know Glenda,” Kunz chuckles. “It doesn’t surprise me.”
What does surprise him is the ruckus about drawing a line in the sand on the west side of Springfield. “This was something the paper decided to print. This was not my platform to run on. That’s why this thing has gotten way outta hand. I was just talking about city services and why we’re hurting — because we keep expanding,” Kunz says.
Now, if you think he’s complaining or backing down, you don’t know the alderman. His mother must have had some sort of premonition when she named him Frank. The only person he seems concerned about ticking off is Glenda. Our conversation about Springfield’s ever-expanding city limit moseys into the area of annexations undertaken just to accommodate city employees who needed to meet residency requirements without having to move into Springfield proper. “We have places all over the city that were brought in so employees could not have to move,” Kunz says, listing an area near Brother James Court, annexed in the 1990s to oblige several city cops; some acreage near the wildlife sanctuary, annexed for former Springfield Police Chief John Harris (he left some of his land unincorporated so he could hunt game on it, Kunz says); and, more recently, the Salem Estates subdivision, the scheduled annexation of which was expedited when Mayor Tim Davlin appointed Salem Estates resident Jim Donelan his executive assistant.
The real reason the boundary should be no big deal, though, is that Springfield will eventually have to stop sprawling westward, whether the City Council draws a dotted line on a map or not. Just as Springfield has butted up against the Sangamon River to the north, Lake Springfield to the south, and Rochester to the east, something — say, Curran or Old Berlin — will impede the city’s creep to the west. “It doesn’t matter. Someday it’s going to happen anyway,” Kunz says. “We’re just going to run out of land.”

Contact Dusty Rhodes at drhodes@illinoistimes.com.
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