Despite cancelling plans for an upscale apartment complex, the City of Peoria remains under the scrutiny of a local grassroots organization.
Friends of Peoria Riverfront Park emerged in 2015 when Chicago developer Desmond Curran gained land-use approval from the city to build River Trail Apartments on a four-acre site near the intersection of Bond and Morton streets.
“Urban parks are very precious things,” said Elaine Hopkins, Friends of Riverfront Park secretary. “The trees there were planted by the park district in the 1980s. There are mammals living there, groundhogs, deer. There’s a building there that was once a train station.”
There is also a well-used volleyball courts, a memorial to Peoria musician Dan Fogelberg plus a tidy garden area with granite monuments, brick pathways and park benches.
On July 2, city officials terminated an agreement with Curran, but did not withdraw its application with the National Park Service to sell the space for redevelopment.
On behalf of FORP, Hopkins has asked supporters to contact the city council and Peoria City Manager Patrick Urich to request immediate withdrawal of the application.
“Withdrawal places the parkland under the projection of federal regulations and continues its use as a public park,” Hopkins said.
Concern remains over the proposed purchase of park replacement land. As part of a land conversion deal, the NPS requires substitute land of equivalent fair market value and recreational usefulness.
“Despite its extreme financial crisis, the city is proposing purchase of park replacement land that may cost more than it’s appraised value, creating excess fair market value,” Hopkins wrote in a press release. “FORP does not want a set up for a future Riverfront Park conversion for development. The land purchase is likely to be on the council agenda for July 24.”
The proposed property is owned by James and Linda Simantel, founders of the marketing firm, the Simantel Group, and is comprised of 1.3 acres of riverfront property on Spring Street.
The property is a cause for concern due to the presence of soil pollutants. It was once the home of Hawkeye Industries, a company that produced rubber products.
It also is flood-prone. Urich said the Simantel purchase will not involve residential development of parkland area, but, instead, would mitigate a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency penalty by providing supplemental environment of the city to protect.
Still, Hopkins and FORP supporters question the city’s approach to property acquisition. Deficiencies currently exist in the city’s 2012 land conversion of Southtown to Rocky Glen, in which the NPS found a shortfall in fair market value of the converted land.
“The city has stated it will “work with the Illinois Department of Natural Resources and the (NPS) to resolve the issues related to the Rocky Glen conversion, in order to meet outstanding issues with the Land and Water Grant,” Hopkins said. “The city therefore needs new appraisals for these properties to determine their fair market value.”
A copy of the city’s termination agreement may be found on its website at http://www.peoriagov.org/content/uploads/2015/11/Rivertrail-termination_1531158130_add.pdf