Rotary taking on downtown trees

Vandalia aldermen learned more details on Monday about the plan to solve the unsuccessful planting of trees along Gallatin Street in the downtown business district.
Mayor Rick Gottman reported that city employees have helped a private contractor remove any remaining trees, along with the containers in which they were planted.
In those holes, redbud, lilac and crab apple trees will be planted, with the Vandalia Rotary Club maintaining them.
The Rotary Club offered to take over the tree planting and maintenance after a Vandalia native, who wishes to remain anonymous, stepped forward to support the program.
Dogwood trees were planted along Gallatin Street as part of the downtown streetscape program that also included new sidewalks, a new road surface, period lighting and the move of all utility lines underground.
Not too long after the trees were planted, some of them began to die, causing city officials to look at its options for addressing the problem.
Gottman said that he was among several people who recently had a conference call with an arborist who works with the Illinois Department of Transportation, and the arborist recommended planting lilac, red bud and crab apple trees.
The mayor said that the arborist feels that the trees can survive without the barriers that were originally installed.
Alderman Mike Hobler questioned the planting of more trees, as well as who is entitled to make that decision.
Hobler said that if the containers are not used to limit the spreading of tree roots, “eventually, they’re going to spread and tear up these nice sidewalks we put in.”
Gottman said the arborist told them that that will not be a problem, and Executive Secretary LaTisha Paslay later added that the trees will be replace every several years.
When Hobler asked whether this project should have required council approval, Gottman said that Gallatin Street, because it is a state highway, is not under city control.
Hobler said he didn’t remember any discussions about this plan at prior meetings, but Gottman said, “It was brought to the council several months ago.”
Also at Monday’s meeting:
• Vandalia Police Sgt. Jeff Ray reported that Chief of Police Larry Eason has experienced complications following leg surgery about a month ago and is in the intensive care unit at Barnes-Jewish Hospital in St. Louis.
He said that Eason was able to return to work following surgery, but could only do so for a couple of days. He is now being treated for an infection in the leg.
Gottman said that Ray is serving as the acting chief in Eason’s absence.
• Robert Ellsworth of Greenville announced that he and his wife, Vicki, are finalizing plans for a second restaurant that they will build on Vandalia’s west side.
Last month, Vicki Ellsworth told the council that in addition to the Huddle House they plan to build adjacent to Holiday Inn Express, they planned to put in an upscale, sit-down restaurant.
Robert Ellsworth told aldermen on Monday that they had spoken with several chains, but have decided to not go with a chain, but to offer instead their own pizza and pasta restaurant.
He said their restaurant, named Embers, will be similar to Peel restaurant in Edwardsville, which offered wood-fired, gourmet pizza.
“The menu will grow with us and what we see, what accommodates the community and what people coming in asking for,” he said.
Both restaurants will be in the same building, and the Ellsworth hope construction on that building can begin the middle of May.
Asked about parking, Ellsworth said they will add about 40 parking spaces to the current parking lot on that site, and that they have an agreement with Holiday Inn Express to share parking.
He said that he and his wife will likely employ about 50 people – 30 at Huddle House and 20 at the sit-down restaurant.
At its March 7 meeting, the council voted to add a Class E liquor license after the Ellsworths applied for such a license. As liquor commissioner, the mayor has the authority to issue liquor licenses.
• Though he chose to hold off on details at this point, Rick Cripe told aldermen that he plans to build a cinema complex on land he bought from the city.
Last August, Cripe was the only bidder on 3.104 acres of land south of Walmart and west of Vandalia Commons, paying $31,500 for that land.
Cripe said he hopes to begin construction soon and have the movie complex open in late October or early November.
• The council approved a resolution asking the Illinois Department of Transportation permission to close Gallatin Street from Third Street to Eighth Street from 3-3:30 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 20, for the Vandalia Community High School homecoming parade.
• The council approved the transfer of Vandalia Lake lot No. 10 from Chris Palmer of Vandalia to Amber Yeager of Vandalia.
• The council approved the final payment, $7,909.22, to Kehrer Brothers Construction of Albers for the replacement of the roof on the Public Safety Building, the former city hall.
• The council approved an agreement with Hurst-Roche Engineers of Hillsboro through which the engineering firm will receive $4,050 for the inspection of eight bridges in the city.
• Gottman released copies of a brochure which he said is the first of quarterly community updates.
The update includes lists of new commercial construction, business openings and expansions, revitalization projects and upcoming events in the community.
He said the brochures will be distributed at local businesses.

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