By Bob Balgemann

When Building Director Kip Countryman presented his department’s activities update in March, the numbers were so promising that he felt confident the local economy was on the upswing.

One month later, in April, bouyed by indicators from Community Development Planner Gina DelRose, there was further support for his optimistic outlook.

And on top of that the previously-hushed Project Kelly, now publicly revealed as a 1.2-million-square-foot food processing plant and distribution center proposed for eight of 163 acres near Interstate 90, had entered the approval process by initially going before the city’s planning and zoning commission (P&Z).

Countryman’s April update began with a few comments about Project Kelly.

“We have a very qualified fire department that will be part of the (development) plan, for the inspections and review process,” he said. “And the impact—I know that’s in the backs of their (fire officials) minds that they are appreciative of the project because it actually loops (city) water services to the neighboring properties and that helps fire suppression in the future. This project will add that peace of mind.”

Getting back to his update, he said the past month was busy with 84 permits being issued, with a construction value of just under $3 million. Of that number 14 were commercial, with 70 being residential.

“Some commercial projects are under way,” he continued. “Anderson Funeral Home is finishing the first phase of its project; the garage is being built across the street. Neighboring Brechon Dental is doing a facade improvement and plumbing improvements to their facility; Crusader Clinic is under review. Wal-Mart is doing some remodeling and we’re waiting for plans for Murphy’s Gas Station (at Walmart). We have a big solar project at 720 Logistics, right off Newburg Road.”

He added, “Currently this year (2021-22) we’ve permitted 46 houses; right now I believe we have 100 houses under construction.”

And when it came to code enforcement matters, specified as property maintenance, he said 22 cases were still open with 13 being closed last month.

Some questions

Alderman Tom Porter asked for the current status of the solar project on Logistics.

“It’s under the review stage,” Countryman replied. “There were a few comments from the fire department as to accessing the roof, in case there’s an emergency. Staff was fine with it as there was one (solar project) right down the road, that was done last year. This one is going on top of a building out in the industrial park.”

Alderman Wendy Frank referenced his earlier comment about 100 houses being under construction and asked where they were located, if basically all were together or scattered throughout the city?

The director first referred to the Farmington Ponds subdivision. Of that neighborhood, he said, “I want to say there’s maybe 30 lots left and that it will be built out. They’re currently under construction in River Bend; I believe there’s maybe 40 lots left there. The projection for this year was they did 50 permits last year for new housing; they’ll do 50 houses again this year.

“Prairie Place has opened up their single-family lots for any independent building that wants to buy them. Currently, there are four under construction; there is one that closed. As they (lots) sell, they will continue to build.”

He mentioned Howlett’s development to the west and lots backing up to Distillery Road in the Preserve, which are owned by Frank Wehrstein, saying, “Those will the only ones that lag after this push for development.”

Frank had a question that wasn’t related to development. She was wondering about sandwich boards that are put up downtown and whether the owners needed a permit to do that. If a permit is required, she asked who was responsible for enforcing that requirement?

City Attorney Mike Drella fielded that inquiry. He said sandwich boards in the right of way, such as sidewalks, did require a permit. Applications, he believed, were filed with the city clerk’s office; enforcement would be through the code enforcement officer.

City planner

With no further comments, it was planner DelRose’s time to update what was happening in her area.

April was a busy month before the planning and zoning commission with six cases, four of them related to Project Kelly including annexation of the 163 acres and, once the property becomes part of the city of Belvidere, rezoning from rural holding to heavy industrial to accommodate the distribution center.

In addition to that case she reported on the Murphy Oil gas station project at Walmart, starting with tearing down the existing “postage stamp gas station” and construction of a new, 1,400-square-foot station.

She said Dairy Queen is going in next to Taco Bell on State Street, so its public hearing had been scheduled during the April P&Z meeting.

“I do anticipate at least one (P&Z) case for May,” she continued. “I’ve been talking to a fast-food restaurant that wants to locate next to Applebee’s, in front of Walmart. I expect their application in tomorrow. Then, in June, I expect another heavy round of cases like this month.

“Site plans are picking up, as Kip said, lots of construction projects going on. So there are site plan reviews, downtown overlays.”

Her office also serves as staff for the Belvidere Historic Preservation Commission and she reported three grant applications being sent to downtown businesses, interested in making facade improvements. “So, Historic Preservation (board) will be voting on that this month,” she said.

DelRose was asked to repeat what she said was interested in locating in front of Walmart? She answered that it was a fast-food restaurant, which would need a special use permit to allow a drive-through lane for window service.

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