Rumors, resentment build before project

DeWayne Bartels
Residents of Mt. Hawley Manor fume Aug. 7 after a Peoria Zoning commission meeting where an issue they came to hear was deferred.

North Peoria is a magnet for commercial and residential development, and one of the first things built around a proposed project are rumors.

With rumors can come resentment.

A case in point is an almost six-acre vacant lot off North Knoxville, at the intersection of Richmar Road and Eva Lane.

What is known for sure is the owners want to annex the lot into the city. 

And, they want it zoned commercial.

The lot sits at the entrance to an old and established residential subdivision called Mt. Hawley Manor.

For months, uncertainty has swirled about plans for the lot.

What is concrete about the project is the resentment the residential neighbors have about whatever is planned.

Residential neighbors, some of whom lived there for four decades, have received no formal briefing on what is planned by the developer.

Jamison Shefts, one of the owners of the lot, scheduled meetings with neighbors.

But the meetings, like plans for the development submitted to the city, have been delayed.

So, rumors and resentment continue to build. 

‘Under siege’

For the neighbors the uncertainty about what is planned in the vacant lot is almost as daunting as looking at the tall weeds inhabiting the lot.

Several homeowners in the area said, as county residents, they are fearful they have no real representation as the city waits to mull over the project.

They fear the 5-foot-tall weeds, the ruts in the lot created by large trucks, the trash and construction debris dumped there in the past, offer an indication of a development that will not be pleasing. 

The uncertainty has neighbors on edge and already lining up to see the project, whatever it is, vetoed.

One man who lives near the project, and did not wish to be identified, said Aug. 7 the neighborhood already has problems without a shopping center in its midst.

“We have constant traffic until midnight,” he said.

“People are coming off Knoxville, up Richmar and then down Eva Lane to go to Huck’s. They are cutting through here to avoid the stoplight at Alta Road. This used to be a real quiet neighborhood.”

He added that since an apartment complex went up behind their subdivision there has been a marked increase in foot traffic, and, with it, he said, cars being broken into in the neighborhood.

“Everybody out here feels like I do, under siege,” he said.

He said residents want Richmar shut off just past the entrance from Knoxville.

He said residents know that is not likely, but they can hang onto hope.

He planned to attend a Peoria Zoning Commission meeting that night and learn more about the proposed project and air his concerns.

He was not alone.

About 20 residents gathered in the Peoria City Council chambers Aug. 7 for the Peoria Zoning Commission meeting.

The issue they came to hear, Case No. ZC 08-42B, was seventh on the agenda.

It would provide their first look at plans for the lot.

They sat patiently waiting for the case to be called.

“The petitioner would like this item deferred 30 days,” was what the residents heard from the zoning commission when the item came up for discussion.

The frustration brewing before the zoning commission meeting went into orbit after the people spent more than an hour waiting to hear something only to be turned away.

They gathered outside the council chambers and fumed.

“I thought we’d get a say tonight,” one man said.

“More than anything, I’m irritated I sat there for more than an hour for nothing.”

Maureen Miller said she has 25 years tied up in the neighborhood.

She watched as trees and the houses that used to inhabit the lot now were taken down by IDOT for the Knoxville widening project.

“Now, from my house I see Knoxville," she said.

"If they put businesses in there all I’ll see now is signs and lights,” Miller said.

Miller said she would like to see houses go back up there or a park.

Bert Barnett, who lives at 1526 W. Blackberry, said he has lived in his house for 41years and knows the issues of the area.

“You blacktop that area and I’ll need pontoons to get out,” he said.

“The road has been underwater before. I don’t want to deal with it.”

Bob Sell, 1604 W. Blackberry, was also not happy.

“We need a buffer between commercial development and residential,” Sell said.

“We’re going to have to deal with lights, traffic, noise.”

After the deferment some residents began going to city hall for answers.

What they received, instead of information, was more frustration.

Next week: Any hope for common ground?