O'Fallon Progress

Student march, VFW run will have hundreds walking the streets of downtown O'Fallon this weekend

March For Our Lives this weekend in downtown O'Fallon

Hundreds are expected to hit the streets of downtown O'Fallon on Saturday. While the protest is not a school event, it is spearheaded by O'Fallon Township High School seniors, like Claire Wilcox, who started their own O'Fallon chapter of the March
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Hundreds are expected to hit the streets of downtown O'Fallon on Saturday. While the protest is not a school event, it is spearheaded by O'Fallon Township High School seniors, like Claire Wilcox, who started their own O'Fallon chapter of the March

Two events expected to draw big crowds will take place simultaneously Saturday morning in O’Fallon, which has raised parking concerns. However, the O’Fallon City Council rejected an alternative plan to move parking from downtown to Marie Schaefer Junior High School.

Both the March for Our Lives student-safety movement and the VFW’s fifth annual .1K “Race at Your Own Pace,” which benefits the VFW National Home for Children, are planned.

About 450 are expected for the VFW Run, while the March for Our Lives could be in the hundreds, too.

Alderman Matthew Gilreath proposed an amendment to move the planned parking downtown for the march to Marie Schaefer for safety reasons, stating that there would be drinking at the VFW event. The motion was defeated 2-11, with Courtney Marsh and Gilreath in favor.

Alderman Kevin Hagarty said he did not think it was necessary to change plans. Alderman David Cozad concurred. “People are going to park where they want to park,” he said.

Gilreath said planners could use social media to promote the change. After the amendment was shot down, the council unanimously approved the permit as is.

The mayor said the students had been working with Justin Randall of the Community Development Department, the police and other officials about the plans, and came up with the three best options.

The discussion prior to the vote and before a roadblock vote on another matter drew the ire of VFW Commander Ed Martinez, who addressed the chamber after council action.

Martinez defended his veterans organization as a civic-minded community service that assists people in need after questions arose about a roadblock fundraiser and a desire to keep parking for the students separate from the VFW event because alcohol is served at the post.

“Yes, my bar is open. We raise money to help veterans, women and children. On Saturday, we will have 24 people under the age of 10 and 8 over 85 in the run,” he said.

He explained that he does whatever he can to help veterans without fanfare, and that the VFW is more than a bar. He recently helped out a vet who lost his job pay his rent, another veteran who couldn’t afford his medicine and a homeless veteran in town.

“Nobody sees this,” he said. “We’re a lot more than that (a bar).”

He was met with applause, and the mayor stated, “Thank you for what the VFW does.”

After the meeting, Mayor Herb Roach commented: “Ed works so hard for our veterans and was really upset by the comments made.”

Organized by local high school students, March for Our Lives will gather between 8 and 11 a.m. Saturday, and is expected to draw students, teachers and citizens. The march will kick off at 8:30 a.m., beginning and ending at the parking lot on North Lincoln, directly across from City Hall.

In the wake of the Feb. 14 Parkland, Florida shooting, O’Fallon students organized the local event one of 469 registered events world-wide. The St. Louis March is scheduled from Union Station to the Arch from 10 a.m. to noon Saturday, and the O’Fallon student organizers wanted theirs to be earlier.

“We are asking people to park their cars in the parking lot on the corner of S. Vine and E. First Street, which may be what’s causing confusion,” said Claire Wilcox, one of the organizers.

At 8 a.m. Saturday, March 24 in the parking lot across the street from O’Fallon City Hall, students, community members and leaders will take to the streets for school safety. The march is being organized by the O'Fallon chapter of March For Our Li

The VFW .1K Race begins at 10 a.m. Saturday from the Caboose in downtown and concludes at the VFW Post 805 at 221 W. First St. Participants can run, walk, skip, jump, dance or crawl to the finish line. Beforehand, a pancake breakfast will be served from 8 to 9:45 a.m., which is also registration U.S. Marines will lead a group stretch and prep from 9:40 to 9:55 a.m.

After the race, there will be awards and recognition from 10:30 to 11 a.m. Lunch and post-race refreshments will be available at the Post 805 canteen.

Martinez said for more than 93 years, the home has helped countless veteran and military families when help was needed, and this is a fun fundraising effort to assist them continue this important mission.

The home also staffs a helpline for assistance. Their website is www.vfwnationalhome.org.

For March for Our Lives, four officers will be assigned to insure safe assembly and march, which the event coordinators agreed to pay. Barricades and ‘no parking’ notification will be in place late Friday night on the parking lot east of city hall. Counter protestors will be directed to the grassy area on the west side of City Hall.

Conditions include that marchers are asked to stay in a tight group to insure safety of the group walking in the street. Signs can’t depict vulgar language or drawings.

Should any counter protestors arrive, they will be directed to the grassy area on the west side of City Hall.

Earlier in the meeting, a request from Marine Corps League 74 to conduct a roadblock on Aug. 25, from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the intersection of Lincoln and State was approved, but two aldermen opposed it — Aldermen Ned Drolet and Jerry Albrecht. Drolet, a frequent critic of roadblocks, questioned why the group would be allowed to fundraise when they are from Fairview Heights.

“I don’t believe it qualifies,” he said.

Martinez said the Marine Corps group officers all live in O’Fallon.

Other business

In other action, the council approved the preliminary plat for The Patio Homes at Seven Hills and re-zoning the 20.9-acre property to single-family residential, updating the Comprehensive Plan Future Land Use Map. Developer Rich Gorazd plans 54 homes on the tract that was supposed to become an office park, but never did.

The council decided to review a variance request from William and Kenneth Obernuefemann, who seek a 10,000-square foot expansion of a building housing their tool and die shop, after denial from the city.

Currently, it is a non-conforming use in an agricultural zone district and physical alteration of structures is not allowed.

AAA Tool and Machine Company has been at 230 Obernuefemann Road since 1969, before St. Clair County and O’Fallon adopted zoning. The parcel was annexed to the city in 2000.

City ordinance states: “any lawful building, structure or use existing at the time of the enactment of the O’Fallon Zoning Ordinance may be continued. A non-conforming use shall not be expanded or be changed to a use of the same or greater non-conformity within the district in which it is located. Ordinary repairs and maintenance of a nonconforming use are allowed, however, if the building of a non-conforming use is damaged or destroyed by any means,” and that the building cannot be rebuilt except for a conforming use and in compliance with the district in which it is located.

During his report, the mayor announced that beginning Monday, March 26, the Simmons Road bridge over Ogles Creek will be closed for repair work. Drivers are urged to use Kyle Road, Lincoln Avenue and Bethel Road as a detour route during the bridge closure. The bridge is expected to be open by the end of the day on Friday, March 30. Roach said the work was necessary because of damage from a car accident.

The mayor also honored retiring Pam Funk, who in her role as assistant to the city administrator, handled many public relations and community events for the past 16 years.

“She worked diligently and hard for 16 years,” Roach said, commenting on her insight and how she provided guidance and “good solid advice” to him after he was elected last spring.

“We’re going to miss you,” he said. She received a standing ovation.

She pointed out that when she came to work for the city, she was stunned at the level of citizens’ involvement in the community.

“I was just blown away by the amount of community service,” she said. “Every time I worked on something, the Rotary or a different organization would offer help. Everybody stepped it up. I couldn’t have done my job without them.”

She complimented the city, and how it’s grown “the way it should have.” While she is sad to leave, she is “anxious for the next phase,” she said.

“Thank you all very much. It’s been a real pleasure,” she said.

The mayor will have office hours at City Hall this Saturday from 10 a.m. to noon for anyone who wants to speak to him. The next quarterly Town Hall meeting will take place on April 18, and will be held at the Public Library around 6:30 p.m. He said the agenda would be issues closer to the date.