When cannabis becomes legally available in Illinois on Jan. 1, 2020, some residents in O’Fallon view it as a positive while others see it as a negative.
The O’Fallon City Council will be the deciding factor, and if a referendum would be put to a vote, it is advisory only in Illinois.
Progress reports on ongoing construction work, new business and residential developments and O’Fallon adapting to the new state laws were the key topics of the 8th annual Town Hall meeting under Mayor Herb Roach.
City Administrator Walter Denton and the mayor answered questions from citizens during the 55-minute meeting July 10. Six aldermen also attended, along with about 40-45 residents and the police chief. Aldermen Ross Rosenberg and Dennis Muyleart from Ward 1, Jennifer Lotz from Ward 2, Ray Holden and Tom Vorce from Ward 6 and Nathan Parchman from Ward 7 were present.
The biggest discussion was the pros and cons of legalized cannabis for recreational use. Denton said he would imagine places already dispensing medical marijuana will likely be the places first selling the product. It will be regulated, with the state having all the controls on sales, licensing and taxing. Consumption will be allowed everywhere, but the no smoking laws still apply.
One resident said he hopes people will be proactive and keep it away from young children.
Another resident pointed out medicinal marijuana rules are strict and specific, and she did not see a problem with it, and the medical aspect was a positive thing. She also explained hemp and CBD oil are already legal, through the farm act passed for all 50 states.
One resident asked if they could grow it in their backyard for personal use. The mayor said it was allowed only for medical marijuana. There are specific regulations, though, about how many plants can be grown.
One man said if O’Fallon did not sell marijuana, it would be “holding back time,” and that it would be flowing into the community no matter what.
Another said he was totally against it, did not see anything positive, and that it was an opportunity for people to “do bad things.”
The mayor said personally he did not favor it — after talking to police in Colorado and reading about the issues — but it was not his decision.
One woman talked about a personal family situation where a relative went to prison for selling it, and she took care of her daughter. She spoke about the hardships of that incident. Then, on the other hand, she spoke about a relative whose pain from Stage 4 bone cancer was relieved through medical use.
Another resident thought it was good to go to the free market instead of the black market, and that in states who have legalized it, DUIs and crime are down.
Denton gave an update on the major road projects underway this summer.
“It’s the summer construction season, and that means we’re making lives of residents inconvenient by closing roads,” he said.
The annual pavement management program, which repaves older streets in town, was currently in the Witte Farms Estates subdivision, then would be in the Thornbury Hill subdivision, followed by Smiley Street, from U.S. 50 up to Wesley Drive.
Denton explained a study rated all streets according to their conditions, and that analysis determines the order of when streets are done.
Roach noted the weight of equipment on the roadways went into the evaluations as well.
When asked if a list could be made public, Denton said they were working on updating a list for the city’s website.
The concrete replacement program takes care of curbs and gutters in town. Right now, Smiley Street is designated in order to get ready for the paving.
The city’s Public Works Department has replaced storm sewer drains on Smiley in anticipation of the other work expected to be finished on the street.
Simmons Road is the major project this summer, and it had to be closed completely. A citizen asked why one side of the road couldn’t be completed first, to avoid inconveniencing neighboring subdivisions. Denton explained that wasn’t cost effective, would have taken twice as long and been more expensive.
“A lot of roads in the north and west were only farm and township roads, and now there are major subdivisions. We’re trying to catch up,” Denton said.
A water main has been replaced in Southview Gardens, and Phase 2 for the other half will be done next.
The Presidential Streets Phase 4 has not started yet, but repairs are expected to begin in the next month or so, with work continuing through November, Denton said.
Roach estimated five or six business projects will soon be announced and between 160-180 new homes are currently being planned for O’Fallon.
The Southview Plaza final demolition will likely be done later this year or early next year, he said. Additionally, Papa John’s Pizza will announce its move to another location, Roach said.
New businesses underway include a car wash between Aldi’s grocery store, a medical building on Hartman Lane behind the Hardee’s, another hotel next to Gold’s Gym and a dental facility on U.S. 50 next to the Emergency Care, the mayor said.
A cancer center across from St. Elizabeth’s Hospital and a hotel nearby is expected to be completed this year. Six medical and office buildings behind the Sonic Drive-In are also in the works, as is a development on Frank Scott Parkway.
The Shops at Richland Creek will be developed on 17 acres near the Drury Inn behind the Bank of Edwardsville.
Groundbreaking on 200 apartments at the Rec-Plex complex took place and may be completed in late fall.
Also, groundbreaking may take place at the new industrial development at Reider Road this fall. Roach said he was a delegate representing the Southwestern Illinois Mayors at a meeting with Japanese businessmen, who are interested in plans for the future.
“Growth continues in O’Fallon. It’s good, solid growth — good diversification,” Roach said, explaining, in times of economic downturn, the city could weather any major upheaval because it has a good mix of retail, homes and other development.
The light manufacturing and distribution will help too.
A resident asked about TIF districts (Tax Increment Financing), and O’Fallon doesn’t have any new ones, but is working with the already developed ones.
O’Fallon won’t have any say about gambling (lottery, video gaming) and sports betting machines, but does have some control over the hours. However, the hours are tied to the convenience store operations and businesses that provide the terminals.
When the new law takes effect, some places will increase their terminals to the maximum allowed — now 6, not 5.
O’Fallon is home rule but they do not have any authority to change gambling laws.
One resident asked why the city’s fireworks were staged July 7 instead of July 4, and the mayor explained the park usage was busy and that was the date they could do it. Citizens complimented the city, and the mayor gave credit to the police department for their efforts.
Another resident took issue with social media censoring.
In his wrap up, the mayor said: “It’s your city. We need to hear from you.”