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How the Peoria City Council’s election could affect Bradley students

Candidate Demario Boone addressing the crowd
Photo by Lee Lard

Candidates for Peoria City Council At-Large held a forum on Wednesday to address the public’s questions gearing up to the elections on April 4.

An At-Large member of City Council is someone that does not represent a particular district and there are five of those seats in total.

The candidates, all of whom attended the forum, are Demario Boone, Dr. Bernice Gordon-Young, John Kelly, Lawrence Maushard, Benjamin Nicks Jr., Zachary Oyler, Kiran Velpula, Anu Uddavolu, Clara Underwood-Foreman and Mike Vespa.

The forum was hosted by the Moss Bradley Residential Association at the Westminster Presbyterian Church. Questions were submitted to the moderator beforehand and the candidates were given 45 seconds to answer.

Topics discussed included crime rates, economic decline and traffic law concerns. The candidates’ positions on short-term rentals in Peoria’s neighborhoods were brought up multiple times.

The second question presented was, “As an older neighborhood, what is your position on short-term rentals in older neighborhoods? Do you support a cap or limit on short-term rentals and, if so, how many?”

Short-term rentals describe anywhere that charges a nightly fee and this includes companies like Airbnb, Vrbo and Casamundo. The concern brought forward is that they destroy the integrity of older neighborhoods and interrupt community life.

This includes the older neighborhoods surrounding Bradley’s campus, especially on Moss Avenue. When visiting Bradley’s campus as a prospective student or as the family and friends of current students, the short-term rentals in these areas are a much closer and more cost-effective option than hotels.

“No, I don’t support a cap or limit. I don’t think that that’s something we should impose citywide,” Vespa said. “If homeowners organizations want to do that, then they certainly have that prerogative, but to pass something like that to apply to the whole city, I don’t support that.”

Underwood-Foster followed Vespa with her own opinion on the topic. 

“I think as it relates to myself, I need to really get more information, to do some more research on it … I can say a lot of things here but I need to be able to look at a situation [and] find out what it is before I can give an informed answer to that,” Underwood-Foster said.

Oyler voted to allow a controversial short-term rental proposal to go through in October 2022. Several neighbors had petitioned against allowing the rentals to continue.

“I’ve been an advocate for short-term rentals from the beginning. I think they do provide a couple of different benefits to the neighborhoods,” Oyler said. “One of them being [that] it brings people from out of town into a neighborhood to actually live in it and see it and to make a decision if that’s where they want to live permanently in the future.”

Incumbent candidate Kelly also voted in favor of the 2022 rental proposal, but disagrees with the legislation as it stands.

“My beef with how we’re doing it at this point is that if somebody follows all the rules that we have set up, it can still come to the city council and it can be rejected. To me that’s bad law,” Kelly said.

Incumbent candidate Velpula stood with the legislation during his answer to the prompted issue.

“If I have to put it in a broader perspective, we have an ordinance on file and we always look at the requests case by case,” Velpula said.

Candidate Uddavolu argued for a case by case review and putting an emphasis on public opinion.

“With this one, we have to get the voice of the neighborhood associations and what the people want in that neighborhood,” Uddavolu said. “But if the neighborhood does choose to go for short-term rental, we want to make sure that these landlords are local.”

Nicks Jr. is also interested in listening to the public’s opinion on the matters that they covered during the meeting.

“The neighborhood association needs to tell us what works for their area,” Nicks Jr. said.

Maushard was the first to be in favor of a city-wide cap on short-term rental.

“As a general idea, I am completely against short-term rentals. Airbnb and companies like that are terrible corporations that destroy sections of cities,”  Maushard said.

Gordon-Young is in favor of a case by case review, with an emphasis on investment in the culture of the neighborhoods.

“When we start putting short-term rentals in specific places, we often disrupt the community feel,” Gordon-Young said. “There’s a disinvestment in those particular neighborhoods, so we wanna make sure that when short-term rentals are happening, that they happen at a pace we all recognize is beneficial to that community.”

Candidate Boone echoed the same sentiment of the community feel and the need to preserve it.

“There’s just specific culture that we need to preserve and you need to make sure that the people are in favor of what’s gonna happen to their neighborhood,” Boone said.

All the topics covered in the meeting and the meetings to come prior to the election impact Bradley students in one way or another.

“You are going to be here for four years… This is the air you breathe, you’re eating at our restaurants, you’re driving in our streets. Peoria’s issues are Bradley’s issues and vice versa,” Vespa said in an interview. “I don’t want Bradley to be a bubble and I think the City Council needs to address their concerns – and if they want to be heard, they need to vote.”

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