The Department of Development & Housing is tasked with many functions that are essential to the growth and trajectory of the city of Alton.
The principal mission of the department is to improve and enhance the quality of life for Alton citizens through the provision of programs and initiatives relating to economic and community development, grant writing and administration, short- and long-range planning, and building and zoning code enforcement.
Economic development is one of the primary functions of the department; we seek to expand the city’s tax base, create new jobs as well as retain existing employment levels. To that end, the city provides technical assistance and guidance for development projects and business relocations/expansions. Additionally, the city provides economic incentives to such projects through the Riverfront TIF District, Hunterstown TIF District, Riverbend Enterprise Zone and Commercial Façade Rehabilitation Grant Program. These economic development tools greatly enhance the city’s ability to attract new business and help existing businesses to grow and expand.
The current administration has made it a priority to foster a business-friendly economic climate. Since 2013, the department’s business retention program has conducted approximately 130 site visits and interviews with companies ranging in scale from our largest corporate citizens all the way down to sole proprietorships. These interviews allow department staff to assess industry trends and local concerns as well as to be more responsive to our business community.
Economic development is an inexact science and requires the cooperation of public and private entities to create viable communities. We are thankful for all of our corporate citizens who are committed to moving our local economy forward. Likewise, we are also thankful for our partner agencies and institutions such as the RiverBend Growth Association, Madison County Community Development and Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity that further advance our mission.
Equally as important as the economic development functions are the enforcement of building/property maintenance codes and zoning/land use regulations. Municipal governments have the statutory authority to maintain and preserve public safety by regulating building construction, life safety requirements, property maintenance, land use and zoning.
The code enforcement aims are achieved primarily through property inspections for code compliance, building plan reviews, issuance of permits for property improvements and the issuance of citations and civil penalties for failure to adhere to local code requirements.
The Building & Zoning Department has 3 full-time inspectors and multiple trade-specific, part-time inspectors to enforce local codes. In 2015, the department completed more than 4,300 inspections of all varieties (building, electrical, plumbing, etc.) and issued approximately 3,500 citations. Over the same period, the department issued 537 building permits with a total construction value exceeding $23 million. The permitting functions generated approximately $210,000 in revenue for city operations.
Effective code enforcement also requires departmental cooperation with the Alton Fire Department, Public Works Department and Alton Police Department. The fire department provides supplemental support for plan reviews and business license and life safety inspections. Additionally, the Public Works Department coordinates with Building & Zoning staff to ensure permitted activities don’t adversely impact public infrastructure. Finally, the Building & Zoning Department maintains close cooperation with the police department relating to the Nuisance Abatement Taskforce, a multi-department initiative that inspects properties suspected of criminal activity and property code violations.
The public commissions that support the department provide avenues for public input, transparency and due process for department functions. The regulatory commissions correlated to the department include the Alton Plan Commission, Zoning Board of Appeals, Building Board of Appeals, Historic Commission and Appearance Review Commission.
In addition to the functions previously highlighted, Development & Housing is the fiscal agent and lead entity for several projects that support our principal mission including, but not limited to: development of the $24 million Alton Regional Multi-modal Transportation Center, renovation of Riverview Park and landscape enhancements to Landmarks Boulevard (Bridge West Project). Other grant-funded initiatives and programs such as infrastructure improvements, building demolitions, summer youth employment, home ownership assistance and owner-occupied rehab assistance are also functions of the department.
The challenging aspect of meeting the department’s mission is the breadth and depth of the issues that are encountered on a daily basis. However, the rewarding aspect is the ability to meet those challenges and help positively shape the direction of the community that we call home. The dedication of the department employees and the optimistic enthusiasm that permeates throughout the administration is a reflection of the civic pride that defines Alton. Although there is much work ahead and many challenges left to meet, the department staff humbly serves to collectively move this great city forward.
Greg Caffey is director of the Department of Development and Housing.