BLOOMINGTON — The owner of historic Gray Ledges, a Ewing family home on East Washington Street, has been ordered to stop cutting up a city parkway to connect his new driveway to the street.
City officials have posted a "stop work order" at the site after learning the owner, Greg Shepard, did not have a valid city permit allowing him to dig up the grass to install a concrete apron to connect the driveway to the street.
The location is where the city refused last year to remove a healthy tree to enable Shepard to proceed with the driveway project. The dispute was resolved, in a manner, when the tree died in April.
Shepard did not respond Tuesday to requests for comment.
"There was a permit (for a new driveway) applied for in July 2017. That permit expired in January 2018," said city Communication Manager Nora Dukowitz. "A stop work order was issued. We're aware of the situation, and we're reviewing the best course of action."
When asked about what that course of action might be, Dukowitz said, "We're still researching that." She also declined to say what penalties, if any, Shepard could face.
On Monday, the stop work order was first given verbally at approximately 11 a.m. followed by a written order at approximately 7:30 p.m.
Gray Ledges was the residence of Spencer and Lena Ewing. The couple had Prairie-style architect John S. Van Bergen build the house in 1920-21 at 1706 E. Washington St. In 1952, Gray Ledges was sold by the Ewing family to James and Marie Owen, the owners of Owen Nursery in Bloomington.
Shepard purchased Gray Ledges and adjacent lots at 1700 East Washington and 24 and 26 Country Club Place, totaling about 4.5 acres, from Frances Owen for $1.1 million, according to McLean County assessor's office documents.
In 2015, Shepard began restoring the property, including having dense woodland and foliage surrounding the house removed. At that time, he mistakenly removed some trees along Mercer Avenue that belonged to the city, for which he later apologized to the city.
In April, a passerby reported to the city that a once healthy tree appeared to be dead and that there was an odor, said Dukowitz.
Officials from the city parks and recreation department, which oversees the management of city-owned trees, collected and provided soil samples to the Bloomington Police Department.
A mature tree, about 25 years old, was located in the path of a horseshoe-shaped drive that had been constructed with both legs leading to and from Washington Street, according to a BPD report dated April 12.
"The eastern most leg of the drive was newer and there was no curb cut-out for it yet," the report stated.
While the grass in the parkway was greening up, the area around the base of the tree was still brown.
"There was a strong odor of what was most likely gasoline or diesel fuel emitting from the ground around the base of the tree," the police report stated.
Park department officials told police they suspected someone was attempting to kill the tree by dumping gasoline or diesel fuel around the tree, according to the BPD report.
The officials told police that the property owner had been "in a dispute with the city of Bloomington over the removal of the tree," the report stated. The city decided in the fall of 2017 that the tree would not be removed because it was healthy.
The tree, which later did die and was removed, was a honey locust valued at about $8,500.
A formal complaint about the dead tree was not filed with the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency, said Kim Biggs, an IEPA spokeswoman.
"A call was made to us about it, but it was indicated that unless there was evidence of illegal disposal activity or some type of contamination we don't have jurisdiction over it," said Biggs. "It would be a local authority or police department issue."
The police case was administratively closed, meaning there was not enough evidence to pursue charges.