Political newcomer, three incumbents vie for three seats on Crystal Lake City Council

Newcomer says he is ‘hoping to be a new voice, not one that seems to echo the current shortsighted vision of the board’

While three current City Council members said they hope to use their experience keep moving Crystal Lake forward, one candidate not currently on the council argues that a new voice is needed.

Incumbents Cameron Hubbard, Mandy Montford and Ian Philpot, along with Robert Brechbiel, a political newcomer, are vying for three seats on the Crystal Lake City Council.

Hubbard, a financial adviser with Exemplar Financial Network in Crystal Lake, is finishing up his second term as a council member. If reelected, this would be his third term on the council.

Hubbard, 35, said he can represent different demographic as a younger member of the community. He said he wants to keep city government running efficiently and effectively as a council member.

“We’ve been making the most of our city departments with the limited resources we have. We’ve been holding our taxes stable for many years now,” he said.

Montford, a real estate agent, was appointed to the council in July 2020, to fill acting Mayor Haig Haleblian’s council seat when he became mayor after the death of Mayor Aaron Shepley.

“I feel I have valuable input based on my long-term residence in this community,” she said.

She said she’s also been proud of how the council and city leadership carefully assesses new opportunities, even when they are controversial, such as marijuana-related businesses and video gambling.

“I think the leadership has done an outstanding job researching these types of opportunities, seeking community input, and then developing a plan for moving forward so that the majority of our residents will be comfortable with the outcome,” Montford said.

Philpot, the director of marketing for e-commerce distributor CPG.IO, was appointed to fill late council member Ralph Dawson’s seat in January 2020 after Dawson retired.

Philpot calls himself a “child of Crystal Lake,” with generations of his family living in the city.

“I would go sledding on the hill at [Veteran] Acres. My family would always go into Pinemoor Pizza and Mr. A’s for Italian beef. We’d always go to The Freeze or Julie Ann’s,” Philpot said.

Philpot said running for the City Council is his way of giving back to the community and making sure it stays in a good place for years to come.

Brechbiel, who has lived in Crystal Lake for about 10 years, is a longtime firefighter for the Crystal Lake Fire Rescue Department.

He’s running, he said, because he does not feel the current council represents the majority of the city.

“Once elected, I would like to educate the council members on things that they may not be knowledgeable about,” Brechbiel said. “Additionally, I am hoping to be a new voice, not one that seems to echo the current shortsighted vision of the board.”

Business development, especially at the Crystal Court Shopping Center, was cited as a priority by the current council members. Crystal Court Shopping Center lost two stores, Walmart and Cub Foods, more than a decade ago, and those spots remained vacant ever since.

For that area, Hubbard said, the council is trying to find something that feels right for the community.

“I don’t like it to be vacant. That doesn’t do anything for our community, but we’re trying to bring something of quality in,” Hubbard said, adding that he’d like to see an anchor store surrounded by a shopping area and possibly some residential there.

Philpot also said he’d like to see a mixed-use building with some multi-unit housing.

“It’s a great location,” he said. “I know it’s been difficult for years to just be sitting on top of that property, and I’m hopeful that we get something in that space soon.”

Montford sees a mix of commercial and residential, such as a high-end restaurant or apartment buildings, in that space as well.

“The city is working with a developer now to create a beautiful development over there,” Montford said. “It just needs some refinement at this point.”

To do this, Montford said, the city needs to seek input from the developer, while also balancing what the community wants.

Regarding development in the city, Brechbiel said Crystal Lake missed out on several past opportunities that later settled in surrounding towns.

He pointed as an example to the opening of Rise Lake in the Hills this week, not too far from the Crystal Lake boundary, after the Crystal Lake City Council was not able to come to a decision in a reasonable amount of time about whether to allow marijuana dispensaries within the city limits.

This represents missed tax revenue, jobs and people coming to Crystal Lake from other places to shop, eat stay and relax, he said.

Brechbiel also said that the city is ill-equipped to provide the current level of services for new development coming in the future.

The city of Crystal Lake is growing, Brechbiel said, with new residential developments planned off Route 31.

“Growth is good. However, it should be balanced with the growth of city services so that same level of service can at least be maintained,” he said.

One of the biggest challenge the city now faces will be keeping storefronts filled, Hubbard said. With the last decade seeing a shift to online retailers, it has been difficult to keep storefront retailers in business – and the pandemic didn’t help.

Brechbiel sees Crystal Lake’s biggest challenge as continuing to deal with COVID-19 in the future.

“We all want to do the things that we’re accustomed to doing, but we have to wait for the science and the vaccinations to lead the way,” he said.

Something Montford wants to see in the future is more diversity on the council, with different cultures, races and sexual identities represented.

Moving forward, Philpot said he’d like to see Crystal Lake do more with the Three Oaks Recreation Area and work on sustainability in the city, whether this means promoting solar panels, home batteries or backyard gardens for residents.

When it comes to Three Oaks, Philpot said he’d like to address its water level issues and making the park as usable and walkable as possible.

“I just love that space. I love seeing it used,” Philpot said.

Brechbiel echoed Philpot’s appreciation of Three Oaks.

“I know the residents of Crystal Lake know what a gem Three Oaks Recreation Area is,” he said. “The properties along Route 14 that back up to the quarry have amazing views. Those properties, planned and developed properly, would bring in more visitors to the city generating more tax revenue.”

Cassie Buchman

I cover Crystal Lake, Algonquin, Cary, Fox River Grove, Prairie Grove and Oakwood Hills for the Northwest Herald.