Ag rezoning raises questions

Ag rezoning raises questions

URBANA – A package of zoning changes intended to preserve area farmland, curb residential development in rural areas and promote commercial districts came under fire Thursday night as about 200 residents attended a meeting to learn more about the plans.

As part of Champaign County's comprehensive review of its zoning code, staff has proposed several changes to the rural districts. Thursday's meeting at the Brookens Center was one of several public hearings the Champaign County Board of Appeals will hold to review the proposed changes.

What drew much of the criticism and questions Thursday night was a proposal to limit residential development in certain areas of the county, particularly in "transition districts," a classification proposed for some areas surrounding municipalities.

Transition districts would encompass selected University of Illinois properties and areas designated for commercial uses, said Susan Monte, associate planner with the county.

"These are identified as future, potential, non-residential use areas. These are areas within 1.5 miles of the municipality that the city or village have indicated that they would like to see designated as commercial," she said.

In addition to creating the new district, staff proposes eliminating the Ag-2 zoning district. About 5,700 acres of land in the county that is currently zoned as Ag-2 would be rezoned as transition. And about 36,000 acres of land in Ag-2 would be rezoned to Ag.

Residential development in Ag districts is generally limited. Under the changes proposed, if someone owned more than 5 acres but less than 10, he or she would be allowed two additional residential lots on which to build. If someone owned 160 acres or more he or she would be allowed four additional residential lots.

Robert Brunner, who owns land east of Urbana, does not support the proposals, and his comments prompted many to applaud.

"I've worked all my life for my little piece of land. Why should you be told by some governmental body what you should do with your land? It's the right of the landowner to determine what to do with the property," he said.

Champaign County is not the only county that has considered limiting housing developments in rural areas. Earlier this month, the Piatt County Board adopted changes to its zoning ordinance that will require owners of lots of less than 20 acres to receive permission from the zoning board of appeals before building homes on the land.

Attendees of Thursday's meeting who live on the outskirts of towns said they were not thrilled to learn they lived near an area targeted as commercial.

"We live in rural Urbana, and we'd like to keep it that way," said George Boyd.

Richard Fitzsimmons owns land north of Urbana that is proposed for the transition district.

"I bought (the land) because my son will build a house next door someday," he said.

Fitzsimmons said he is concerned about how living in an area designated for commercial use will affect his property values.

Just how such changes would affect property values depends on a number of factors, including the value of nearby properties, Monte said.

The proposed changes to the zoning code would not affect property taxes, she maintained.

"As long as there is no change in the use of the land, the changes in zoning districts will have no effect," Monte said.

"We've been blessed with some of the best farmland in the world, but we've been cutting it up for speculators," said Scott Bidner, who farms northwest of Champaign and is on the board of the Champaign County Farm Bureau.

The bureau supports development that is "compact and contiguous," Bidner said, meaning growth that extends directly from urban areas, rather than development of a subdivision in the middle of a rural area.

"We understand and appreciate growth and vitality, but municipalities and local governments put together a ready-made conflict when they allow a subdivision in the middle of farmland," he said.

Bidner said he wanted to attend Thursday's meeting to review the plans and listen to what people had to say. He was one of about 7,500 people who received notice about the change. A letter was sent landowners who would be directly affected by the proposed changes and those whose properties are nearby.

You can reach Christine des Garennes at (217) 351-5388 or via e-mail at

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