Updated Burnham plan takes on big-city look

CHAMPAIGN – The urban village that city planners once envisioned for the vacant Burnham City Hospital site is looking decidedly big city these days.

Picture the possibility of two high-rise apartment buildings, up to 18 and 20 stories high, dominating the skyline where the old hospital once stood.

Plans for those apartment buildings are included in a draft development agreement the city has reached with the Pickus Cos. of Highland Park, the developer the city selected for the Burnham site in July.

The Champaign City Council voted 9-0 Tuesday night to schedule the proposed development agreement for a final vote at the Oct. 18 council meeting.

As recently as a year ago, the city endorsed a master plan for the Burnham site that called for 86 row houses and 120 condominiums in two four- to six-story buildings on the Burnham site, all owner-occupied.

But the plan with Pickus Cos. now calls for a 250-unit luxury apartment building up to 20 stories high just north of Springfield Avenue, between Third and Fourth streets. Tentative rents in the building would be $858 for a one-bedroom unit, $1,200 for a two-bedroom unit and $1,800 for three bedrooms.

The plan also proposes the possibility of a second apartment building just north of Stoughton Street, with up to 150 apartments and up to 18 stories high, that would be reserved for University of Illinois graduate students.

Whether the second apartment is built depends on whether Pickus Cos. is selected by the University of Illinois to provide graduate student housing. The UI is planning to issue a request for proposals for graduate student housing in Champaign for one or two-person households, with the request likely to be issued in December, according to April Getchius, a campus planner for the UI.

Getchius, who said the UI is "very supportive" of the Burnham redevelopment, said the university would "master lease" the graduate student housing from the developer that is selected and would market, lease and manage the units.

The second apartment building would only be built if the UI selects Pickus Cos. to provide the graduate student housing.

The plan calls for denser development and differs somewhat from the original Pickus proposal in June.

The original proposal called for a 190-unit apartment building, up to 12 stories high, as well as 64 owner-occupied townhouses. An upscale grocery store was also planned.

The draft agreement ups the number of apartments to 250 for the main building. It would also allow Pickus to build and sell more than 100 "stacked-flat units" of up to three stories, as well as townhouses, in other parts of the development.

Council member Giraldo Rosales said he was concerned about the increased density and whether it would create parking problems for neighborhoods north of University Avenue.

"What you seem to be proposing is not consistent with what the master plan indicated," he said. "It seems to me like we're trying to fill it up with a lot of buildings so we can pay off the bonds."

But council member Tom Bruno said he believes that "dense is good, and more dense is better."

The city issued $7.8 million in bonds to buy and tear down the old hospital and clear the site. City projections are that the Pickus development will generate $20 million for the city. The site is part of the city's North Campustown Redevelopment Area Tax Increment Finance District, which was created in 2002.

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