Board to vote on village plan

RANTOUL – After more than five years of focus groups, studies, meetings, multiple drafts, public debates and revisions, Rantoul could finally get its first new comprehensive plan in four decades in place by next week.

At Tuesday's study session, the Rantoul Village Board recommended final approval for the comprehensive plan. The board is expected to vote on it at its meeting at 6:15 p.m. Feb. 14 at the Rantoul Municipal Building, 333 S. Tanner St.

It has been more than five years since the village paid a team of University of Illinois urban and regional planning graduate students $50,000 to begin working on a new comprehensive plan for the community.

A comprehensive plan guides government leaders when they consider new developments and requests to modify land uses.

Beginning in January 2001, the students did surveys of the community and held a large town meeting they called a charrette at the Precision Aviation Hangar to garner public input on Rantoul's future.

The students then drew up a first draft of the comprehensive plan, and village leaders have been modifying the plan ever since. All the UI students have since graduated.

Village staff proposed converting farmland south of Chandler Road into a large industrial and commercial center; adding two new Interstate 57 exits, one on the south side and one on the north side of town; constructing a rail spur from the Canadian National Railroad to the former base; and creating a new commercial strip of retail stores, anchored by the new Wal-Mart Supercenter, parallel to Interstate 57.

The Rantoul Plan Commission then spent most of the last 12 months studying the revisions and holding public hearings on the plan.

The final hurdle to the plan was reached in late January when the plan commission approved a compromise over the future of North Murray Road.

The village staff had proposed making the west side of Murray industrial and the east side of Murray residential.

But Joe Murray, a trustee for the Murray Trust, which owns land east of Murray Road, said he believes there will be demand for commercial development there. He convinced the plan commission to zone his land commercial.

That raised the ire of scores of residents of the Indian Hills neighborhood who protested the change, concerned about noise and possible decreased property values.

More than 50 residents signed a petition demanding that Murray's land be zoned residential.

Murray argued that it was unfair to restrict his property to residential development as long as the west side of Murray Road was being developed for commercial purposes.

The village board sent the residents' requests back to the plan commission, who held two additional public hearings on North Murray Road.

Village Inspector Dan Culkin said the plan commission recommended a compromise.

"The intent is to have the east side of the property become residential and the west side of the property by the interstate become commercial," Culkin said.

Rantoul Village Administrator David Johnston said it will be up to the developers to convince the village where the residential development would stop and the commercial development would begin.

"We don't have a set line of demarcation," Johnston said. "The developers will have to 'wow' us enough with an impressive plan. If the developer doesn't impress us, the line won't get passed."

Indian Hills resident Christy Schurter said she was pleased with the compromise.

"I agree with the new plan. I think it takes into consideration the concerns of the Murray Trust, and it allows ample space for homes to be developed east of Murray Road that are comparable to those that exist in the area."

Another Rantoul resident, David Sanders, said he was disappointed about the five years it took to complete the plan.

"If it is going to take this long to get something done, we'd better get started on the next comprehensive plan as soon as we finish this one," Sanders said.

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