Two teams vying for Orchard Downs project pitch plans

Two teams vying for Orchard Downs project pitch plans

URBANA – In one room it was the Devonshire Group.

In the other room it was the partnership made up of Vermilion Development, Fox Development, The Atkins Group and Clark-Lindsey Village.

Both teams are competing to be the "master developer" of Orchard Downs.

On Wednesday, representatives from both groups met with well over 100 area residents – students, faculty members, retirees and others – at the University of Illinois Alice Campbell Alumni Center to answer questions and pitch their proposals for updating the 160-acre parcel south of campus.

Currently home to circa-1960 graduate and family housing, Orchard Downs is slated for a renovation, to be transformed into a multigenerational community.

The university will pay each development team $105,000 for its redevelopment plans. The UI will own both companies' plans and has the option of mixing and matching elements in each.

But only one team will be chosen to redevelop the space.

Following Wednesday's meeting, members of a consulting firm will work with university administration to examine the proposals, and a selection committee of university administrators is expected to recommend a master developer to Chancellor Richard Herman in June. Herman may recommend a developer to the UI Board of Trustees in July.

"I think this is an exciting opportunity for the community to develop a model community for older adults and for graduate families. This can be a real signature project for the campus and the community," said Kathleen Holden-Pecknold, director of the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute. The institute for people 50 and older will eventually be housed in Orchard Downs.

Wednesday's event was the last formal event for public input.

People can still take a look at the two proposals online or at the Urbana Free Library, and the deadline to fill out a survey is Monday.

To help with the next phase, the university is bringing in an outside firm to review and assess development plans and financial feasibility.

University trustees today are expected to approve the hiring of Jones Lang LaSalle of Chicago for $220,000 from May 21, 2007 to June 30, 2008, to evaluated the proposals.

The Devonshire Group proposal calls for a total of 770 units, including townhomes for seniors and furnished single-family homes for visiting professors on the north end. Renovated student housing would be in the center of the parcel, and a "Village Commons" area in the center would feature the Osher Institute, an international grocery, retail area, plus live/work units for professors, students or professionals. The south end would be a mix of senior housing.

The Vermilion/Fox/Atkins/Clark-Lindsey plan includes a total of 960 housing units, with single-family homes in the north end, row houses with apartments on the upper levels in the northeast, senior duplex and single-family detached homes along the east side of the parcel. Graduate housing would be concentrated on the west side overlooking a pond and the neighboring arboretum. The Osher Institute would be in the middle, and more senior housing would be in the south. Retail would be in the center and southwest corner.

As for housing for graduate students, both proposals call for fewer than the 751 units currently in Orchard Downs, prompting some students to speak out about the issue at previous meetings. The Devonshire Group proposes 412 units for grad students and Vermilion/Fox/Atkins/Clark-Lindsey plans for 393 units for grad students.

"It's a really good place for student families," said current Orchard Downs resident Ying Deng. "We want to keep the same peaceful, safe community. If more people move in and shop there, it will be more noisy," she said, adding that she didn't think the community needed any retail inside the development.

For a closer look at the plans, people can access the developer presentations on the Web site, www.orcharddowns.uiuc.edu.

Plans also are available for viewing at the Urbana Free Library.

The university has also asked people to fill out comprehensive surveys about the developer proposals.

They're asked to rate, for example, how well the developers' plans for building height and character fit in with the surrounding neighborhood, and to rate certain amenities such as common spaces and pedestrian access.

The survey is at www.srl.uic.edu/od.htm and available until Monday, May 21. University staff will compile the results of the surveys and provide them to the selection committee.

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