UI to develop master land use plan for Orchard Downs

UI to develop master land use plan for Orchard Downs

URBANA – After spending hundreds of thousands of dollars, the University of Illinois has shifted gears with the way it plans to redevelop Orchard Downs, the family and graduate housing complex south of campus.

UI Chancellor Richard Herman notified neighbors on Monday the university will not hire a developer to overhaul the site as originally planned. Instead, a master land use plan will be developed for the 160-acre parcel.

The university still aims to redevelop Orchard Downs and "we are committed to moving forward," Herman wrote in the letter.

"We want an integrated, intergenerational, multicultural, living/learning destination community. That's what we want," said Kathleen Holden, who chairs the Orchard Downs Advisory Committee, a group of university and community residents who have met with Herman over the course of several months on the project. "It's not an ordinary project. The University of Illinois is not an ordinary institution, and we want the new community to reflect the quality of our institution," said Holden, who also directs the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, an organization for people 55 years and older that will be housed in Orchard Downs.

The master land use plan is intended to direct the redevelopment, Herman wrote.

"With a master land use plan, the development can be phased so that the university can bring in experts for each component. We will have graduate family housing. We will have an active retirement community. We will have a community center where different groups can come together and where (the Osher institute) will be headquartered," she said.

Going forward, the university is expected to issue a request for proposals from firms to develop the land use plan. Ultimately the university will seek approval from the board of trustees for that plan.

In theory, the master land use plan sounds like a good approach, said Diane Marlin, a neighbor with the Southeast Urbana Neighborhood Association.

"In one way it makes a lot more sense for the university to develop this master plan with their vision, with the architectural, environmental and aesthetic standards, and then look for developers who can meet those standards and produce components of it," she said.

Built more than 40 years ago, Orchard Downs was slated for redevelopment in the campus strategic plan. The university started holding public forums in 2005 and 2006 to receive input from residents and neighbors. They overwhelmingly spoke in favor of keeping students and families in the development and the need to maintain the mature trees and the green space.

The UI paid two local development teams $105,000 each to come up with plans for the space. They included Vermilion Development, Fox Development, The Atkins Group and Clark-Lindsey Village; and a team led by The Devonshire Group. Chicago firm Jones Lang LaSalle was also brought on as a consultant to the UI for $220,000 to analyze financials and other aspects of the plans.

"One of the big lessons we learned is it's really important to bring in the expertise for the different components of the project. It's not going to be an ordinary development," Holden said.

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