URBANA — Prodded by last year's court-ordered closure of a ramshackle and unsanitary apartment complex south of Rantoul, Champaign County Board members may be taking the first tentative steps toward enacting a county building code.
Champaign County is the largest county in Illinois without a county building code; Champaign and McLean counties are the only counties of the top 20 in population in the state without such a local ordinance. Twenty-five Illinois counties, including Iroquois, Macon, Sangamon, Peoria and Tazewell counties, have a building code that applies to unincorporated areas.
The county board is scheduled to discuss the issue at a committee of the whole meeting at 6 p.m. Tuesday at the Brookens Administrative Center, 1776 E. Washington St., U.
Although there is county board support for such an ordinance, it is far from a certainty and probably would take at least a year to approve, even its proponents admit.
"I think we'll look at it. We'll talk about it, but right now the county jail and the nursing home are the big issues (before the board)," said Rantoul Republican Stan James. "But right now, I would hope we'll do something by spring of next year."
James is a longtime supporter of a county building ordinance.
"I'm in hopes that my side will support most of it," said James. "I see that agricultural buildings — which was a big hangup for some of them — would be exempt. That's good. But we've got to start doing something. As I have pointed out to the whole group, Cherry Orchard (the rundown complex south of Rantoul off of U.S. 45) was bad and there could be other bad places down the road. If we don't have anything in line, how can we really correct things?"
But one of James' Republican colleagues, Mahomet board member John Jay, urged caution.
"I'm not sure what the real push behind this is. We've had some issues in the county in the Rantoul area. This may or may not have helped with that. I don't know. But just because of an isolated incident, I'm not sure that's a reason to put a program like this into place unless we think we're going to have more of these," said Jay, who is the head of the board's Republican caucus. "I think it needs to be looked at very carefully. To me it looks like an overreach.
"And I don't know that we're in a position to hire the people necessary to make the building code work. You really need someone out there with the professional knowledge to do that, and some of the stuff that's in it is already covered by the state fire marshal's office anyway, although I do know that it's hard to get them to respond. I just hope this is not something we're going to jump into really quickly."
Champaign Democrat Alan Kurtz, who also wants to see the county adopt a building ordinance, doesn't think it will happen quickly.
"It really hasn't been on the top of our priorities. We've had a lot of other things to consider, but I think Cherry Orchard brought it to a head, that we need some kind of protection for those residents who live in this kind of a situation," said Kurtz. "I think this will run right through into the next county board (which will be seated in December). The report alone is going to take a lot of time. Take a look at the Peoria County building code and it looks like a telephone book."
The report the county board will review Tuesday night was prepared by the county's regional planning commission. In its introduction, the report says it "lays the groundwork for county board review of the feasibility and capabilities of Champaign County to implement a building code, with energy efficient building design standards considered."
No actual language is offered, and the costs and benefits of an ordinance are presented broadly.
Benefits include "greater potential for improved protection of public health, safety and welfare; environmental and financial benefits associated with energy-efficient building design and improved cost and availability of property insurance in unincorporated areas of the county."
Costs cited by the commission's study include the expense of setting up a review process including public hearings, selection of a model building code and legal review, plus evaluation of the needs of the existing planning and zoning department, development of a procedure manual for building code permitting, establishment of a permit fee structure and revisions to existing county ordinances.
"Why are we so far behind on this stuff? If it's political squabbling, it needs to stop in my estimation. We need to look at what's fair and what's right and then do it," said James.
Like Jay, he said, he is "definitely worried about the cost" of adopting and implementing a county building code.
"But everyone seems to think that you've got to go in and do this, this and this. No, you can just grow slowly and do what you need to do. They think we're going to have to put five people on the staff. No, you're not doing it now so why do you think you have to do it tomorrow? Just go in there and set it up, put your rules in place and as things start coming along, give them the staff. That's the way I'm looking at it."