URBANA — Fearing a move that they think could harm an Urbana neighborhood, city council members voted 6-0 to deny a developer's request to rezone 11 residential properties to allow for more commercial opportunities.
Most of them said it was a difficult case — balancing future development with long-standing homes — but neighborhood residents won out Tuesday.
Developer Howard Wakeland had asked city officials to change 11 properties on the west side of North Lincoln Avenue from single-family residential to a designation called "neighborhood business." The distinction would have given the property owner more flexibility in what may be built on those properties, from single-family or multi-family residence buildings to convenience or other small retail stores.
Wakeland already owns nine of the 11 properties he asked city officials to rezone in the 900 blocks of West Church and Hill streets and the 700 block of North Lincoln Avenue.
But two owner-occupied homes remain, and Viola Bradley-Bias, who owns one of them, said hers is not for sale — despite Wakeland's purchase offers well above the assessed value of her home.
"I still won't sell it to him," Bradley-Bias said. "I don't care what they do, I still won't sell it to him."
Other speakers Tuesday night opposed what they considered the breakup of an established neighborhood, and at least two other neighbors who own property adjacent to Wakeland's have told city officials of their disapproval.
The tract is just north of a block where the city council has already approved designs for a large five-story student housing complex, and it is just to the west of the expanding Carle Foundation Hospital campus.
Bradley-Bias does not plan to leave any time soon.
"I don't want all that (commercial) stuff around me," Bradley-Bias said. "I feel like I should be able to live in peace and quiet."
Alderman Dennis Roberts, D-Ward 5, said the request was reminiscent of the rise of apartment buildings that he thinks has harmed the historic East Urbana neighborhood.
"Mixing the neighborhood usually results in hardship to the families that are still single-family residential," he said.
On the other hand, Wakeland's request is in tune with Urbana's comprehensive plan, a document that guides future development in the city. The plan calls for that block to be the future site of "community business."
Roberts said, however, that the way Wakeland's properties are situated would have made it very difficult to build a business facing North Lincoln Avenue. The two of 11 properties he does not own cut in to the Lincoln Avenue frontage.
"I just don't think this is the right time to approve the zoning change," Roberts said.
Urbana resident and Republican mayoral candidate Rex Bradfield acted as a character witness for Wakeland. He said he has worked with Wakeland for decades, and "his integrity is approached by none, including myself."
"In my 40 years of surveying, I've never surveyed a property that was better taken care of," Bradfield said.
Bradfield said he has found Wakeland properties to always be well maintained and policed.
"I think he has provided the city of Urbana with the type of landlord the city of Urbana would like to have with all their developments," Bradfield said.