Jones building zoning request rejected; demolition now possible

RURAL RANTOUL — The owner of an apartment building between Thomasboro and Rantoul did not attend a Champaign County Zoning Board of Appeals meeting last week, clearing the way for the building possibly to be torn down.

Rick Stone, president of K&S Property Management in Champaign, which owns the structure commonly called the Jones building, was not present, and the board dismissed the zoning request.

Stone had asked that the property be rezoned from A-1 (agriculture) to R-4 (multifamily) so that the building could be renovated and rented out to tenants. The building, which sits on a 1.5-acre tract, is located directly east of the also-closed Cherry Orchard apartment complex, next to U.S. 45.

Both the village of Rantoul and Rantoul Township had filed petitions of protest to the rezoning request.

"We sent a notice (Friday) to Mr. Stone," county planning and zoning director John Hall said, "and we copied that to the state's attorney. The enforcement case presumably will be getting back under way."

That case involves the possible demolition of the building.

"The building has to be removed," Hall said. "Just sitting there is a violation of the ordinance. Of course, trying to board it up and not let people into it is not good for the neighbors. What the neighbors need is to have that removed.

"The neighbors have put up with this for a long time."

Champaign County Assistant State's Attorney Joel Fletcher said a complaint would be filed regarding the Jones building.

"We need to review the materials from the Zoning Board of Appeals" to determine when the complaint will be filed, he said.

The Jones building was grandfathered in to let it stay open when the county zoning ordinance was adopted in 1973. But when it was unoccupied for more than six months after being vacated in July 2011, its zoning reverted to agriculture.

For some reason, Hall said, the former owners of the building did not petition to have it zoned R-4 when the zoning laws were enacted in the 1970s, whereas the former owners of Cherry Orchard did. Cherry Orchard remains R-4 despite being unoccupied for more than a year.

While zoning is not an issue for Cherry Orchard apartments, the buildings' condition might be in the future. Hall said a nuisance complaint could be filed against the property.

"Stepping in and tearing those buildings down, just because they're so decrepit, I think eventually could be done," Hall said.

Cherry Orchard and the Jones building shared the same septic system, which Champaign-Urbana Public health officials cited as inadequate and a health hazard. Cherry Orchard's former caretakers, Bernard and Eduardo Ramos, had been buying the Jones building on contract and had defaulted.

Public health officials repeatedly attempted to get the Ramoses to remedy the septic situation, which included effluent running off into a farm field and raw sewage standing on top of the ground. The Ramoses made cosmetic attempts to remedy the problem.

Finally in April 2011, the Ramoses were fined $54,000 for failing to legally connect and repair the septic system and ordered to close down the property. Warrants were issued for their arrest after they failed to appear at hearings in connection with the case.

Eduardo Ramos was arrested in February 2012. Because there was less evidence against him, he was in declining health and because Cherry Orchard has remained vacant, authorities are not pursuing criminal charges against him.

Authorities, however, continue to search for his son, Bernard, who was arrested in April 2012 in Washington, but released after proper extradition papers were not produced in time for him to be brought to Illinois.

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