Residents criticize plan for Champaign subsidized housing
CHAMPAIGN — More than 100 people packed the Champaign City Council chambers Tuesday night, many of them there to criticize a plan to put subsidized housing in west Champaign near the Turnberry Ridge subdivision.
But Champaign Mayor Don Gerard prefaced public comments on the project by saying the city had no control over the development "except to make sure that the codes are enforced."
The project, which is to be built on 12 acres on Cobblefield Road west of Interstate 57, is sponsored by the Housing Authority of Champaign County.
Housing authority Executive Director Edward Bland, who attended Tuesday's city council meeting, said a public hearing on the project would be held May 15 "and we'll have additional hearings if people want them."
When asked if the project was "a done deal," as one speaker had inquired, Bland responded, "The housing authority followed all the proper procedures. The land was zoned for multifamily use in 2004. We could build more than 200 units there but this calls for 160."
Many of the nearly two dozen people who addressed the city council contended that the development would exacerbate traffic congestion in the area. But others objected to subsidized housing near upscale subdivisions.
"Had I known in 2011 when I was in Afghanistan that there was going to be an apartment building, let alone subsidized housing, I would have told my wife we're not going to live there," said George Vargas, a local attorney. "This is simple economics. I made a decision to live somewhere where property taxes are higher, where I wanted to live in a single-family subdivision."
But Betty Smith, also of Champaign, endorsed the project.
"I come from low income. I come from public aid. I've worked at the University of Illinois for 28 years," she said. "To put a stigma on Section 8 (housing) is wrong. This is not how Champaign County needs to operate."
Also Tuesday, the city council approved the final development plan for Parking Lot J at the northwest corner of Sixth and Green streets. The plan calls for two 12-story buildings, including a 108-room Mariott Town Place Suites hotel, retail space, apartment units and a parking garage.
Construction is scheduled to begin this fall and will be completed in August 2015, said Jill Guth of JSM Development.
JSM would pay the city almost $4 million for the parking lot.
"This kind of a project is transformational for our community and transformational for Campustown," said council member Tom Bruno. "Having a hotel in Campustown will bring us up to probably an amenity that is enjoyed in almost every other Big Ten community."
Mayor Don Gerard said the two developers that did not win the Lot J project are working on other Campustown developments.
"It's really a good sign that we're going to be having a lot of activity going on, creating a lot of jobs and commerce," Gerard said.