Neighbors skeptical of development proposal
CHAMPAIGN — Plans for a two-block-long apartment complex along East University Avenue are being met with skepticism from homeowners who say it could change the character of their neighborhood.
As the student housing market booms locally, private developments are beginning to creep north of University Avenue. A neighborhood group that rallied for the cleanup of a toxic site at Fifth and Hill streets is now saying the large apartment complex poses a new risk to their livelihood.
Indiana-based Investment Property Advisors is seeking approval from the city to build a four-building, 552-bedroom apartment complex with 15,900 square feet of ground-floor retail space along the north side of University Avenue between Fifth and Wright streets. The company has dubbed it the Latitude housing development.
The city's plan commission is scheduled to open a public hearing when it meets at 4 p.m. Wednesday in the Champaign City Building, 102 N. Neil St. The commission would need to approve certain waivers of some city rules, and is expected to postpone a decision on the proposal until its January meeting. The city council will have the final say after that.
City officials have not yet taken a position on the development. They and the developer met with residents on Monday night, and they will likely hear more during public meetings in the months to come.
"We are waiting to get some public input," said Lorrie Pearson, the city's land development manager.
Some neighbors, however, have formed an opinion.
"It's going to affect the neighborhood," said resident Eileen Oldham.
Oldham lives just across the street from where the developer plans to build a surface parking lot to accommodate its residents. She worries the development will bring the bustle of campus north.
"If you've ever tried to travel down Springfield, at the corner of Springfield and Fourth, you see how congested it gets," she said.
Currently, about two blocks of used car sales lots, single-family homes and a surface parking lot are on the site.
Investment Property Advisors, which has applied for city approval for the apartment complex, specializes in student housing. Its website features projects it has completed at Ball State University, Valparaiso University and in Indianapolis.
A $60 million student housing complex it completed at the University of Louisville features 540 beds, 30,000 square feet of commercial space, a pool, hot tub, fitness center and multimedia room.
Developer Chase Sorrick told residents Monday evening that he thinks the development will bring investment to the neighborhood.
"We do feel as though this is going to be a positive impact on this neighborhood," Sorrick said. "We build a high-quality product."
While the group specializes in student housing, Sorrick said he believes some young professionals — particularly those who work in the nearby hospitals — will want to sign leases in the Latitude building.
Because 35 percent to 40 percent of the units will be one-bedroom, he thinks the development will be desirable to students who want to focus more on their studies.
"We try to attract a different type of student," Sorrick said. "One that's more serious, grad students."
Eventually the complex would provide 323 parking spaces.
He said managers at buildings he's done in the past run a tight ship.
"Neighborhoods surround the university, and students are going to live in those neighborhoods," Sorrick said. "All we can do is provide an environment that is as safe as possible."
City officials in both Champaign and Urbana have been busy lately with proposals for student housing. Projects are already underway on Green Street in Champaign, including a high-rise at Fourth Street and two buildings at Sixth Street.
Student housing has already begun to creep north in Urbana at the 1000 block of West University Avenue, only a few blocks from the Champaign site, where the Florida-based Bainbridge Cos. plan to build a five-story, 197-unit complex with beds for 510 students.
Oldham thinks it's a sign that campus is expanding.
"They've done it before, especially if you are to travel east into Urbana, they've got it there," Oldham said.
At a press conference scheduled for Tuesday afternoon, the Fifth and Hill Neighborhood Rights Group plans to make the case that the development could have consequences for the neighborhood. Among the group's concerns, it thinks the complex will remove green space from the neighborhood, vastly change the scale of buildings in the area and raise the costs of living for nearby residents.
Residents say they want their property values to rise without pricing them out of the neighborhood.
"The residents of this neighborhood want to have a voice in what happens in their neighborhood," said Claudia Lennhoff, the executive director of Champaign County Health Care Consumers and one of the organizers behind the neighborhood group.
According to a 2011 survey conducted by the University of Illinois Department of Urban and Regional Planning, 29 percent of the 37 North First Street and East University Avenue business owners surveyed supported an expansion of the university district to the north, and 43 percent said they did not support it. The rest had mixed feelings.
Associate Professor Stacy Harwood said those who did support the push north said it would bring more customers to their businesses.
Those who did not support the push north worried about gentrification of the area, and said it posed a risk to the predominantly black community.