Developer still plans to build after pulling application

CHAMPAIGN — The developer of a proposed East University Avenue apartment complex which has drawn criticism from neighbors said Friday he still plans to build despite his recent withdrawal of a city application.

Neighbors were initially happy to hear that plans for a four-building, 552-bedroom apartment complex may have been scrapped and said they looked forward to working with the city to find another way to redevelop that area. But the Indiana-based developer said the withdrawal of his plans was more of a technicality — he plans to resubmit his proposal and expects it will be substantially the same.

The withdrawal and expected resubmittal need to happen "basically because it's changing," said developer Chase Sorrick. "We're adding a parcel at Fifth and University."

In two meetings with the developer and city planners during the past couple months, nearby residents said the project is too big, too dense and it likely will disrupt their neighborhood.

Some worry that the new construction and resulting bump in property values — and consequently, their tax bills — would become a burden and force out homeowners who have lived there for decades. Others worry about availability of parking.

Sorrick said he does not yet know what will come of the new parcel he plans to add to the project site — it could be more parking or it could be used as open space.

"We're just taking on this parcel, and I'm going to have a look at what that means and then be resubmitting," he said.

He added that he has heard the concerns of nearby residents and does not take them lightly. He said, however, that he does not yet have any specific plans in response.

"I've been doing a great deal the last couple of weeks and just looking at all options that I think I could do, and what I heard certainly influences that," Sorrick said. "So we'll see what comes of that."

Still, the neighbors are looking forward to working with the city on future development. At the last meeting at Salem Baptist Church, city officials extended an invitation to residents to work with them on zoning and planning issues.

Eileen Oldham, who lives across the street from what is proposed as a parking lot for the Latitude project, said it is wrong to think that the residents are opposed to development in their neighborhood.

"Not by any means," she said. "We want to see improvement. It's just that that particular proposal was not a good fit for the neighborhood."

Claudia Lennhoff, the executive director of Champaign County Health Care Consumers who has been working as an organizer for the neighborhood on this and other issues, said there have been some important lessons learned in this process.

"One of those big lessons is that you need to understand how your neighborhood is zoned or how parts of your neighborhood are zoned," she said.

Residents had been unaware that the zoning is a match for such a large apartment building on the East University Avenue properties where the project is proposed. Part of the project would have been a bit to the north, on Park and Church streets, which Lennhoff said is probably better suited for single-family type development.

"It's not that we were opposed to development on University Avenue or Park Street," she said. "It's just that the proposed plan, Latitude Development, as proposed was just too massive, too dense."

With the application withdrawn, that means a Feb. 5 public hearing on the matter has been canceled. It will be rescheduled after new plans are submitted.

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