Developer's changes sit well with neighbors
CHAMPAIGN — Neighbors of a proposed student housing development on University Avenue now say they will support a plan for a six-story apartment complex just north of the University of Illinois campus.
Those residents' support comes only after the builder resubmitted his development plans to the city. The new proposal moves all of the apartments off Park Street and onto University Avenue, which a spokesperson for the neighborhood group said will help maintain the character of the area.
The original proposal last year — which needed city officials' approval because it asked for waivers of zoning rules — included four buildings in the complex: Two six-story apartment buildings on University Avenue between Fifth and Wright streets and five- and six-story buildings on Park Street. It also included some green space and parking.
That irked residents of the neighborhood in the immediate surrounding areas. In meetings with the city and the developer, they said the apartment complex encroaching on their homes could ruin the long-established single-family feel of the neighborhood, raise the cost of living there and drive them out of houses they had lived in for decades.
The application for the development was subsequently withdrawn to take care of a technical problem, and neighborhood residents did not expect much to change when the application was resubmitted. But Claudia Lennhoff, the executive director of Champaign County Health Care Consumers, said the developer has spent time again with residents during the past few weeks and it appears that he has listened.
In fact, residents were "surprised" and "thrilled" by what has occurred.
The developer, Chase Sorrick of Indiana-based Investment Property Advisors, has now resubmitted his plans to the city. The new proposal expands the footprint of the University Avenue buildings, chops a floor of one of those buildings and eliminates the Park Street buildings altogether. It also includes a bit more parking, which assuages residents' worries about congestion.
"I studied how I could shift as much density as possible to the two buildings that fronted University (Avenue) and away from the two buildings that fronted Park Street," Sorrick said.
With the changes, Sorrick thinks he still has what can be a successful development.
"I needed to stick with about the same density that I had for it to be economically feasible, and I was able to shift it all into those two buildings," Sorrick said. "We did not decrease the density of the development, we were just able to widen the footprints" of the University Avenue buildings.
And that works just fine for the residents to the immediate north.
"Getting rid of the buildings on Park Street makes the residents happy because it helps the neighborhood maintain the single-family character of the neighborhood," Lennhoff said.
The message residents gave Sorrick in more recent meetings was essentially that they did not care what happened on University Avenue, Lennhoff said.
"They really don't consider it part of the neighborhood," Lennhoff said. "Really, the neighborhood is the single-family home part of the area."
And although the Park Street blocks are zoned for multi-family developments, that historically has been single-family homes, Lennhoff said. That makes it neighborhood territory.
It is not at all the first time Sorrick has found himself in conversations with residents in the vicinity of where he plans to build. But it is how Investment Property Advisors responds that makes the developer different, he said.
"It happens a lot," Sorrick said. "That's really frankly one of the things that kind of sets us apart from a lot of the others. We do really want to be neighborhood advocates and listen to what the neighborhood wants."
Those residents are so pleased with the new plans that they plan to publicly support it when it goes before the city's plan commission and city council.
"Residents were just thrilled with it," Lennhoff said. "Nobody expected him to come back with a proposal like that."