UPDATE: Champaign council rejects landmark status for all 3 properties in Central's way

UPDATE: Champaign council rejects landmark status for all 3 properties in Central's way

CHAMPAIGN — Three-plus hours and 35 emotional speeches later, the final score is in.

Unit 4 school district 3, PACA 0.

After a marathon meeting Tuesday night, seven of the eight Champaign City Council members in attendance voted against local preservationists' request to grant local landmark status to three historic properties along West Church Street that the Champaign school district plans to demolish as part of the expanded Central High School campus.

An eighth council member, Centennial High School social studies teacher Greg Stock, abstained.

A ninth, Will Kyles, was out of town for work but told The News-Gazette late last month that he was leaning toward denying PACA's request.

As Tom Bruno pointed out before casting his "no" vote, going against the wishes of the property owner (Unit 4) would have required six of nine members siding with the Preservation and Conservation Association of Champaign County.

"We are talking about property owners' rights," council member Clarissa Fourman said in justifying her vote.

"We are talking about quality education for all of Champaign," fellow council member Alicia Beck said.

Several council members cited the results of Election Day, 13 months ago Friday, when 12,999 more voters cast ballots for Unit 4's $183.4 million facilities package than against.

The hallmark of the six-school proposal was an expanded Central High campus. While there was no specific mention in the ballot question of the former Burnham Mansion, one of three properties PACA hoped to spare, "expansion" was referenced and it "wasn't a secret that Unit 4 was going to buy this house if the referendum passed," Stock said Tuesday.

Before Election Day, the school district purchased option agreements to buy several properties in Central's neighborhood if the referendum passed. Soon after it did, the district became the owner of three properties along West Church — 603 (Burnham), 606 (the Capt. Edward Bailey House) and 500 (the Phillippe Mansion/McKinley Memorial YMCA).

A map of all the properties the school district has bought to accommodate the Central High expansion is below, with the three nominated for landmark status highlighted in orange:

Almost a year later, in October, PACA went public with its protest to save all three, which before Tuesday night was heard by two Champaign agencies — the Historic Preservation Commission (sided with PACA) and the Plan Commission (sided with Unit 4).

The council had the final say.

"The referendum vote from November of last year is where it turned for me," council member Matt Gladney said. "It sets a dangerous precedent to second-guess that 'yes' vote."

"The fact that there was an overwhelming vote to preserve the high school speaks volumes about what we care about in this community," Mayor Deb Feinen said.

Added Bruno, speaking to a gathering of 120-plus in a more crowded-than-usual council chambers: "We have to assume the voters knew what they were voting for. This is representative democracy at its best, when this many people turn out for this."

PACA took the vote hard, with President Alice Novak saying: "If the Burnham Mansion is not a local landmark, then nothing in the United States is a local landmark."

The new Central isn't expected to be ready for students until the fall of 2022, but there appear to be no more roadblocks in the way.

"I am satisfied the process has run its course," Unit 4 school board President Chris Kloeppel said.

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BigTenFan wrote on December 06, 2017 at 6:12 am

For those whom want the houses saved, sell each house for $1 and give them a deadline date to have it moved.  The city can expedite all permits and eliminate all fees associated with move.  Everyone wins

rsp wrote on December 06, 2017 at 12:12 pm

The school district offered to help pay for moving the houses up to the cost of demolition. But people have to be reasonable. There has to be a location. The preservationists don't want them moved.

kaw wrote on December 06, 2017 at 5:12 pm

This last minute "battle" to save these properties is a perfect example of why people need to pay attention to local news.  The Central expansion plans, while not specific previous to the referendum, were very clearly expansion plans.  The options to purchase the properties were reported in the News-Gazette and various news outlets.  So where were the preservationists when all this was happening months and months ago?  Please, pay attention to what's going on around you.  Local politics directly affect you far more than what's going on in Washington D.C.  

MarkDibley wrote on December 06, 2017 at 10:12 am

I very much enjoy and support the preservation of local history. That being said, the takeaway from this failure to gain local landmark status is not that it invalidates all local landmarks across the country, Ms. Novak. The takeaway is that you and your group need to be more proactive in your efforts to fight for the preservation of local historical properties like the Burnham house. The intentions for this property were not a secret in the lengthy, highly publicized effort for the approval of the Central High School expansion. That PACA did not fight for landmark status until after the referendum had passed indicates that you either do not pay attention to local news, or that you had a strategy--potentially to wait and see how the vote turned out, and gamble on a last ditch legal effort to save the building--and it turned out to be a failure. The latter would be less damning, though the outcome remains the same. If this property truly is a local landmark, protections should have been fought for long before the looming spectre of its destruction ever appeared. Maybe PACA can learn from this lesson and be more proactive about preservation of other local history going forward.

CaramelD1 wrote on December 06, 2017 at 12:12 pm

Where have PACA and the local preservationists been all of this time?  If the Burnham Mansion was of such historical significance, why hasn't anyone fought for its landmark status before now? Isn't this part of PACA's foundation and purpose Alice? http://pacacc.org/about/.

Someone dropped the ball on this one, and it wasn't the City Council members!  

NG:  What's up with the "mugshot type" photo of the City Council members and their votes?  So much for unbiased reporting.



pattsi wrote on December 06, 2017 at 11:12 am

As one of the five individuals who founded PACA and the spirit of journalistic balance, it might be edcational for all of us to layout the timeline of when and how PACA learned about the intersection of Unit 4 and the Burnham Mansion and today, including efforts made. Many have posted the comments "too late" to the situation. This may or may not be accurate information. Ido not know. But one poster suggested that the community ought to learn from this lesson. The only way to learn from this lesson is to have all of the data/facts laid out. Why has not the N-G done this due diligence?

rsp wrote on December 06, 2017 at 12:12 pm

The information was in the NG about the option to buy almost two years ago. So it was public knowledge. In addition, the president of the school board sent letters to PACA and Landmarks Illinois in the spring of 2016 offering to work with them about the houses. Of all the meetings and planning the school had, only two or three were attended by PACA and it wasn't about landmark status, it was just about doing it different. Landmark status isn't there as a roadblock to get your way.

RatDog wrote on December 06, 2017 at 1:12 pm

And what do we get as a result of the "Keep Central Central" arguement? We get a hodge podge of facilities, parking lots & traffic problems. And as Champaign grows, the school will have to be moved anyway, probably north, within 20 years. The city could have a future while maintaining it's history except for the moronic majority of voters who, apparantly, weren't concerned with the 180 million price tag of the whole thing but just to keep Central central. It wasn't even called 'Central' until the 50's or so. You can put a school anywhere but once historical features are gone, they're gone.

rsp wrote on December 06, 2017 at 3:12 pm

They aren't spending all that on Central. At some point they will probably need to build a new high school, but not to replace one. Some day in the future they will talk about adding a third high school.

pattsi wrote on December 06, 2017 at 1:12 pm
JustObserving2 wrote on December 06, 2017 at 2:12 pm

People please do not be fooled as to why this fight started so late. PACA... or at least a few members of the organization and board have been involved in this Central conversation for years. They were even a very integral part of the Keep Central Central Leadership. Theses members knew that these building were in the sight of the school district well before the referendum even passed, why would they know?? Because the district started placing options to buy on them in January 2016 with many drawings on what the footprint could look like that was highly publicized and members of PACA were in attendance, if PACA wanted to save them they could have started this process then just in case it passed. The problem is had they have done that then the owners of these properties would not have been able to sell for well over market value. So you wait until the sell is final then make your move, it's a win win. Now I may very well be wrong but I have watched this for a while and when you look at PACA members/board, KCC, and those involved in the sale of some of these properties (not sellers) some of the names start to overlap. Check the paperwork, school board meeting videos, and district community group minutes yourself it could all be a big coincidence.