Options for Neil Street corridor take shape

Options for Neil Street corridor take shape

CHAMPAIGN — North Neil Street residents and property owners have narrowed down what renovations they want for the roughly one-mile stretch between Interstate 74 and downtown.

Since a $100,000 face-lift for what's known as the Neil Street corridor was approved by the city council last June, Champaign planners have been discussing what a general blueprint might look like when Ratio Architects designs it.

A final renovation plan is slated for a council vote in April, but changes could take far longer to materialize.

"There's no time frame on the corridor infrastructure," senior city planner Jeff Marino said. "Some parts could take five to 10 years or even longer."

Some attendees of a public input meeting this week at the Champaign Public Library were concerned that their homes will be demolished for this project. Marino assured them that the city won't be taking any homes away.

Most of the discussion centered around three possibilities for the corridor, which were displayed in mock-ups. Ratio's Lesley Roth directed attendees to pick their favorite aspects from each one. Those recommendations will be combined to create a final plan, she said.

General points that residents raised included concern that the renovation would eliminate surface parking downtown, the desire to preserve the structure of neighborhoods surrounding the corridor and not wanting sidewalks expanded so far that yards get cut down.

The three mock-ups included:

— "Arts Bridge," which featured sculpture gardens, a partial median and wider sidewalks, as well as raised planters and trees lining the street sides. It would make the area walkable and bikeable by providing grocery, convenience and small-scale shopping nearby.

"We heard that the gas station is sometimes being used as a grocery store," Roth said about previous public input sessions.

— "The Green Ribbon," which focused on green space with dense side-street plantings, wider sidewalks and a rain garden park. It would also be formatted with pedestrian walkability in mind, but with more of a neighborhood-focused approach.

According to a city document, "the creation of a uniform setback and sidewalk width from Edgebrook (Drive) to Eureka (Street) is proposed. Speed limits ... would be reduced to match residential character."

— "L.W.D Neil," which stands for "live, work, dine." It incorporates a small outdoor plaza, outdoor cafe seating and benches next to street trees in grates. The design focus is to bring downtown-like vibrancy to the corridor, according to city officials.

Features included in all three plans are dark sky-compliant street lights and wayfinding signs.

On the latter point, Roth said, "we heard of parents that come into town and have no idea where the University of Illinois is because there is minimum signage."

The corridor project will be funded with a combination of grants, downtown fringe and Bristol tax increment financing district funds, capital improvement funds and other sources.

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thisandthat wrote on January 17, 2018 at 1:01 pm

What this article doesn't say is to do each of the three plans presented by Ratio Architects you have to either take out people's houses along north Neil St. to replace them with businesses or large apartment buildings and/or their front yards to make the right of way wider.