Central High property plans have Church Street family in limbo

Central High property plans have Church Street family in limbo

CHAMPAIGN — When Deb and Tim Bowers bought their West Church Street home in April 2006, they were convinced it was where they'd grow old together.

They pictured their three children being raised inside the large brick house, among the warm wood interior they'd fallen in love with. They were delighted they could have spaces of their own, as well: a scrapbooking room for Deb and space for Tim's woodworking hobby.

They sank money into the $230,000 home beyond the mortgage — Deb putting nearly all of her inheritance from her father into improvements and Tim adding built-in bookcases in the den.

And then, in November 2016, Unit 4's $183.4 million referendum passed, which would transform their neighborhood. After two failed attempts to score taxpayer approval for a project that would relocate Central High School to 80 acres of farmland along Interstate Drive, a new school board was voted in and they reworked the plan. Keeping Central central was the mission, and voters — including Deb and Tim Bowers — agreed.

As the district went to work buying what it deemed to be necessary properties for the $87.1 million expansion of Central's campus, the family watched. Their neighbors — at 615 and 619 W. Church — sold their properties to the district, but the Bowerses' property wasn't in the district's "critical path."

So Unit 4 moved on.

Initially, the Bowerses decided to leave things alone, too. They planned to stay, even as construction would continue around them.

"We love our home," Deb said. "We can't really replace this."

But Unit 4's purchases on either side of them, she said, made them feel "encroached" upon, and they wondered if staying was a good idea, after all. They worried about dust from the demolition of the units surrounding them irritating their son's asthma. They wondered if their younger daughter would still be able to play in the driveway alongside their house.

Preliminary images created by architects and released by the district in recent weeks show that, if the Bowerses choose to stay, their house could end up as the last single-family unit on that side of the block.

Now, Deb Bowers says her family is in a state of "limbo" — unsure of anything and incapable of planning their next move. Until they learn definitively whether the district wants to buy their home and, if so, at what selling price, that state of limbo is where they say they'll remain.

* * * * *

After multiple attempts to communicate with the board outside of meetings, Deb and Tim Bowers sought legal help. They turned to Paul Cole, an attorney with Champaign's Erwin, Martinkus & Cole, described the family's situation as one of "unexpected detriment."

"The entire project of developing Central the way it's being done is a great thing and there are times when a project like that generates unexpected detriment to some people," Cole said. "You can't have a lot of progress without somebody being inconvenienced."

Through Cole, the Bowerses wrote to Unit 4 board members on Dec. 26 — their most recent communication — detailing the list of possible inconveniences to them.

"We are writing, again, because we see movement on plans to redevelop properties in our neighborhood but no indication of how that development will affect us," they wrote. "First, and in brief, is our home going to be damaged by adjacent construction issues? Will we and our children, one of whom is asthmatic, be subjected to dust or lead dust or asbestos?"

Unit 4 board President Chris Kloeppel said the Bowerses aren't the first ones to consider the safety of the district's construction sites — Unit 4 also acknowledged its responsibility by hiring O'Shea Builders to ensure construction is completed to standard, he said.

"The district will be good stewards of the project," Kloeppel said. "That's why we've hired a construction manager. We're going to follow construction standards anybody building anywhere would have to follow."

The home next door at 615 W. Church is slated for a fall demolition, with the one at 619 W. Church likely following.

In their letter, the Bowerses went on to write: "If our residential environment is going to be severely compromised, then we would hope the district will help us toward finding an equivalent home."

But the standards that define an "equivalent home" differ depending on who is setting them.

* * * * *

Earlier last year, before the Bowerses saw images of what their block night look like, the district sent a local appraiser to evaluate their home.

When they learned the results, Deb said she and her husband were stunned.

"They appraised our house for the same amount of money that we paid for it 11 years ago," she said. "Effectively saying we made no improvements over 11 years."

When contacted by The News-Gazette, the appraiser, Urbana-based Jim Webster, said client confidentiality prevented him from going into the details.

"There's not an official standard," he said. "You try to identify the feature characteristics and try to understand the neighborhood and the quality of the house — such as the size, the quality of construction, the condition of the property, the condition of the improvements — ideally trying to identify the property as a whole and relate that to market value."

But with the Bowerses' house projected to be the last single-family residence in the block on their side of Church and adjacent to the driveway of a busy high school parking lot, Cole said it's unlikely that it will attract many buyers — making the term "market value" almost a misnomer.

"So when we talk price, and when we talk buying and selling, we're not really talking about buying and selling as if this were a market-driven event where you have a willing buyer and a willing seller," he said. "There is no free market here."

Cole said that's why he proposed an option: a contract that would give the district the right — but not the obligation — to buy the Bowerses' home and at the same time give the fam-ily the right to sell at a set price on or before a mutually agreed-upon date.

Cole said: "That was my creative approach to say 'Hey, I have an idea: Don't buy the house. We don't make any demand that you do. Just promise us that when you do want to buy the house, you'll pay a certain price.'"

Pat Fitzgerald, the school board's real-estate representative, said an option hasn't been agreed to because of the price point. The Bowerses, through Cole, have proposed selling their property to the district for around $300,000. The price is meant to account for the renovations the Bowerses have made and the trouble of moving a family of five into a new home.

"We can't justify to the taxpayers that purchase," Fitzgerald said. "How can we with a straight face go to the taxpayers and ask them to pay this? The challenge in this is finding a dollar value that they find appropriate for their home and contrast it to a dollar value that the school board can justify to the taxpayers."

* * * * *

To determine what the district is willing to pay for a property like the Bowerses', Cole turned to the units beside them. He looked at the assessed value of both 615 and 619 W. Church — that is, what the county determined their tax value to be — and compared that to what the district paid for each.

For 615 W. Church, purchased for $240,000, Cole said the district paid a price nearly 80 percent higher than its assessed value. And for 619 W. Church (in the $210,000 range), the district paid nearly 314 percent higher than assessed value, Cole said.

He was trying to understand the logic behind the pricing, he said, but noted that neither of those percentage figures could reasonably be applied to the Bowerses' home.

"If that were the logic, then you would look at what the county thought the Bowerses' house was worth," he said. "Well, if you took 80 percent more of that, as was done on their neighbors' property, then you'd be looking at a value for the Bowerses' house at $360,000. If, on the other hand, you looked at county value on the west of us (619), and took 314 percent times that, you'd get a house that's worth about $630,000 for the Bowerses' property."

Cole acknowledged that a $630,000 asking price was far too high.

"No one on the Bowerses' side of the discussion is making these kind of demands," Cole said. "We're just looking for some way to approach this uniformly — to say 'Treat us the same way as you treated everyone else.'"

Fitzgerald said that focusing on price per square foot is favorable to the Bowerses — but not necessarily the taxpayer.

"That they have a nice house is not in dispute," he said. "Nobody is debating that fact. But we are restrained by what is fiscally prudent."

The Bowerses said they can't see an immediate resolution in front of them, adding that they haven't heard from the board since before Christmas. Because of the nature of the issue, Illinois law allows school boards the right to keep real-estate transactions and the discussion surrounding them private until finalized.

"The district's intent — it never has been and I'm sure it never will be, to do any kind of harm to a particular family or property," Cole said. "It's just that the Bowerses are experiencing a great deal of stress, and it's just time to relieve the stress."

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aantulov wrote on February 11, 2018 at 8:02 am

The expansion of this school so close to downtown Champaign is going to have an adverse effect.  I don't think those looking to make downtown a vibrant, easy to navigate and park place to walk around have given any thought to how this will affect the area.  Roaming groups of teens, competing for parking does not a $30 pork chop make.

Smaller vocational, arts, and science high schools would have been a more economical and educational choice. 

It will bring down the property values around it and college rentals will spring up in what took years to make a neighborhood.  

Acquiring property, tearing it down, changing utilities all because they can not use the school on flex hours of two shifts, seriously?  And will it all be for naught should some entities open an online or church or low cost private highschool?  Have they even surveyed the for profit and non profit educational landscape? 

Then the school district would have to pay utilites for and sell off at bargin rates. 

 

rsp wrote on February 11, 2018 at 9:02 am

I guess you're not familiar with the area. Some of those properties were being used for student housing. And considering how long the school has been here I seriously doubt it will harm the downtown area.

AltoonaSue wrote on February 11, 2018 at 9:02 am

My heart goes out to this family. They have put so much in to this home, not just financially but mentally and emotionally as well. The response from the school district is extremely disappointing--basically, "you have a nice house but we're not remotely interested in providing you any compensation remotely close to what it's worth." This whole project should go back to the drawing board. 

rsp wrote on February 11, 2018 at 9:02 am

Sounds like the school wants to play hardball with family. They should just wait it out. If someone in the family gets sick or injured the district is liable plus a "reasonable" price for the house. And the district set the standard for what is reasonable when they bought the other houses. You would think they would prefer to have the whole block. Maybe someone else would like to buy their house. Who was that guy who bought the lake? Too bad he can't step in and set up shop there. The neighbors you know...

justthefacts wrote on February 11, 2018 at 12:02 pm

This issue is another example of why it is almost always less complicated, less expensive, and less disruptive to build on undeveloped land than it is to repurpose an existing neighborhood. Those who were committed to keeping Central central will have to live with the consequences of their committment.

 

787 wrote on February 11, 2018 at 10:02 pm

Enough of the voters had no desire to have a high school located half way to Thomasboro, and told the Unit 4 board that not once, but twice.  

It was readily apparent that the President of the School Board at the time had a hard time understanding the word "no", not once, but twice.  Thankfully, she has since left town.  

The school board made it clear, up front. as to what this was going to involve.  Enough people agreed with it, and it is now the direction that we're going in.

 

787 wrote on February 11, 2018 at 10:02 pm

Enough of the voters had no desire to have a high school located half way to Thomasboro, and told the Unit 4 board that not once, but twice.  

It was readily apparent that the President of the School Board at the time had a hard time understanding the word "no", not once, but twice.  Thankfully, she has since left town.  

The school board made it clear, up front. as to what this was going to involve.  Enough people agreed with it, and it is now the direction that we're going in.

 

rsp wrote on February 11, 2018 at 11:02 pm

Less expensive as in forever paying the huge increase in busing costs? Like that? Less disruptive as in harder for many low income families to get to the school? Infill is a much better use of a communities resources, land and money. The more sprawl there is the more expenses for police, fire, public works, etc.

Those expenses go up then taxes go up. They won't come back down. It may appear less complicated to just get an empty lot on the edge of town, but they have to make new roads, sewer lines, electric, etc. And then all that has to be maintained. So there are just that many more potholes to fix.

MarkDibley wrote on February 12, 2018 at 12:02 pm

They purchased the home for $230,000 in April 2006--when prices were still inflated near the peak of the housing bubble. If the house is still worth $230,000, then the renovations are presumably what has elevated the value to that level--without those renovations the house would be worth less than the inflated value from 2006.

It is an unfortunate situation they find themselves in--staying would seem like a significant financial sacrifice in regard to loss of home value, not to mention the negative impact to their living environment during and after construction.

Based on how the situation is presented, they passed on the window of opportunity to profit from the school expansion like their neighbors, and now they regret that choice--I would too, if I was in their shoes. Because their home is not necessary for the expansion plans, the district is not obligated to purchase their property. I think it would be extending an olive branch for the district--representing us taxpayers--to purchase their home for a fair market value based on legitimate appraisal, considering the particularly negative effect the expansion will have on this property--but not for the Bowers to profit from the sale--they passed on that opportunity.

A more hardline argument could question why the district should purchase a non-essential property simply because the homeowners are unhappy with the changes adjacent to their property? If the Bowers' home is purchased, why is the district not also buying other non-essential homes of neighbors who may not like the impacts of the expansion?

AreaMan wrote on February 12, 2018 at 1:02 pm
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So the school district has paid $450,000 for the neighboring properties ($240k and $210 each), and now they balk at paying $300k for a larger and nicer home? Laughable.

Two single-home size lots don't offer much value to the district, but with three lots in a row they would have the flexibility to use the land in more creative ways. Maybe they could even shift the planned parking lot at Burnham towards this area.

Add in the reduced liability for demolition debris, and this lot is way more valuable to the district than $300,000. They are fortunate to be dealing with such a nice family, and are irrational for acting otherwise. Come on, Pat! Use your noodle!