First on list for Garden Hills improvements: House demolitions

First on list for Garden Hills improvements: House demolitions

CHAMPAIGN — When Clarissa Nickerson Fourman was a kid growing up Garden Hills, it was the place to be.

"I remember people being outside — kids and families," she said. "You knew all of your neighbors."

But when she walks around the neighborhood now, the only people she sees are teens coming home from school. They pass seemingly lifeless houses — some closed up — and sidestep litter in their way.

After years of encouraging city-led Garden Hills improvements, Fourman and her fellow Champaign City Council members voted this week to tee some up.

The beginning of a five-phase, multiyear Garden Hills improvement plan is now being refined by city staff and will need one more council vote before it can start.

The plan's first phase involves the city appraising, purchasing and demolishing 46 properties along Hedge Road, in addition to appraising and purchasing a vacant lot on Joanne Lane.

Occupants of the properties will be relocated by the city, according to a staff report, and a detention basin with greenery and foliage will take the homes' place.

"The fresh air ... water and foliage can improve quality of life and increase house value," Fourman said.

Instead of doing all of the demolitions at once, city staff recommended a batch approach, with demolitions occurring in sets of five or 10. That way, they said, the neighborhood can avoid having a large vacant lot for an extended period before the basin is constructed.

This first project phase is expected to last from 2018 to 2022, according to the report. It will cost about $5 million for the appraisals, purchases, asbestos testing/removal, demolitions and relocation assistance.

Since Garden Hills drainage is connected to improvements the city is also making on the West Washington Street watershed and Boneyard Creek, from University Avenue to Neil Street, phase two of Garden Hills work — actually constructing the basin — is initially scheduled for 2030-31.

Several council members encouraged city staff to move up that schedule if possible.

City staff plan to evaluate alternative plans throughout this year and the next.

But councilwoman Angie Brix notes that the current timeline for phase one of Garden Hills is earlier than initially planned.

"The whole point of moving at least phase one up," Brix said, "it puts us in a much better place to move fast. And because the whole project is so extensive — the entire neighborhood — you can't do it all at the same time."

Phases three through five of the Garden Hills project aren't set in stone yet, but early plans call for adding street lighting, doing streetscaping and making sidewalk improvements.

"You can't rip up the entire neighborhood all at once," Fourman said. "I trust city staff are leading us in the right direction and being fiscally responsible."

Still a resident of Garden Hills, Fourman wants to chip away at stigmas she encounters about her neighborhood.

"I understand that there's blight, but people say things about (Garden Hills residents) as if they think no one will hear them," she said.

Neighborhood clean-up events and house-painting parties are some efforts Fourman thinks can boost morale.

"Safety and neighborhood wellness go hand in hand," she said. "If you know your neighbors, you're more likely to say something if you see something suspicious."

If everything comes together, Fourman envisions a new Garden Hills that's reminiscent of the one she grew up in.

"I want it to be a place where people want to come," Fourman said. "Overall, I want the neighborhood to be well for everybody."

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Ron wrote on March 02, 2018 at 10:03 am

If one knew where or what Garden Hill was this would be more interesting.

Roanrider wrote on March 02, 2018 at 10:03 am

Hello? Across from Kraft on Bradley Ave.

Roanrider wrote on March 02, 2018 at 10:03 am

What? They're going to tear out Murder Central? Drive bys, coming soon to a neighborhood near you.

Khristine wrote on March 02, 2018 at 4:03 pm
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It sounds a lot like gentrification to me. Destroy the lower income housing and replace it with a nice green park with a water retention pond. That’ll make the poor folk so happy. Maybe they can sleep in the park! 

Parks make people who already have their basic needs properly met happy. If you’re struggling day to day to get by, a park is meaningless. The “I live in southwest Champaign with blinders on and never venture outside of my bubble” are either completely clueless or ruthlessly morally bankrupt. Maybe both. 

GLG wrote on March 02, 2018 at 5:03 pm

The joke of the City of Champaign Neighborhood Services does nothing to clean up the junk cars and garbage in these neighborhoods. I lived in Ridgewood Subdivison for 40 years and pleaded with the city to clean up the junk and they did nothing! I went to many city council meeting and made many complaints but nothing got done, No money to keep up the enforcenment but plenty of money to go in and clear cut and build new, Just like Bristol Place, I had my fill and moved out of the City and haven't looked back, Its not just Garden Hills, its Holiday Park, Ridgewood and a few other neighborhoods the city has let go to hell! Neighborhood Services should be disbanded.  Urbana is worse, as we read a few months ago in the south east part of town.