New building-size rules still a concern for Champaign neighborhood group

New building-size rules still a concern for Champaign neighborhood group

CHAMPAIGN — A couple hundred residents of Champaign's In-Town neighborhood west and south of downtown have banded together to protest a zoning ordinance up for a vote Tuesday by the city council.

It's the latest chapter in a monthslong effort by residents to keep the historic feel of some of Champaign's older neighborhoods intact.

Residents approve of many of the changes that resulted from months of meetings with city staff throughout the summer, including limiting the exterior materials used to construct new buildings to brick, stone, wood or fiber cement.

But some residents, including Brenda Koenig — who is part of the Washington and Hill Streets neighborhood group — don't think the ordinance does enough to thwart a massive change of density in the area. The group has sent a petition with over 200 signatures to city council members and hopes they consider that they haven't done enough.

"There's some details that still need to be changed for it to truly be in the interest of residents," Koenig said. "It's not regulated to stop the aggregation of lots. I mean, you can't put a giant building across four lots, and that's something we approve of. But the size of future buildings could still be quite large."

The In-Town neighborhood includes an area generally bordered by Columbia Avenue on the north, John Street on the south, Randolph Street on the east and Prospect Avenue on the west, along with a spur extending south along Randolph, State and Prairie streets to Avondale Avenue, as shown at left.

Koenig wants an ordinance that sets more regulations on mixed-residential districts — mainly around Springfield Avenue and White Street, as well as to the east of Champaign Central High School — because she fears new developments won't fit the scale of the neighborhood.

As proposed, there are no restrictions on building multiple structures in these area, just a rule that no one building can exceed a footprint of 3,750 square feet.

Koenig said that would allow developers to "replace older single-family and two-to-three-unit home conversions with small-scale apartment buildings that could have many units per building." She wants the council to amend the footprint from 3,750 square feet to 2,500 square feet before passing the proposed ordinance.

Fellow In-Town resident and former Urbana Mayor Tod Satterthwaite said he applauds the work the city staff has done already, but he has similar concerns about size.

"You're talking about going from three units to as many as 16," Satterthwaite said. "That's a five-fold increase in size. These new regulations are going to make potential new apartment buildings too big. This is supposed to be a transition zone between single-family and higher-density districts."

Koenig said this part of town is already dealing with a lot, given the expansion of Central's campus.

"We may be gaining a new high school, but we're also in the thick of the changes," Koenig said. "So how much more can you ask? We're kind of bearing the cost of something that will eventually be an improvement, and you're already asking neighbors to give up streets, give up quiet Friday nights. There has to be a balance."

Council member Alicia Beck said she's been working with neighborhood residents throughout the process to come to an agreement. But she said the footprint changes might be a little much to ask of the council.

"There's still time to consider the footprint," she said. "But a reduction as large as what's being asked, I don't know if that's something the council as a whole will support."

She said she doesn't want to hold up the process longer but will bring up the issue at Tuesday's meeting.

"It's worth taking a look at, which I'm doing, and I'm talking with other council members about it," Beck said. "And so hopefully on Tuesday, we can come to a final decision where we stand on that."

Council member Clarissa Fourman already knows how she's voting Tuesday.

"As of now, I am not supportive," she said. "The density increase is concerning, and staff is playing coy, and I am uncomfortable. So as of now, it's a no for me."

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