Champaign council approves zoning changes for In-Town neighborhood

Champaign council approves zoning changes for In-Town neighborhood

CHAMPAIGN — Residents of the In-Town neighborhood packed the city council chambers Tuesday as members approved new zoning regulations — with one amendment — that one critic charged could "change the tenor of the neighborhood."

Diane Wilhite, a former landlord in the area, added that it was not unreasonable to expect backlash from a plan that could potentially replace a two- or three-unit apartment building with one that has between 12 and 16 units.

"What is the rationale here?" she asked. "We have the mix this plan wants now, and you're talking about having more apartments and fewer single-family homes."

More than a dozen other residents of the neighborhood spoke against the measure Tuesday, mainly voicing disapproval of the size and height regulations proposed for future apartment buildings. Among them were Brenda Koenig and Tod Satterthwaite, who submitted a petition signed by 200 people.

The area south and west of downtown is 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.

Arthur Blevins, who lives on a lot behind a proposed high-density section of Springfield Avenue, said the plan could force him to sell his home.

"I'm shaking, I'm so angry about this. This is not fair of you" he said, pointing to council members. "I have made an investment in my home and my neighbor's home. We all have investments there and raised families there. And now I'm going to have development right behind my house. It's going to be in my backyard."

Scott Shell, who also lives along Springfield, said he's most worried about traffic. Martel Miller called for a traffic study.

Ramona Curry, who lives on Washington Street, asked why the change needs to happen now, and called for a moratorium on the issue until after the expansion of Central High School is finished.

"What is the impetus to change this? What is the push?" Curry asked. "Are we going to regret keeping Central central? That's enough change at once. Why does it have to go forward at this time?"

Just two residents voiced support for the plan, including Steve Miller.

"We're talking about restoring the neighborhood to some semblance of multifamily," he said, adding that plans in the 1980s "eviscerated" that type of housing. "That affordable housing we talk about, but aren't providing: This will provide a little more affordable housing to the area. And I think we spent five months on this, and I consider changing this at the last minute an insult."

Before the final vote on the measure, council member Alicia Beck offered an amendment that reduced lot coverage from 40 to 35 percent and reduced footprints of new buildings from 3,750 to 3,250 square feet, which was narrowly approved, 5-4.

Council member Clarissa Nickerson Fourman, who voted against the amendment, quickly grabbed the microphone after the vote to call it a "joke" and said the council did not listen to the people.

The final vote for approval of the zoning changes was 8-0, with Fourman abstaining.

Beck said she was "right there with" some of the residents who commented Tuesday, as her home is adjacent to the area affected by the changes.

"When I looked at the building-footprint size, that was important to me to move it from 40 to 35 percent. We need to do as much as we can to protect our neighborhood," she said. "We have thought long and hard about it as council members, and there's been a lot of conversation and a lot of real thought and consternation about what this should look like in the end. I think this is a good compromise."

Council members Tom Bruno and Vanna Pianfetti both voted no on the amendment, saying that the original plan already contained compromises.

"When I came here, I didn't know what my position would be," Bruno said. "But I'm informed by the staff members who have been working on this for two years, and who are from a department that is completely populated by some of the best in the business of urban planning. And so when we have a team who we entrust with giving us guidance, I put a great deal of weight in their recommendations."

Bruno also said he didn't want to "move the goalpost" by changing the ordinance at the last minute.

"It's our job to make the good decisions and move the city forward," Bruno said. "We can't be stuck like a deer in headlights, and so this complicated decision at some point has to be made."

Council member Greg Stock was surprised that Beck's amendment passed.

"I didn't think we were going to have five," he said. "I want you all to know that none of us took this decision lightly. This is one of three votes as a council member that has really kept me up at night."

In other business, the council unanimously approved finalizing a plat and amending zoning rules for the development of Union Gardens, a townhome and apartment complex proposed for an area that straddles the city line north of historically black neighborhoods in Champaign and Urbana.

Council member Will Kyles said he wanted to highlight some of the issues brought up by residents of the Carver Park neighborhood at the Urbana City Council's meeting on the issue two weeks ago.

"While I will be supporting this project, some of the conversations that happened in our sister city are relevant," Kyles said. "We're talking about how you can preserve a community from gentrification. How do you preserve the spirit of a community? Those comments are not falling on deaf ears."

Fourman said she fully supports the project, despite some of the comments from area residents.

"We are not going to get development on the north end if we don't start somewhere," she said. "I understand Urbana's position, but it's hard for me in my position to look at it and say 'No, this isn't good.' We should all be supportive of development in the north end. The north end has been stalled for my entire life."

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