URBANA — The city would take ownership of and demolish a long-troubled Lierman Avenue apartment complex under a deal that will be presented to the city council tonight.
The Urbana City Council will meet on Monday at 7 p.m. in the Urbana City Building, 400 S. Vine St.
City officials for years have credited the Urbana Townhomes complex in the 900 and 1000 blocks of South Lierman Avenue as a source of unlivable conditions for its residents and crime in the immediate surrounding area.
After declaring the residences "unfit for human occupancy," inspectors condemned two of the eight buildings in 2011 and the remaining six earlier this year.
According to city documents, the first two buildings were ruled by a judge to be "unsanitary, unsafe, (and) vermin infested" and were found to be "in such a damaged condition that they are hazardous to the life, health, property and safety of the public."
The owner was ordered to demolish the first two buildings within 30 days of the July 26, 2012 court ruling. That never happened because the owner had been trying to sell the buildings, according to city documents.
Community Development Libby Tyler wrote in a memo to the mayor and city council that it was never likely that the owner, Urbana Capital LLC, would pay for the demolition anyway.
"Realistically, due to the bankruptcy of the owner, it is highly unlikely that the Court would be able to force the owner to bear the cost of demolition," Tyler wrote in the memo. "Rather, the court would likely ultimately allow the City to demolish the buildings at public expense and then to place a demolition lien on the buildings for possible recovery at a later date."
All eight buildings have been empty since September, but they still stand in a state of disrepair and as an attraction for crime.
Robin Arbiter, who lives nearby and serves as president of the Lierman Neighborhood Action Committee, said that the buildings need to come down.
"It's vital that some action be taken quickly to bring those buildings down, and at this point, the party most likely to take care of that is the city," Arbiter said.
Urbana Capital has now offered to donate the property to the city.
The demolition is expected to cost the city anywhere between $250,000 and $300,000, and city officials believe they will have to look for grants or loans to supplement existing funds to help pay for the project.
Arbiter said she is glad to see what appears to be final action to address the Urbana Townhomes complex after it has spent the last several years changing hands and going through foreclosure and condemnations.
"We've seen what flipping low-income housing and two foreclosures look like at that property," Arbiter said. "After six or eight years of distress on that site, the picture's pretty ugly."
City officials say the upside to accepting ownership of the properties and paying for the demolition is that local officials will have more control in its redevelopment. According to city documents, initial long-term plans are to rebuild "lower-density housing that would be more compatible with the surrounding neighborhood."
In the immediate future, the properties would probably sit as open space until a redevelopment plan comes along.
"I think it's time for some local control that allows the area residents who have been most harmed to have some kind of say," Arbiter said.