URBANA — Demolition of the long-troubled Urbana Townhomes apartment complex on South Lierman Avenue could begin as soon as April or May, city officials say, after council members on Monday night approved taking ownership of the properties.
Some city council members took issue with the cost — the city is getting the properties for free, but it will still have to pay between $255,000 and $300,000 for the demolition — but they ultimately decided that the state of the eight-building apartment complex is an urgent matter of public safety.
City inspectors have condemned all the buildings in the 900 and 1000 blocks of South Lierman Avenue during the course of the last two years, but they say the owner is financially incapable of obeying a court order that it tear them down. All 93 units have been empty since September, but they still stand in a state of disrepair and as an attraction for crime.
On Monday night, the city council accepted an offer from the property owner, Urbana Capital LLC, to transfer ownership to the city at no cost. But the demolition of the buildings could cost as much as $300,000.
Alderman Charlie Smyth, D-Ward 1, said he supported the proposal but reminded city officials that they should go into the project "with eyes open." He said the arrangement lets the owner and Deutsche Bank, the mortgage lender which had been foreclosing on the property, off the hook.
"Yeah, it's a lot of money, and yeah, it's not fair," said Alderwoman Heather Stevenson, R-Ward 6. "But when I look at the bigger picture, we can't afford not to do this."
The unanimous council vote was met with applause from audience members, many of whom live in the neighborhood. Area residents say the apartment complex for years has been a neighborhood problem, and they were pleased to hear that the buildings are coming down within the next months.
"We think it's the beginning of something beautiful," said Robin Arbiter, who lives near the apartments and serves as president of the Lierman Neighborhood Action Committee.
Bill Brown, who is running unopposed for the Ward 4 city council seat, is a part of that group, too. He said he has been impressed with the efforts of all involved to revitalize the neighborhood.
"It's just been a real community project," Brown said. "And it's been kind of inspiring to work with them and work with the city and city staff."
City officials say one of the perks of accepting ownership of the property is that they now have more control in its redevelopment. Mayor Laurel Prussing said the city "certainly will listen to what the people who live there have to offer" as far as what might replace the apartments.
Building safety manager John Schneider said preliminary plans might be to rebuild residential buildings, but at a lower density.
Arbiter said neighborhood residents are eager to give their input.
"Just walking down the street hearing that demolition is on the horizon, people are already percolating with ideas," Arbiter said.