After years of discussion but no action, it appears the city of Champaign and the Champaign Park District may be about to enact an ordinance that would require subdivision developers to donate land or cash for park land.
The park land set-aside has been the law in some Chicago suburbs for three decades, and has moved downstate to DeKalb, Belvidere, Edwardsville, Charleston, Peoria and other communities. More than 100 of Illinois' 340 park districts have mandatory land dedication policies, according to Champaign Park District planner Terri Gibble.
Even the village of Savoy strongly suggests that developers include park land in their subdivisions, although there's no ordinance to enforce the suggestion.
Champaign has been able to jawbone some developers to include open space, and others have even included public park land without a formal request. But not all have done so, and park district director Bobbie Herakovich said that some developers, particularly those who don't live in Champaign-Urbana, may need to be required to dedicate open space for public use.
This is an idea that makes a lot of sense, not just for Champaign but in Urbana and Savoy as well. All three communities are amid a residential housing boom that has officials assessing the need for new school buildings and new parks to handle the population growth. Requiring park land in new subdivisions makes economic sense – it ensures that parks are part of developments, rather than forcing park districts to buy up higher cost and sometimes inferior land after subdivisions are in place. It also rightly places the cost of new park land on those who are creating the demand.
And it is safer and more convenient for children and others to use parks that are already centrally located in large developments. In far west Champaign, for example, the new 150-acre Sawgrass subdivision has an estimated population of 1,400 but no dedicated park land. The nearest public park is on the other side of Interstate 57, requiring children and families to take an inconvenient and hazardous route to get to open public space.
For a community that wants to stress its livable environment and is trying to address a growing demand for interconnecting walking, running and biking trails, a mandatory land donation ordinance is the way to go. It's fair to taxpayers and it ensures that the growth in open space will match the growth in population.