Clark Park zoning

Mike Reed, a longtime resident of the Clark Park neighborhood, looks at houses as he walks down William Street in May 2018 in Champaign.

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CHAMPAIGN — After two years of back and forth, the city’s plan commission is set to once again take up the issue of zoning regulations in the Clark Park neighborhood — this time, with a proposal that affects the whole city.

Staff members are asking the commission to support new language on the most recent plan to address the concerns of many Clark Park residents who believe proposed developments don’t fit the neighborhood’s character.

Clark Park residents fighting trend of big houses on small lots

But Mark Reed, who was instrumental in raising the banner of “no big homes on small lots,” called the proposal that commissioners will debate this week “so complicated that nobody can respond to it unless you have a Ph.D. in urban planning.”

Following comments made by city council members at a June 4 study session, staff drew up five changes to zoning rules across the city, and to those affecting single-family homes.

The first citywide change calls for the height of a building to be measured from the average grade at the property line to the highest point of the roof, instead of the midpoint of a gabled or hipped roof.

Another citywide change would eliminate floor-area-ratio exemptions for attached garages, meaning they would be recognized as part of the overall structure’s area.

Proposed changes to single-family zoning include reducing minimum lot width from 60 to 50 feet, reducing minimum lot area from 600 to 500 square feet and reducing the minimum side setback from 6 to 5 feet.

Proposals specific to Clark Park in the form of an overlay district or other method have been tabled in favor of the citywide changes, Planning and Development Director Bruce Knight said Monday.

“For now, we’ve set aside those things, but if it appears there continue to be issues, we’ll take another look at it,” Knight said.

“We’re basically bringing forward the changes that the council indicated they would support.”

Champaign council rejects conservation district for Clark Park neighborhood

Although crowds in June were not what they’d been when the issue first came up or when the council voted down a proposed conservation district for the neighborhood earlier this year, Reed said the current plan still has problems, and people are still invested in continuing the conversation about specific requirements for Clark Park.

At an April 4 neighborhood workshop after the conservation district was voted down, Reed said city staff and Clark Park residents talked about alternatives to the plan that would leave the character of the neighborhood intact.

Knight said future workshops are “always a possibility.”

But Reed said many of his neighbors are “jaded and cynical” after two years of interaction with the city that began with the “great disappointment”: a proposal by planners in 2017 to allow bigger homes in smaller lots.

“It’s just sad from our perspective,” Reed said. “When you move into an area that was plotted in 1909 and fully developed in 1950 and then start building houses to contemporary tastes saying it’s going to fit, I can tell you it doesn’t. Taxes are going to go up, and it’s going to be hard on a whole lot of folks.”

Reed said the “hundreds of hours” that residents put into applying for a conservation district and the subsequent denial have left people “very disheartened now.”

Reed isn’t hopeful that people will show up to the plan commission this week or a subsequent council meeting, should the commission approve it.

“They just don’t feel like anyone hears them,” Reed said. “My question to the council is: Is there something special about this neighborhood or some character that is special, and what have you done to protect it? What I see now is a plan that will bring people who want an investment, not a home. When you come into Clark Park with money, it’s going to erase 100 years of history.”

Knight said city staff will not likely draw up any new changes until they see how things go with this proposal.

“If there’s a sense that additional work needs to be done, then we’ll want to see how things go, monitor them and always follow up with the neighborhood if there are concerns,” Knight said.

“I appreciate there are people that wanted more of what we originally proposed, but again, we’re basing our proposal on the direction we got from council.”

Reporter

Aldo Toledo is a reporter covering local government at The News-Gazette. His email is atoledo@news-gazette.com, and you can follow him on Twitter (@aldot29).