Category Archives: planning

Normal Planning Commissioners earn their pay

Actually, they don’t receive any pay, but they sure deserved some Thursday evening after spending three full hours listening to Town staff, developers, and the public while weighing the pros and cons on a couple of major zoning matters.

There’s something about the atmosphere of a planning commission meeting that irresistable for a local government junkie like myself. 

It’s raw and people wear their emotions on their sleeves.   There’s always a lot at stake in any zoning hearing.   It’s democracy at its finest.

As an elected official, it’s beneficial to witness it.  

There are things I see at planning commission meetings that, well, don’t ever show up in the minutes: the strength of the arguments, the passion, and the subtleties that someone who has spent more than two decades observing and participating in local government can pick up. 

Planning Commission chair Rick Boser does an outstanding job of maintaining decorum and a sharp sense of humor throughout the proceedings.   I enjoyed watching him run the meeting from the back row of the council chambers.   Rick is an experienced hand on the planning commission and it shows.

Sometimes, it’s a challenge to get the witnesses to stay on the subject matter, or even to face the right direction.   

Planning commissioners Jeff Feid, Kathleen Lorenz, Jill Hutchison, R.C. McBride, Michael McFarland, and Bob Bradley don’t get a lot of recognition, but I appreciate the work they do.    It’s not an easy job, but somebody’s got to do it.    And our community is better off because these quality volunteers have stepped up to do a thankless job.  

Thank you Planning Commission.

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The case against rezoning 1010 South Main St. for serious student housing

When I heard that someone wanted to purchase the University Cinemas at 1010 South Main for redevelopment, I was intrigued.  

While the dollar theater concept seems to be working well in today’ s down economy, as evidenced by all of the cars in the parking lot Sunday night, clearly a small dollar theater could not be a viable long term economic model in today’s era of megaplex theaters, stadium seating, digital surround sound, and the like.  Evidently, the land has been on the market for awhile.  

A single, 550-foot long, four-story building would run the length of the University Cinemas property from the railroad tracks, south to Cullom Street.  Developers 1010 S. Main LLC plan 198 parking spaces in the rear for the 350 bedrooms.   Planners suggest that northbound ISU traffic will leave the area on Cullom and Main Street or using Church and University Streets.   Residents are concerned that apartment residents will find other routes to ISU, through Hovey, Payne Place, Florence, Hester, and Fell.

Serious Student Housing -- A single, 550-foot long, four-story building would run the length of the University Cinemas property from the railroad tracks, south to Cullom Street. Developers 1010 S. Main LLC plan 198 parking spaces in the rear for the 350 bedrooms. Planners suggest that northbound ISU traffic will leave the area on Cullom and Main Street or using Church and University Streets. Residents are concerned that apartment residents will find other routes to ISU, through Hovey, Payne Place, Florence, Hester, and Fell.

Given the location of the property and its Main St. frontage, surely someone would have a creative mixed-use idea for redevelopment — one that would generate economic activity, compliment the neighborhood, and be a catalyst for similar projects.

So, I attended the public hearing with fairly high expectations, listened carefully to the discussion and was underwhelmed by what was being planned. 

As usual, it was a plan designed to fit as many student apartment units onto the property as possible. 

It was not particularly creative and certainly will act as a catalyst, if approved.

What is not surprising is that residents of the surrounding single-family neighborhood also view this as a tipping point event.   Their numerous emails and phone calls have been passionate and rational.  Among other things they are concerned about what will be left if this area is rezoned, opening the door for it to become the next big place for student housing expansion.    Here is an example of the feedback we’ve received:

I have seen on a daily basis the increase of traffic when ISU is in session. I can only suppose if another high density complex were to exist in this area the amount of traffic would increase. I feel the small children living in our neighborhood are at risk already from those who do not feel the need to obey the speed limit through our neighborhood. I also feel allowing another high density complex would have a domino effect for the area immediately surrounding the area. I can forsee homeowners electing to sell and investors buying the property, tearing down homes and putting up yet more complexes. As a home owner I am also concerned with maintaining my property value. I feel that the close proximity of high density apartment will not be beneficial. I am passionate about preserving our older neighborhoods and protecting them from demolition. I am aware that there will always be issues living near campus and I am willing to accept them, but I feel strongly about this issue and felt the need to express my strong opposition.

 

I agree that this proposed rezoning and redevelopment plan represents a turning point for the fragile neighborhood to the east.   The outpouring of neighborhood opposition demonstrates to me that nearby homeowners are fully invested in maintaining what they have, a nice affordable single family area close to ISU, IWU, BroMenn, and Glenn Elementary School.   

The council has invested resources in the area south of Vernon, purchasing and tearing down a problem fraternity, promoting the development of two Habitiat developments, and insisting on quality planning and development on both sides of Vernon. 

On top of that, we have declared the neighborhood south of Vernon  be a “no new student housing zone.”  

A row of five homes along Cullom, just west of University Street at the southeast corner of the proposed development.

A row of five homes along Cullom, just west of University Street at the southeast corner of the proposed development.

I believe rezoning this land and accepting this plan would contradict our efforts to the east.
As part of our 2009 planning retreat, the Normal Town Council asked staff to develop a plan that anticipates the loss of residence halls at the University, but we have yet to see that plan and have yet to discuss in any formal way where this community wants future student housing to be located.
 
Based on the limited discussion I heard at the planning commission meeting, the Council needs to engage planning commissioners in this process as well before we move ahead with a development of this size and likely impact.
This does not have to be an involved planning process that requires outside help.  Everyone involved in Normal Town government understands the issues involved in student-oriented multiple family zoning.  There’s a myriad of informal policies out there.
Before more residence halls go down, and more student-oriented complexes are built, let’s get a formal policy on paper.
 
We want it close to campus doesn’t really capture it for me.
 
Again, my immediate concern is the expansion of the footprint of multiple family housing into new areas.

There is multiple family zoning south of University and Hovey, but no buildings of this magnitude — a proposed 550-ft. long, four-story building with 350 bedrooms inside 2-, 3-, and 4-bedroom units.   Because there is no party deck, volleyball court, or balconies, the developers claim it will appeal to the “serious student,” a claim that invoked laughter in the council chambers when a resident asked how the developers plan to screen for serious students.  

There are plans for on-site security and property maintenance, which now come up so frequently as approval enticements that we ought to make them mandatory for developments over a certain number of residents.

I find it interesting how eager everyone associated with project wants to make it a Main Street Corridor project.  For those who place a very high priority on public acceptance of the stalled Main Street Corridor planning process and form-based code:   Is this what the Main Street Corridor reallyenvisions?  Is this how you want to get off the ground by expanding Normal’s already enormous footprint of student-oriented multiple family housing?

I don’t doubt the sincerity or integrity of the development team or even their desire to build a quality project.  They are attempting to jump through all of the hoops.  I recognize the limitations of the site, but jamming as many beds into one long building doesn’t seen like a proper fit for the property and defintely not for the neighborhood.   I challenge them to come up with alternative that maintains the current zoning.

I think we owe it to this neighborhood to not leap at the first high density multiple family proposal that fits on the site.  

Let’s study the market, figure out where we really want student-oriented multiple family housing, and in what densities.  

Let’s take our time and get it right.

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Filed under Development, Illinois State University, Main Street, planning, Uncategorized, Zoning

Normal, Bloomington, McLean County agree to consider new regional comprehensive plan

The meeting was more symbolism than substance.

The mayors of Normal and Bloomington and the McLean County board chairman say they are committed to meet on the occasional fifth Monday of the month when it makes sense.

And in this case it made sense because the topic of discussion was “sensible growth.”

A birds-eye view from my seat at the joint meeting Monday night of the Normal Town Council, McLean County Board, and the Bloomington City Council.  We heard a presentation on the draft countywide Regional Comprehensive Plan.   I met two McLean County Board members at the meeting including former Normal Community and Central Catholic football coach John McIntyre and George Wendt, who represents a mostly rural county board district.

A birds-eye view from my seat at the joint meeting Monday night of the Normal Town Council, McLean County Board, and the Bloomington City Council. We heard a presentation on the draft countywide Regional Comprehensive Plan. I met two McLean County Board members at the meeting including former Normal Community and Central Catholic football coach John McIntyre and George Wendt, who represents a mostly rural county board district.

Monday night’s get together at the old Champion Federal building, now called the Government Center, was called to discuss a draft of the new McLean County Regional Comprehensive Plan.  

More than two years in the making, the draft “comp plan” replaces an outdated 1999 document that did not envision the surprising population growth reflected in the 2005 special Bloomington and Normal censuses and the equally stunning 2007-09 economic downturn, which has increased local unemployment, depressed retail sales, and generated flat property values and scores of foreclosures.

The plan attempts to gaze 25 years into the future and projects a 2035 countywide population of  234,280, up more than 68,000 people from today’s population.

The plan calls for the following initiatives:

  • Identify communities, neighborhoods, and business districts to be targeted for revitalization activities and funding;
  • Create an inventory of historic resources throughout the county to provide an improved basis for preservation;
  • Consider alternatives for local governments to share costs and revenues from property and sales tax revenues resulting from future economic development;
  • Explore costs, benefits, and alternatives for providing less expensive housing throughout the community;
  • Investigate the creation of a transit district to support expanded and enhanced bus service throughout the metro area;
  • Review the current structure of development fees to help ensure efficiency and equity in providing community facilities and services  throughout McLean County.

Among the more provocative recomendations is the call for so-called “inclusionary housing.”   Unless new single family homeowners are fully aware that it’s happening, that concept tends to go over like a lead balloon.  Still, I agree it’s worth taking a serious look at.

As you might imagine, there are calls for developing regional water supplies and distribution systems, sharing emergency services resources, preserving farmland, and planning for future school locations and parks.

The plan now goes to the Normal and Bloomington planning commissions and the McLean County zoning and land use committee for consideration and public input.   I will post it when it becomes available on line.

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