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.
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.
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.