Residents Cite Safety, ‘Neighborhood Flavor’ Among Concerns With Housing Proposal
Plans for a six-story apartment complex just north of the University of Illinois campus have generated a lot of public comment.
The proposal was delayed last week so members of the Champaign Plan Commission can get more information about the 550-unit proposal on East University Avenue between 5th and Wright Streets.
Longtime residents of the neighborhood, like Maggie and Ebbie Cook, say they’ve been left in the dark on the plan until recently.
They said that large a complex, built largely for U of I students, will hurt the neighborhood, not enhance it. Ebbie cites pedestrian safety on University Avenue, and parking among his top concerns.
"Because when you get that type of influx of automobiles, they're going to go even further north," he said. "From Park Street, they're going to go to Church Street, Hill Street, Washington Street, wherever they can park (to) be close to their building. It's just a hectic mess."
Input submitted to city planners by the 5th and Hill Neighborhood Rights Campaign also cites concerns about property value, noise and light pollution.
Two backers of the project, area residents Brent and Amanda West, cite the potential for stimulating more investment in their letter, and replacing ‘blighted’ properties with safe and attractive housing.
The plan commission put off its vote last Wednesday. Lorrie Pearson with the Champaign Planning Department cites ‘inconsistencies’ with the application material, letting the developer, Investment Property Advisors,tighten up some details.
"There was an indication that they had some additional information on parking and other developments, so we're going to take a look at that, and there were some inconsistencies with labeling on their materials," she said.
The plan commission will get another look at the plan February 5th. Approval there would allow the plan to go to city council.
Excavation work continues at the site that once housed a manufactured gas plant in Champaign.
Ameren Illinois is working on the corner of 5th and Hill Streets to clear soil that is suspected of having traces of the pollutant coal tar. Most of the work to remove the soil has taken place underneath a large protective tent, but on Thursday workers dug about three feet of dirt outside of the tent.
That sparked concerns from the health care advocacy group, Champaign County Health Care Consumers. The group said a monitoring device that checks for dangerous chemicals went off, raising the possibility that nearby communities might be at risk.
"The vapors and the dust that comes up from this type of excavation are highly toxic and this is a highly irresponsible activity to do," the group's executive director, Claudia Lennhoff, said.
But Ameren spokesperson Leigh Morris dismissed that claim, saying no air monitoring equipment recorded anything that would have raised health or safety concerns. Morris said both Ameren and the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency were checking the excavation area Thursday with air monitoring equipment, which did not identify any red flags.
"There was never any type of a health concern," Morris explained. "There was some dust. The dust was caused from gravel. We did receive one complaint about that, and we watered the gravel down to end the dust problem."
The excavation happened on the edge of a gate, near two buildings used by the Center for Women in Transition. Site supervisor Jacob Blanton said there was no way the tent could have been moved with nearby power lines and a narrow alley in the way.
Morris said some additional digging outside of the protective tent will likely be performed in July.
Back in April, Champaign agreed to plug a pipe suspected of having dangerous chemicals near the Boneyard Creek, which extends to the site where the gas plant once stood. The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency has said there is no evidence to suggest coal tar has made its way from the plant into the pipeline.
(Photo by Sean Powers/WILL)