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Neighbors Flag Parking Concerns With Proposed Student Apartment Project

Design of new building
Town of Normal
The Iden family wants to demolish its three apartment buildings in the 100 block of West Locust Street in Normal and replace them with a new, five-story building.

Property owners who want to demolish three aging student apartments and build a new complex are expected to face opposition Monday when their plans go in front of the Normal Town Council.

The Iden family wants to demolish its three apartment buildings in the 100 block of West Locust Street and replace them with a new, five-story building. One version of their plan would require the town’s permission to build with 11 fewer parking spaces than the zoning code requires, in part to accommodate a front-yard circle drive for package deliveries and ride-hailing services.

That request for less parking has drawn “significant concern” from at least one other apartment management company and adjoining property owners.

“We already see Locust Street being full of on-street parking,” said attorney Elizabeth Megli, who represents the other property owners. “It’s pretty much fully utilized at all times. There’s a concern that if we decrease the amount of parking for the project, that we’ll create a greater burden on Locust Street.”

Megli noted the Iden property sits inside the town’s Parking Impact Zone, which sets restrictions regarding location, size, and construction of parking to facilitate a greater number of spaces.

In a memo prepared for the town’s Zoning Board of Appeals, town staff said the circle drive was conceived “based on what the applicant believes to be changing student transportation and shopping preferences,” such as someone relying on Uber or Lyft instead of owning a car.

“This property presents a good opportunity to see how these trends are playing out in Normal, as the property is within the densest student residential area in the community and far from any non-student neighborhoods,” town staff in a memo to the Town Council.

Megli said her clients are skeptical of that thinking.

“We aren’t seeing that play out in the local market, at least not to the extent that it should decrease the amount of parking required for this project,” Megli said. “It appears as though changes to utilizing Uber and things like that have not maybe made an impact on the local economy as they have in other economies.”

The project took an unusual path to Monday’s Town Council meeting.

It appeared in front of the Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) in late January. The ZBA rejected an alternate version of the project that sought 20 fewer parking spaces than required by code. There was a tie vote on the 11-fewer-spaces plan, and a tie results in a failure. However, a ZBA member later said he was confused and “meant to vote in favor” of the 11-fewer-spaces plan, town staff said.

As a result, the Idens asked town staff if they had any options. One of them was getting a Town Council member to file a stay on the ZBA’s decision. Mayor Chris Koos did that, triggering Monday’s public hearing and expected vote on the project.

The project would have 126 bedrooms in 35 units. The three buildings it will replace have 20 units total with 40 bedrooms.

The Locust Street project comes despite concerns from some who see the ISU student apartment market as already saturated. Several new buildings have opened in recent years. And ISU is planning to build a new on-campus housing complex that will further reduce demand. That’s expected to open in fall 2022 at the earliest.

Keith Iden did not return WGLT messages seeking comment.

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Ryan Denham is the digital content director for WGLT.