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Normal Planning Commission Recommends One Normal Plaza Zoning Amendment

Normandy Village is part of the One Normal Plaza area redevelopment of the old Illinois Soldiers and Sailors Children's Home.
Photo by Ronald Douglas Frazier is licensed under CC BY 2.0
Normandy Village is part of the One Normal Plaza area redevelopment of the old Illinois Soldiers' and Sailors' Children's School (ISSCS).

The Normal Planning Commission on Thursday evening approved a controversial amendment to the One Normal Plaza zoning plans that the town council first initiated a discussion of in May 2020, but ended up tabling the public hearing until it could be held in person.

At the public hearing, town planner Mercy Davison gave a brief history of the property formerly known as the Illinois Soldiers' and Sailors' Children's School (ISSCS) that was an orphanage run by the state of Illinois. After the facility closed, the property went through various ownership and development changes, and is currently known as a Planned Unit Development or PUD.

“A PUD is really a special part of the community. They tend to have a different set of rules and each one is somewhat unique. The fact that this is a PUD means it is just a more unique set of circumstances than a straight commercial zoning or straight residential zoning,” Davison said.

She said the property currently houses several vacated structures that are not being well maintained or used to their full potential. The property is around 66 acres and lies adjacent to historic Route 66.

The amendment unanimously OK'd by the planning commission proposes the acreage be split into four sub areas based on types of buildings, existing parking, green space and room for expansion. The current zoning plan requires a minimum of 15% green space while the amendment would require a minimum of 50% green space for all sub areas.

The amendment also would expand the list of permissible businesses for the area, including allowing eating and drinking establishments in certain sub areas.

The recommendation by the commission is a text amendment and not a complete rezoning of the area. If passed by the Normal Town Council, any individual looking to open a business in One Normal Plaza would have to go through a public process and gain council approval.

Concerns from neighbors

Although the meeting ended with the changes being recommended, it was certainly not without pushback. The public hearing brought more than a dozen residents in the neighborhoods surrounding One Normal Plaza, the majority of whom voiced strong concerns.

Kathy Syracuse led a group of several residents who came to the hearing with prepared statements. Concerns were raised over the safety and tranquility of the residential neighborhoods if new businesses bring increased traffic.

In response, commissioner AJ Zimmerman told residents, “This is simply changing the text of the zoning; those proposing a business will have to come back to the commission and the council and you will have the opportunity to voice your like or dislike of that business.”

Other concerns included the potential of alcohol being sold and consumed at an approved business. The town’s attorney clarified that the liquor code is beyond the purview of the commission and that any changes in that regard also would have to be made by the town council, noting the proposed amendment has no effect on alcohol sales or consumption.

Julie Hile, owner of Normandy Village, a historical site located in One Normal Plaza, spoke in support of the amendment and assured her neighbors they have similar goals.

“Though the property is private, we intend for it to be a place where people can gather and relax and enjoy its beauty and history ... We share your (those who spoke in opposition) sense of caution which is why (we) support the many layers of protection proposed by town staff. We see the proposed amendment as a careful, balanced move” Hile said.

While some voiced their concern that Normandy Village had plans to expand or bring in businesses that would sell liquor, Hile said there is no intention of expanding and there have not been discussions with anyone seeking to establish a liquor-selling establishment in Normandy Village.

Ultimately, the only change to the amendment was the commission’s recommendation to remove bowling alleys as a permissible business in One Normal Plaza.

The Normal Town Council will discuss the commission’s recommendations at its next meeting at 7 p.m. Monday, Aug. 16.

Samira Kassem is a WGLT correspondent. She joined the station in 2021 after graduating from Illinois Wesleyan University, where she was editor in chief of The Argus.