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Normal Council OKs Zoning Changes For One Normal Plaza

Michele Steinbacher
From left, Mercy Davison, Normal town Planner, and Greg Troemel, Normal director of inspections, answer questions about the One Normal Plaza area's zoning rules during the Normal Town Council meeting, Monday, Aug. 16, 2021, at Uptown Station.

After a vote delayed more than a year, the Normal Town Council on Monday changed zoning rules in the One Normal Plaza development, stopping short of allowing any wine and liquor shops there.

The Normal Planning Commissionrecommended last week the council approve the zoning changes.

The 6-1 vote was part of the council's regular meeting at Uptown Station. Council member Stan Nord was the only "no" vote.

One Normal Plaza, on Lincoln and Beech streets, has origins dating to the 1860s when it was constructed as the Illinois Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Children's School — a home and later school for orphans of Civil War veterans.

But over the past few decades, it’s slowly developed into an area that’s home to town-owned properties, including the Community Activity Center and park green space, as well as privately-owned homes, businesses, nonprofits, and schools.

Town of Normal
This map shows the four subdivided areas of One Normal Plaza, as designated in new zoning changes which the Normal Town Council approved during its meeting Monday, Aug. 16, 2021.

The amended zoning creates four subdivided areas within that development to focus on future economic development, while preserving the historic character and park setting, according to council materials.

“What we’re looking at is giving options for economic development, so that, if there is a desire to grow the area, rather than have the buildings go into decay, just increasing the options available to someone who might want to establish a business there,” said council member Karyn Smith.

The changes approved Monday are based on the development’s first major reassessment since the 1980s, said City Manager Pam Reece. Renewed focus on One Normal Plaza emerged as a council initiative, partly connected to development of nearby Route 66, and Constitution Trail.

Controversy began swirling around the proposed changes about a year ago, when some residents of the neighborhood raised concerns about the possibility of a brew pub locating there.

Possible alcohol sales controversial

On Monday, before the vote, Nord pushed for eliminating a line that would have allowed creation of "wine and liquor shops" as a permitted use in certain areas of the development. Nord said many residents of the neighborhood had opposed alcohol sales there. The council agreed with him, and voted 5-2 to cut that line from the proposal.

“It’s very clear One Normal Plaza is for the community as a whole, and one group of residents doesn’t hold more sway than another," said Mayor Chris Koos, who along with council member Kevin McCarthy, favored keeping the wine and liquor shops as an option.

“We can’t paint all businesses with the same brush,” said Koos, adding a standard package alcohol store wouldn’t fit the setting, but a shop offering specialty wines in a boutique atmosphere was a different concept.

McCarthy agreed, saying if Normal’s public spaces are supposed to be accessible to everyone in the community — like park spaces or commercial districts — then everyone should be able to have a say in the plaza’s uses.

Koos pointed out package liquor sales already are available at a convenience store across the street from One Normal Plaza (Casey's at 810 N. Beech Street).

The possibility of alcohol sales in the development became a hot-button issue in June 2020, after a remote Planning Commission meeting drew many public comments both against and in favor of the zoning change.

Town leaders decided to postpone the planning commission hearing on One Normal Plaza until later, when the planning commission could meet again in person. That didn't happen until this summer, after Gov. JB Pritzker returned Normal to Phase 5 of the Restore Illinois Plan.

As a matter of disclosure WGLT General Manager R.C. McBride is a member of the Normal Planning Commission.

Trail East Project update

Also Monday, the council approved an amended version of the Trail East redevelopment project, in Uptown Circle.

The new plan calls for the multi-use building to eliminate its fifth story. The reduction cuts the $30 million cost of the building to $28.6 million, and accordingly, the Tax Increment Financing (TIF) money the town owes will decrease by nearly $2.5 million.

The developer also will need less parking: 200 spaces instead of 300.

Another change centers on a mural, long the center of debate between Town of Normal leaders and the artists who created it. Following a lawsuit about the art, the town was going to relocate the mural. Now, however, it will be preserved as an interior wall.

“Bush has incorporated that wall into their structure," said Reece. “It will be preserved in place. I think that’s a win for the community,” she said.

In other business, the council awarded bids for three water main extension projects:

  • College Avenue goes to Stark Excavating for nearly $1.1 million, with a possible $7,500 bonus for early completion.
  • Rivian Motorway goes to SNC Construction for nearly $952,000, with a possible $7,500 bonus for early completion.
  • Oak Street goes to George Gildner Inc. for nearly $585,000, with a possible $15,000 bonus for early completion.
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Michele Steinbacher is a WGLT correspondent. She joined the staff in 2020.
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