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Normal Planning Commission backs permanent rules for outdoor dining and parking pads

Emily Bollinger
Rules would allow restaurants to construct outdoor seating areas in Normal in no more than 10% of associated parking areas from April through October and require ADA compliance, clearly marked seating areas and prohibition of smoking.

The Normal Planning Commission approved four proposals Thursday evening, including two subdivision plan amendments as well as official rules for residential parking pads and outdoor dining.

Meeting housing demand

Developer BJ Armstrong proposed that a section of The Trails at Sunset Lake be changed from mixed-density housing to single-family detached housing. The development, located at the northeast corner of Airport Road and Fort Jesse Road, was originally planned to have 120 large lots for higher end single-family housing, and the new plan would add 16 slightly smaller lots on a cul-de-sac. The plan will also extend Canyon Creek Road northward to intersect Shepard Road.

Immediately to the north across Shepard Road, TJ Development proposed to change their plan for 30 new attached single-family units at The Vineyards housing development to instead accommodate 23 detached single-family homes. The lots will be slightly smaller than existing lots at the development.

Whereas homes at the development south of Shepard Road range in value from $400,000 to more than $1 million, homes to the north are generally valued right around $300,000.

According to civil engineer Neil Finlen, who works for Farnsworth Group with TJ Development, that price point has been increasingly difficult to achieve due to pandemic-related material and labor shortages. Homes at The Vineyards have been appealing to the new market of homebuyers stemming in part from the Rivian boom, Finlen said, and it was a combination of rising building costs and prospective buyers’ preferences that influenced the developer to switch from duplexes to houses on smaller lots.

“The desires of those buyers among others—not just Rivian—are far and wide. So it’s a matter of trying to have a different product than has been offered in the past. Just about everything is selling,” Finlen said. “We’re really just trying as hard as we can to meet the demand, not only in numbers but in the variety. And as you’re aware, it’s been a challenge.”

Parking pads and outdoor dining

Town planning staff introduced a proposal to codify rules for constructing parking pads attached to two-car driveways because, according to Town Planner Mercy Davison, the practice has become common and generally accepted, and it would make it easier on the Zoning Board of Appeals to just allow it outright. The parking pads are so common, in fact, Davison said some people building them don’t even realize that they need approval.

The commission quickly agreed to recommend the proposal, but commissioner Bob Broad added that he hopes planners will promote projects in the future that will encourage more people use non-automobile modes of transport.

Staff also proposed a set of permanent guidelines for outdoor dining in private parking lots – a practice that became popular with restaurants and restaurant-goers alike during the pandemic. Planning commissioners endorsed the plan.

Rules will allow restaurants to construct outdoor seating areas in no more than 10% of associated parking areas from April through October and require ADA compliance, clearly marked seating areas and prohibition of smoking.

“If there’s some very, very small silver lining of COVID,” commissioner Andy Byars said, “it’s that people in Normal are gonna get to eat outside more.”

The matters now go to the Town Council for final approval.

As a matter of disclosure, WGLT general manager R.C. McBride is chair of the Normal Planning Commission.

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Philip Walker is a correspondent for WGLT. He joined the station in 2022.
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