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Former ISU housing complex gets go-ahead as starting point for new Normal subdivision

The Normal Town Council meets Monday, Nov. 21, 2022, in the council chambers at Uptown Station.
Michele Steinbacher
The Normal Town Council meets Monday, Nov. 21, 2022, in the council chambers at Uptown Station.

A former Illinois State University housing complex on Shelbourne Drive can serve as the seed for a subdivision in north-central Normal, and it could see renters as early as January.

On Monday, the Normal Town Council unanimously approved the proposal from 300 Spot LLC.

The multi-stage approach finds developers DJ Powell and Mike Mapes first leading the renovation of 100 existing apartments, spread across 14 buildings there. The council also OK’d proposals establishing the framework for 300 Spot to later build duplexes and single-family homes on the 23-acre site.

“I’m glad to see this property get new life,” said council member Scott Preston.

“This is a prime piece of property, I can’t underscore enough the importance of doing it right,” added council member Kathleen Lorenz, who said she liked the way the project will be developed in stages.

Also at Monday’s meeting, the council voted to change rules about temporary signs, in particular the sizes and time limits for the signs — as well as new rules creating a uniform approach to all content on signs. The council began discussing the proposal in August. The new ordinance has one set of rules for residential zones, and another for commercial.

Council member Kevin McCarthy was absent Monday.

Development to be mix of housing types

In August, 300 Spot bought the ISU property for about $1 million.

The university stopped using the apartment complex in 2017. Until then, for about a half century, it had served as an on-campus housing option for graduate students, international students and married students.

The Normal Town Council is considering a developer's plan for a nearly 25-acre site, once home to an Illinois State University complex for nontraditional students.
Town of Normal
The Normal Town Council is considering a developer's plan for a nearly 25-acre site, once home to an Illinois State University complex for nontraditional students.

After a Nov. 10 public hearing, the Normal Planning Commission voted 4-0 to recommend the town approve 300 Spot’s development plans.

Powell, who lives in the Bloomington-Normal area, and Mapes, from Peoria, told WGLT after Monday's vote that nearly 10 units should be available by January, renting at about $1,000 a month. He said a two-bedroom likely would be $1,100.

The pair said they were interested in developing the site because of the Twin Cities' lack of housing options. A study from the Bloomington-Normal Economic Development Council says more than 4,000 homes are needed.

“I heard stories that there were over 300 people living in hotels,” said Mapes.

Rental prices could turn out to be slightly different, said Powell. But, the $1,000 figure is based on current market demand. The company doesn't intend for this to be student housing, but more traditional residential.

The 14-building complex is split evenly, with 50 one-bedroom apartments in seven ranch buildings; and the rest spread across seven two-story buildings. The site also has a common building, with laundry facilities, a basketball court and playground area.

A 30-year-old single-family home that ISU had used to demonstrate energy efficiency also will be renovated and either leased or sold.

Under the current proposal, 300 Spot can lease up to 85 apartments. But to rent more units, the company first will need to add 25 parking spaces.

“They’re going to attack two buildings at a time,” said Greg Troemel, Normal inspections director, adding the main upgrades will be up-to-date sprinkler systems. Powell said each unit also will get newer kitchens and flooring, along with other amenities.

From left, 300 Spot LLC's Mike Mapes, Samantha Walley, and DJ Powell, talk to reporters Monday, Nov. 21, 2022, about the Shelbourne  Drive development, outside the Normal Town Council meeting.
Michele Steinbacher
From left, 300 Spot LLC's Mike Mapes, Samantha Walley, and DJ Powell, talk to reporters Monday, Nov. 21, 2022, about the Shelbourne Drive development, outside the Normal Town Council meeting.

Troemel said the idea is to get a few buildings ready, gain revenue from occupancy, and continue expanding renovations.

The second stage, with new housing construction, likely won’t come for at least two years, said Powell. That calls for 14 attached duplexes and 16 single-family residences on the northern and eastern stretches of the property.

Mercy Davison, Normal town planner, told the council she expects 300 Spot LLC will partner with other developers to tackle the new construction in the years to come. Mapes told reporters he and his partner were in discussions with some other developers for future construction, but nothing is final.

Storm water detention is planned for the northwest corner of the property, but Davison said that’s not required until later stages of the project.

The apartment complex includes seven single-story buildings, and seven two-story buildings — each with 50 apartments. It also has a 4,000-square-foot building with laundry facilities and a community room; a 150-space parking lot; and recreational areas that include a playground and basketball court.

On Monday, the council approved several measures to help the Shelbourne project get underway. Those include:

  • Switching the property — bordered on the west by Linden Street, and Beech Street on the east — from university to residential zoning. One section near Linden Street will be zoned as public lands.
  • Approval of the developer’s preliminary subdivision plan, and its preliminary planned unit development plan.
  • Approval of the final planned unit development plan, and the development’s final plat; 300 Spot needs to return with a final site plan for that plat before moving forward with new construction. 

The neighborhood will maintain its entrance on Shelbourne Drive. The town led a traffic study of the area, and determined a left turn lane would be added to Shelbourne, said Davison.

This chart shows the new temporary sign rules for Normal.
Town of Normal
This chart shows the new temporary sign rules for Normal.

Signage rules change

Also Monday, the council OK’d new rules about posting temporary signs.

This includes new limits on the number and sizes of signs permitted on each Normal property. The new ordinance passed on a 4-2 vote. Council members Stan Nord and Preston voted “no.”

Two public hearings — on Aug. 4, and Nov. 10 — allowed for public input on the proposal. The town’s planning commission recommended the new rules, as proposed.

During public comments at Monday’s council meeting, Tammy Heard, president of the Mid-Illinois Realtor Association, said her group supported the ordinance as proposed Monday.

The new rules — which take effect Jan. 1 — limit the number and sizes of signs permitted on each property. But key to initiating the changes was to bring Normal’s sign code into alignment with recent U.S. Supreme Court case law, said City Manager Pam Reece.

"It's a pretty complex topic," she said.

Davison says the new rules simplify the past several decades carrying more a hodge-podge approach to temporary signs.

Those rules find that municipalities can’t have differing rules based on a sign’s content. In other words, the same restrictions should apply uniformly to all categories of signage.

Before Monday’s vote, Normal had categorized political campaign signs, real estate signs, and general interest signs differently than other kinds of temporary signs.

The new rules, instead, make all signs one category. But, the rules vary based on three zones: R-1/ R-2 residential; R-3 residential; and nonresidential districts. State law prohibits Normal from imposing time limits on political signs in residential zoning.

One noted exemption in the new rules: “Incidental Signs” — those defined as signs under one square foot, and not intended for public right-of-way viewing.

Preston said he understood the town making the changes to apply rules in a “content neutral” way, per the Supreme Court. But he balked at the town instituting size limits, saying he’d never heard of anyone complaining about that.

“Why are we limiting size? I’ve yet to hear a compelling reason for why that’s a problem,” he said.

“It seems like now we’re trying to engineer things to restrict speech that we've never restricted before,” said Nord.

He contended the town made the changes to limit the scope of political signs. But Davison disagreed, responding, “It definitely is not a content based assessment.”

"We tried to figure out something that seemed to be reasonable limits for numbers and size in a way that was aesthetically pleasing in this community," she said.

Council member Chemberly Harris lamented that the temporary sign ordinance was "something that should not become political" yet was falling prey to the country's current overpoliticized climate.

Harris said, on the contrary, the process worked. Public input was considered over several months, and through a public hearing process, and staff worked with the local real estate professionals' group to find agreement, she said.

Troemel and Davison said enforcement of sign rules likely wouldn’t change much from the past. Troemel said nothing’s ever gone to court over sign rules; generally it’s town staff knocking on a door, and working to educate people, and resolve any issues.

“From the enforcement perspective, we do the best we can,” said Troemel, adding, “This is going to be a work in progress.”

In other business, the council:

  • OK’d spending about $107,000 on a 16-feet rotary mower, with MTI Distributing, under a Minnesota purchase agreement. MTI is the closest Toro dealer for the Midwest region. The vote also waived the bidding process. A $17,000 budget adjustment was required to cover the cost.
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Michele Steinbacher is a WGLT correspondent. She joined the staff in 2020.
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