Town Council Approves Locust Street Apartment Project
Work on a new apartment complex near the Illinois State University campus could begin as soon as May, according to property owners.
The Iden family intends to replace three aging buildings in the 100 block of West Locust Street with a new five-story building. The project is moving forward after the Town Council unanimously approved zoning code variances Monday, allowing for 11 fewer parking spaces than would normally be required.
The building will be set back on the property to allow for a circle drive in the front that would facilitate package deliveries and access to ride-share services. The drive and the reduction in parking are based on mobility trends that show college students depending less on their own vehicles.
“What they’re trying to do is adapt to what they see is a change in mobility that’s happening all over the country,” said Mayor Chris Koos. “There’s a little bit of risk in there for them, but that’s a risk they’re willing to take.”
Council member Chemberly Cummings commended the developers on the project’s design.
“It really shows the wave of where we’re going, where you were intentional about pickups for Amazon, Grubhub ... these things are reality of what’s changing,” said Cummings.
The new complex will be able to accommodate 126 occupants in 37 units, replacing 20 units capable of housing 80 residents in the three existing buildings. Keith Iden says time has come to replace the aging apartments.
“Rather than putting a band-aid on some old buildings we just want to build a nice building for the town of Normal and for Illinois State University,” said Iden, adding he hopes the apartments will be available for the 2021 rental season.
Elizabeth Megli, an attorney representing four adjoining property owners and a property management company, spoke in opposition to the parking variance during the public hearing that preceded the council meeting.
“Locust Street already sees substantial on-street parking ... and our concern is that adding beds will exacerbate this problem,” said Megli. “We can’t know with certainty how national trends will impact the local market, but as this is in the heart of campus, testing that theory at this juncture creates an additional burden.”
The developers originally presented three proposals before the Zoning Board of Appeals last month, including one that would not require any variances but would also eliminate the circle drive, reduce the amount of green space and increase the number of units.
A plan seeking a 20-space parking reduction was rejected by the ZBA at its Jan. 28 hearing, while the compromise plan failed to gain approval after a split vote. However, a ZBA member indicated he voted erroneously and the Idens were able to file an appeal that brought the project before the Town Council.
“I think we need to recognize the fact that trends are changing and that it is conceivable that students won’t necessarily be as dependent on the car,” said council member Karyn Smith. “If any place is right for a test of higher density and less parking, and more reliance on walking and public transit, this is a prime location.”
Council member Kathleen Lorenz said she had “some trepidation” over allowing fewer spaces, recalling a parking variance granted to the Noodles & Co. restaurant on Main Street. She also acknowledged concerns about a saturated student housing market, but she ultimately voted in favor of the plan.
Koos said the city staff and council should take a look at the town’s parking impact zone regulatons.
“I’ve always said it’s not a parking issue, it’s a storing issue,” he said. “A lot of these kids come to ISU with cars and drive them maybe one or two days a week and they’re just sitting otherwise.”
In other businesses, the council approved two resolutions appropriating a total of $785,000 in Motor Fuel Tax funds to repair the Towanda Avenue bridge and the Gregory Street culvert over Sugar Creek; authorized a contract with Henson Disposal for recycling residential construction demolition and bulky waste at a cost of $54.65 per ton; approved rezoning a property at the southwest corner of Raab and Airport roads to medium density residential; and awarded a $74,000 contract for a Water Treatment Plant coating project to RP Coatings, Inc.
Prior to the meeting, Normal Police Chief Rich Bleichner honored Officer Jon Cleveland as the department’s Officer of the Year.
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