By Jenna Lawson, Springfield News-Sun Staff Writer
The last bit of needed funding has been secured to push forward the ‘Legacy Place’ senior housing project in Urbana.
Sourcing all of the funding has been a tedious multi-year task undertaken by several different parties — but soon residents will start to see the fruits of labor.
“This is going to be a reality,” said Champaign Economic Development Director Marcia Bailey. “It’s not just sketches on a piece of paper. It’s going to be a reality.”
In August, the developers of the project — Flaherty & Collins Properties — applied for a grant through the Federal Home Loan Bank of Cincinnati with the help of community partners.
$40K will be spent to look at challenges facing Urbana, county’s 3 villages
“We want development to occur where there is available or nearby infrastructure. We are an agricultural community and we want to be able to preserve agricultural land as well,” she added.
The study will cost $40,000, and it will be paid for with funds set aside by Champaign County commissioners to be used for economic development, Bailey said. The study aims to compare municipalities in the county to others in the state that are tackling similar problems such as aging housing stock, a fair number of blighted properties and limited land for new housing developments.
Bailey said the study will be similar to the one recently conducted in Springfield that looked at what the city could do to attract new housing opportunities.
The Comprehensive Housing Market Analysis for Springfield was released in August and made six major recommendations to city officials.
Those recommendations included playing into preexisting assets, continued focus on downtown revitalization and rehabbing existing housing stock.
Bailey said her organization is looking to do the same in Champaign County and wants to use the findings of their study to make the area more marketable to developers. She said that includes looking at what new housing options would work best in the county, whether that would be smaller single family homes or loft apartments in recently renovated buildings.
“One of the big things that we are looking at right now is what type of housing is in demand,” she said. “We are seeing more loft apartments in downtown Urbana for example. We want to continue that trend.”
Bill Bean, the mayor of Urbana, said his city is landlocked and there is not much land available to develop new single family homes. He said, instead, some property owners in downtown Urbana are turning the second and third stories of their buildings into loft apartments.
“Instead of growing out, we are growing up,” he said.
Bailey said in the city’s Monument Square, she estimates 10 loft apartments and says more are currently being developed.
However, the city’s last major housing development was completed in the early 2000s. The subdivision known as Parmore Estates, on the eastern edge of the city, consisted of 90 single family lots as well as two condo sections of 20 lots each, according to its developer Bill Parker, who is the president of Par-Mee Development Corp.
He is currently working on a subdivision called Park Place of Urbana. The first phase of that project will consist of 13 small, patio/single family homes along Powell Avenue, which is expected to be completed in the next two years, Parker said.
Bean said, however, land for new housing developments can be hard to find in the city. He said it depends on whether property owners are interested in selling their property or are working with a developer.
“In order for us to grow, we need to get developers to look at us. We need to let them know what we have to offer,” he said.
Bean said he believes the housing study will be a good tool for future development not only in Urbana but also in the county as a whole.
Greg Kimball, the mayor of Mechanicsburg, said his village has similar housing problems such as the lack of available land for new developments and a limited number of developers operating in the area. He said there is also a fair number of nuisance properties in the village.
Kimball said he hopes the study will help them work around those issues as the village hopes to reassess its housing stock while working to increase property values.
Contact this reporter at 937- 328-0355 or email Hasan.Abdul-Karim@cmg.com.
BY THE NUMBERS
Estimated population of Champaign County in 2018, according to U.S. Census Bureau
Number of cities and villages in Champaign County that will be examined as part of the housing study
The cost of the housing study, which is expected to be completed in January
The Springfield News-Sun has provided extensive coverage of housing and employment issues in Clark and Champaign counties, including recent stories on wages, job opportunities and a recent housing study conducted in Springfield.
“(The developer) has indicated to us if they’re able to secure that grant, then they can move forward toward a closing to this project,” said Doug Crabill, Urbana’s community development manager.
Crabill, as well as Marcia Bailey, director of Champaign County Economic Development, have been working with Flaherty & Collins Properties, a developer based in Indianapolis that has expressed interest in the project, to secure the funding for “Legacy Place.”
The project would convert the Douglas Hotel, as well as the former North and South Elementary Schools in Urbana, into affordable senior apartments.
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“We do a lot of work in weak-market cities like Springfield, Toledo and elsewhere, but are more interested in making sure our communities are vibrant, sustainable places that people want to stay in and places that people want to move to. So, we do research to understand what are the challenges and opportunities in the state.”
In the analysis, GOPC plans to examine all components of the county’s housing market, including existing market housing conditions, obstacles and opportunities for housing, and housing affordability. The group then will provide recommendations to strengthen the housing market’s competitiveness in a draft to the steering committee by October, then as a final report by the end of the year.
“What we are wanting to provide you with is a road map for how to move forward on the goals that you are setting for yourselves,” Goebel said.
Goebel said that the finished product would sync closely with the comprehensive plan now being finalized by the Logan Union Champaign (LUC) Regional Planning Commission.
A similar report GOPC is finalizing for the city of Springfield contains 16 recommendations divided into six categories, providing what Goebel said is a concrete set of to-do items after she leaves.
A preliminary finding is that most of the people who work in Champaign County also live here, but that more who work here would move here if there were more housing options.
While there is a statewide need for market-rate housing such as single family homes and rehabilitation projects, Champaign County also needs housing affordable to low- and moderate-income individuals, Goebel said.
Goebel said that the study would focus on the municipalities of Urbana, Mechanicsburg, North Lewisburg and St. Paris, which contain almost 50% of the county’s population.
GOPC researchers will spend the next several months gathering and analyzing data about Champaign County real estate as well as interviewing developers and other stakeholders. For more information, contact the GOPC at 614-224- 0187.
Christopher Selmek can be reached at 937-508-2304.