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Zoning variance could be catalyst for change in Normal student housing

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Student housing at 105, 107 and 111 W. Locust St., Normal, is seen. The property owner of those buildings is proposing to replace them with a five-story, student-oriented apartment complex and the matter will go to the Normal City Council on Monday night.

NORMAL — The Normal City Council will hear a zoning variance matter on Monday night that the mayor hopes may be a catalyst to upgrade student housing in the area.

The council meeting will begin at 7 p.m. Monday at Uptown Station with a public hearing regarding the zoning variance. The council is scheduled to vote on the matter later during the meeting.

The property owner of 105, 107 and 111 W. Locust St., Normal, is proposing to replace those student apartment buildings with a five-story, student-oriented apartment complex.

"It's an area that has some of the oldest student housing in the community," Mayor Chris Koos told The Pantagraph on Friday.

"The fact that they're upgrading to a modern facility ... could be a catalyst for some change in the area," he said.

The Iden family, which has owned the buildings for many years, is proposing to redevelop the properties into one building with a circle drive in the front to facilitate ride-hailing and delivery services.

Their recommended plan requires one zoning variance for parking for 11 fewer vehicles than required by code and a setback variance for 5 feet less than code requires in the rear yard.

The variances were reviewed at a public hearing before the Normal Zoning Board of Appeals on Jan. 28. While the board voted 3 to 3 to deny the variances, a zoning board member later said his vote against the variances had been in error, so the vote should have been 4 to 2 in support.

As a result, the property owners appealed to the city council.

Town staff supports the recommended plan in its report to the council. First, more people are using ride-hailing, such as Lyft and Uber, and delivery services, such as by Amazon and grocery stores, City Manager Pam Reece said.

"That's why they're proposing a circle drive," she said. The property is a good opportunity to see how these trends are playing out in Normal and may entice students to forgo bringing their cars to campus.

In addition, the proposed building setback would result in better landscaping and the proposed building itself should last decades, town staff said.

Reece said the property owner hopes to open the new building by fall 2021.

Reece added that the area has a history of flooding and the Iden project may help to improve the situation because the project would be required, by code, to provide on-site storm water detention. But she said the flooding covers a larger area and the town's public works department has solicited proposals from engineering firms to do a larger flood study.

In other business, the council will take up several resolutions, including:

  • Appropriating $379,100 of motor fuel tax money to repair the Towanda Avenue bridge over Sugar Creek.
  • Appropriating $405,750 of motor fuel tax money to replace the top part of the Gregory Street culvert over Sugar Creek and to make related improvements.
  • Authorizing an increase in Reece's annual base pay by $5,550 from $185,000 to $190,550, retroactive to April 1, 2019, the start of the current fiscal year, following a recent performance review.

Contact Paul Swiech at 309-820-3275. Follow him on Twitter: @pg_swiech.


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