Currently in Archives. Click here to return to the new CU-CitizenAccess.Org website at any time.

Discussion continues on zoning amendments to help Wilber Heights residents

Pam G. Dempsey '” The Champaign County Zoning Board of Appeals took comments Thursday night on proposed changes to zoning ordinances that will give Wilber Heights residents more freedom to improve their homes.

Wilber Heights '“ a small neighborhood located on north Market Street behind Market Place Mall '“ is a mix of industrial and residential property. A nearly 40-year-old county ordinance zoned the area industrial, despite the heavy mix of residential property. 

Because of the zoning, existing homes were deemed nonconforming, which prevented owners from making improvements to their properties beyond 10 percent of their replacement value annually. Owners also cannot replace, expand or rebuild their homes.

Since then, property values have declined, road conditions have been neglected and there's been an increase in abandoned property, residents have said.

If approved, the proposed changes would allow owners of any nonconforming dwelling to enlarge, expand, extend, replace, rebuild or relocate the dwelling.

Half a dozen Wilber Heights-area residents attended a public hearing on the proposed ordinance amendments, but only one spoke.

"I don't know why we can't rebuild,' said Homer Kirby, 88, who has lived in Wilber Heights since 1947. "If you had a house burn down, what would you do? Where would we go? Things are getting pretty hard and I'm getting pretty old.'

In September, the Champaign County Board directed Zoning Administrator John Hall to draft amendments to help residents in Wilber Heights improve their properties.

"Arguably, Champaign County has one of the two most restrictive zoning ordinances on nonconforming dwellings,' Hall said Thursday. The restrictive ordinances are "leading to the degradation of the (Wilber Heights) neighborhood.'

Hall told the zoning board of appeals that he proposed more amendments than requested by the county board in part to resolve issues that Wilber Heights resident Tom Lemke raised in prior conversations.  Those amendments include:

  • Allowing expansion up to a total 1,500 square footage for nonconforming dwellings that were 1,200 square feet or less on Oct. 10, 1973 '“ the date the zoning was changed for the Wilber Heights area.
  • Allowing variances for the expansion of nonconforming dwellings too close to the property line. Variances are exceptions to the zoning ordinances that are considered on a case-by-case basis.
  • Clearly defining the words "cease' and "abandoned' in the ordinance.

Hall also proposed an amendment to remove size limits on accessory buildings for those nonconforming dwellings. For example, residents would be able to expand their garages without a size limit, like the neighboring businesses are allowed to do now.

Thursday's public hearing is the first step in a process to amend the ordinance that could take several months.

"We want to give every ample opportunity to let concerns be known to the zoning board of appeals,' Hall said earlier.

This includes objections by local municipalities. If any municipality objects, a minimum of 21 county board members would need to approve the changes for the proposed amendments to take effect.  Without objections, only 14 members would need to approve the changes.

Final action on the amendments could take place by April, Hall said.

The zoning board of appeals is set to discuss this issue next on Jan. 6.

¨ Copyright 2011 CU-CitizenAccess.