City council sets sights on creation of better city parks

The Champaign City Council and the Champaign Park District met for a joint special meeting to discuss new parks in the city’s growth areas at the Virginia Theater, 203 W. Park Ave., Wednesday night.

“Residents are underserved in parks,” said Rob Kowalski, assistant planning director for the city of Champaign. “It’s a city quality of life issue.”

Kowalski said that the city staff would like direction for a mandatory collaboration to occur between land developers and the park district to ensure that parks are included in new subdivisions and developments. In this case, the developer would be required to work with the park district and either donate the land to develop into a park or donate cash for the city to provide a park elsewhere.

Joe Petry, park district commissioner, said that developers would be paying for one-third of the cost of the park in cost of land, and the park district would be paying two-thirds.

Mike Martin, from the Atkins Group development company, and Shawn Luesse, Devonshire Group development company, said that the developers would be paying more than one-third the cost after factoring in streets and sidewalks that need to be provided.

Marci Dodds, Dist. 4 councilwoman, said she was concerned because the mandate is “violently opposed” by developers.

“I’m worried about what happens when people can’t agree,” she said.

Champaign Mayor Gerald Schweighart said he likes the idea of a collaboration but wants the city to be involved in negotiations.

“I believe the development community will embrace a collaborative approach, but they won’t embrace a mandatory dedication,” Luesse said.”There needs to be as many teeth in the ordinance towards the park district as towards the developer.”

Kowalski said more than 190 acres of park land will be needed over the next 10 years, the smallest park being at least 10 acres.

Schweighart said that he did not see why the new parks would need to be so large.

“Beardsley Park is far less than 10 acres and it has baseball diamonds and tennis courts and everything you need in a neighborhood park,” he said. “Why should it be any bigger than that?”

Kowalski said the staff will take the input from the council and park district and continue the discussion, but they did not vote or set a future meeting date.