Urbana urges UI to help save area

By Joe Parrino

Urbana residents are calling on the University to do its part in saving a neighborhood that attracts faculty, students and townsfolk alike.

“The neighborhood is a jewel,” said Lisa Treul, a coordinator of the West Urbana Neighborhood Association. “We want to preserve it for everybody.”

The association lobbied the Urbana City Council on behalf of those who live between Lincoln Avenue and Race Street and from Main Street southward to Florida Avenue. Treul circulated a copy of the petition that was recently submitted to University leaders.

The association hopes the council will endorse requests that the University offer financial aid for faculty members who buy in the neighborhood, contribute to a fund for conversion of rental to single-family housing, promote street clean-up campaigns and undertake other initiatives to improve the quality of life in the neighborhood.

The petition includes excerpts of letters written by University faculty members who call west Urbana home. Some of the letters credit the neighborhood with their decision to accept the University’s offer instead of others.

“Central Illinois will never be able to offer a mountain range or ocean for scenic backdrop,” one college of Business professor wrote. “However, neighborhoods such as West Urbana do offer a setting many Universities can only dream of.”

Truel was accompanied by Betsey Cronan, whose husband John heads the University’s department of microbiology. Cronan said the walking-distance closeness of West Urbana accommodates the demands of both work and family.

“We were able to raise two kids with just one car,” Cronan said. “My husband could come home for dinner and then walk back to the lab at night.”

The neighborhood association’s primary argument is that without active preservation efforts the profit motive to convert single-family homes to rentals will prevail.

The petition applauded the city of Urbana’s efforts to consider landlord licensing and educate their student population about residency standards. But it requested the University take a similarly proactive stance.

Both Treul and Cronan were careful to say that students themselves were not a threat. In fact, students were just as crucial to the chemistry of the community as professors and families, they said.

“We like that the neighborhood is less uptight,” Cronan said. “If we wanted to be with the dandelion police, we would have bought a house in southwest Champaign.”

Treul pioneered a Good Neighbor program, which brings students and local families together.

“We invited some student neighbors over for cookies,” Truel said. “It was the right setting to talk through the thing each of us need to know about the other.”