Annexation agreement passed despite objections from mayor

By Beth Gilomen

Controversy surrounded an annexation agreement that was passed at the Champaign City Council meeting Tuesday night.

The agreement will allow Herman and Kittle Properties, Inc., an Indianapolis-based development company, to continue their plans to build an apartment complex at Olympian Drive and Market Street with a 4 percent tax credit from the city.

The proposed project is a 416-unit, multi-family complex with mixed low-income and market-rate housing.

The agreement met opposition from Mayor Gerald Schweighart, who said he feared the project would result in the same troubles the city has faced with development in the area.

“Frankly, this project scares me to death,” Schweighart said. “… What keeps (the developers) from getting in there, getting their money, then forgetting about the building?”

Schweighart cited an incident that occurred at a different developer’s property in the area, saying, “I’m still burning from the last project, where we got assurance from the management, then someone died in the swimming pool, and it was so dirty you couldn’t see the body in there.”

Jeff Ryan, senior development associate for Herman and Kittle Properties, Inc., said the company plans to have a presence in Champaign with full-time employees at an office in town and an undetermined number of employees living on-site. Ryan said the company will not make the mistakes that other real estate developers in the area have made, such as allowing buildings to fall into disrepair.

Ryan said the company has been developing real estate since 1979 and has never sold a property, adding that they would not develop the site and then run out.

Council member Marci Dodds, D-District 4, said she was concerned about the state of the property market when undertaking an endeavor like the potential development.

In response, Ken Pirok, D-District 5, said he did not believe it was the council’s place to tell developers if a market exists for their product.

“As soon as you hear the words ‘low income’ or ‘tax credit,’ you assume that bad people are going to come in … I don’t think we should put a stigma on this project,” Pirok said.