Urbana delays vote on measure designating historical district

By Pamela Nisivaco

The Urbana City Council pushed a decision on an ordinance designating a historic district at the 800 block of West Main Street until it reconvenes in two weeks. The delay came after a surprising change of heart for one alderman.

Robert Lewis, Ward 3, originally voted against the ordinance. As proposed, the ordinance designated every property on the block as historic regardless of the individual owners’ wishes. The ordinance was too ambiguous, Lewis said.

After a short break during which several Council members consulted with him, Lewis said he wanted to reconsider his vote.

The ordinance required five ‘yes’ votes to pass. Heather Stevenson, Ward 6, was the second council member to vote against the ordinance in the original vote.

Stevenson said she could not support an ordinance that tells people what to do with their property because she did not believe “it’s a good neighborly thing.”

City staff advised the Council to support the ordinance for a historic district that would exclude those properties where owners were opposed to the designation.

Owners of buildings that receive the designation must follow specific regulations concerning construction and demolition.

“I urge you to take the entire district and let it stand together,” said Randy Kangas, an Urbana resident, regarding the exclusion of certain properties.

Carolyn Baxley, a fellow resident, agreed with Kangas and said if the city wants a district it needs to consider it as a whole and not in terms of individual properties.

“If we were to say lop off smaller houses next to larger ones, we would have a checkerboard historic district,” Dennis Roberts, Ward 5, said.

Howard Wakeland owns four properties within the area of the proposal. He hired a lawyer to present his opposition to the Council and historic preservation commission, the body which considered and approved the original application for the district.

“I’ve been so screwed by this city it’s impossible to figure out what to do now,” Wakeland said in reference to Lewis’ reconsideration.

“We knew we had the votes tonight,” Wakeland said. “They were decimated tonight, believe me.”

Stevenson said she believes the Council will vote to designate only those properties whose owners want to be included in the historic district in its next meeting.