Demolition of Urbana home pending decision

Erica Magda

Erica Magda

By Crystal Kang

Several Urbana residents and Urbana home owner Julian Gorski await the Urbana City Council’s votes this coming Monday. The outcome of the meeting will determine the fate of the home located at 508 E. Elm St.

Three votes against the agenda item would fully authorize JSM Management, Inc.’s right to collapse the home and construct apartments, while five affirmative votes would preserve this Victorian-styled hearthstone.

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“We felt that (the property) was historically significant because of the well-documented occupants of the house,” said Urbana Historic Preservation Commission Chair Alice Novak.

“And we felt it was architecturally significant because it used a good example of Queen Anne and colonial revival.”

The commission made a recommendation to the City Council to add the item to its agenda after Ilona Matkovszki requested that the property be preserved.

The Queen Anne-styled home was built in 1889, and Frank and Grace Bills lived there for six years, Matkovszki said at the Sept. 15 meeting of the City Council.

Throughout the years they lived in Urbana, the couple were very active in the Urbana community. For four years, Frank was an Urbana postmaster.

Grace Bills led a women’s club, Urbana resident Linda Lorenz said.

Within this organization, Grace was the corresponding secretary, nominated the vice president in 1908 and supported for its presidency in 1910.

Gorski said the issue over preserving the home sparked public attention when JSM applied for a demolition permit.

He objected to designate the home as a historic landmark because the future buyer wants to construct apartments in its place. The Urbana Historic Preservation Commission yielded the final decision-making to the City Council.

“The Historic Preservation Ordinance is really designed to preserve significant buildings, not just any building because it was going to be torn down,” Gorski said.

“I’m not against preserving historic buildings, but don’t abuse (the ordinance) to save just any building. My contention is that the building doesn’t meet any of the (city’s historic landmark) criteria.”

Some of the University students living on Elm Street said the home should remain untouched.

John Mann, graduate student, said the issue over demolishing the Bills’ home is complicated because the owner wants to do as he sees fit.

“In my opinion, I think we should keep the building as it is,” Mann said.

“It’s a really nice building. And as time goes on, we lose more and more of these 19th-century buildings in Urbana.”

Dustin Duncan, senior in LAS, came to live in Urbana because it had less of a college feel and more of a historic background.

He was opposed to the idea of replacing the home with apartments, especially in a neighborhood already designated as a part of Historic Urbana.

Gorski described the Council meeting Monday as strange.

He said he was close to receiving three “no” votes that night had it not been for covert politics.

“One Council member declared himself with a conflict of interest,” said Gorski.

“He excused himself. If he hadn’t, I think that I would’ve had the chance to win. It appeared that I might have two ‘no’ votes. That’s politics going on right there.”