Champaign City Council gives feedback on deteriorating neighborhood in Champaign, Garden Hills

By Walbert Castillo

In a study session, the Champaign City Council met with Kevin Jackson, neighborhood services director, and David Oliver, code compliance manager, on Tuesday night to give feedback on action plans for the deteriorating Garden Hills neighborhood, which is bordered by North Mattis Avenue, Bloomington Road, North Prospect Avenue and West Bradley Avenue. 

The plan will focus on restoring and preserving the quality of life that has gradually declined, Jackson said. Ultimately, he said the idea is to bring the neighborhood to a point where it will not require proactive investment and can subsist on city services.

Oliver said there were a total of 42 properties experiencing major property maintenance concerns — 14 of those properties were found in the north sub-area while the remaining 28 were in the south sub-area. The maintenance concerns included extensive peeling paint on the exterior of the house, rotten wood, shingles and roof in disrepair, foundation incapable of supporting a normal load and load bearing walls.

Code compliance strategies are designed to improve the neighborhood through a series of wellness factors: housing and property maintenance, public safety, public infrastructure and civic involvement.

Housing and property maintenance will be focused on right now; then, in the spring, Jackson said they would be focusing on civic engagement to bring the community closer and housing strategies to deal with public infrastructure. In addition, he said they will be looking at the overall factors and see what needs to be done within the next 24 months.

The action planning process will finish in 2016 if everything goes according to plan, said Council Member Will Kyles, district 1. Fully supporting the action plans, he said there has been a lot of community participation, which he believes will move the project forward.

“They are addressing the vacant structures and the landlord issues that are happening with the properties, but my objection to this is I am opposed to rental registration,“ said Karen Foster, council member-at-large.  “By charging landlords rental registration, I don’t feel that it’s necessary because most landlords come in compliance.”

In terms of the rental registration fee, Jackson said it has not been set but rather suggested. There are areas in the city where there is a high rate of rental properties in single-family neighborhoods and this is clearly exemplified in neighborhoods such as Bristol Place and Bristol Park, he said.

In addition, the citizens of Garden Hills are requesting neighborhood services to prevent trends like this from occurring in their own neighborhood; he said rental registration fees might be an alternative strategy.

Deborah Feinen, council member-at-large, said this is not the first time Garden Hills has had construction. In 2007, there was a police plan in place, which brought upon the neighborhood action team to respond to challenges in Garden Hills. In 2008, sidewalks and street lighting were improved, she said.

City council members Kyles, Feinen and Foster agreed the strategic plan for bettering Garden Hills is a great initiative.

Walbert can be reached at [email protected]