Urbana Park District planning demolitions of affordable housing to expand park space, neighbors concerned

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Madeline Wilson

Two homes located at 907 and 909 East Main St. were demolished on Monday, Oct. 8.

Two homes at 907 and 909 East Main St. were demolished to create more open space to expand Victory Park, located at 1000 E. Green St., Urbana. 

The Urbana Park District began the demolition process on Monday, Oct. 8, and is finished with the whole process. 

Although this project is expanding the park, there were some concerns with the demolition. 

Scott Dossett, head of the Historic East Urbana Association said one of the association’s biggest concerns with the demolitions is the loss of affordable housing. Dossett said there were conversations between the project director about the matter, but the decision had already been made. 

“That is something the neighborhood association is concerned about, is quality housing for people of whatever means,” Dossett said. “And those are two [homes] that were pretty affordable.”

Dossett said that the association has worked closely with the park district to make Victory Park what it is today. 

According to Dossett, the positioning of the current playground, resurfacing of the tennis court and the maintaining of the basketball court and shelter, were all due to a collaborative design between the neighborhood association and the park district. 

He said that Victory Park is on a 14-to-15-year rebuild window and that the Park District involves them in planning as much as possible. 

“We’ve been working with the park district for years about that, we got lucky in about 2002 or so, a couple of our members, we went to talk to the director at the time about some improvements there because it was really pretty sorry… So they invited us to kind of participate in a re-visioning of the plan for the park.”

Dossett discussed some possible ideas for the open space, but said none of the plans have been discussed any further. 

The neighborhood association isn’t the only one expressing concerns about the demolition. 

The neighborhood Facebook page is a place where neighbors and community members can share stories and opinions and issue in the community. 

When the topic of this demolition came to the discussion, there were 19 comments discussing the issue. 

There are mixed opinions among neighbors, but some that live nearby are concerned that the expansion of the park may keep spreading. 

Kathleen Jones has lived in Historic East Urbana for 15 years and fears that projects like this may keep spreading, leading to a decrease in historical houses. 

“I’m sure the opinions are mixed. Park Space sounds desirable to most people and even I think, well at least it’s not being torn down for an apartment building to take its place,” Jones said. “I am biased toward preservation and live in an old house myself. But beyond that, I think it is sad to lose what was probably affordable housing for many.”

Andy Rousseau, project manager for the Urbana Park District, explained how this project came about. According to Rousseau, the three properties were under the same ownership, being used as rental housing. The district bought the home located close by on 103 Grossbach Dr. for $69,000 in November of 2018, which was demolished in April of 2019. 

“There was a small home for sale on Grossbach Dr. and we inquired – turned out the same owner was interested in selling other two properties on Main, adjacent to the park. Our staff and board will evaluate properties that go on sale adjacent to parks as potential to expand park space for the community as funding allows and if seen as beneficial.  These two properties open up the viewshed into the park from Main street and is a connection on a bike trail from our Weaver Park Site to downtown” said Rousseau. 

The two standing homes were purchased in March of 2019, for $79,000 and $73,000.

Projects like this take time, which is why it took so long to move forward with the demolition. The city did a historical review process that involved inspection of the homes as well as a review that was sent out to nearby neighbors. Along with this, the Preservation and Conservation Association was also invited to inspect the homes for salvageable material and anything of historical value. 

“We involve PACA to review the site as well and salvage any materials that would have any architectural salvage value. They did not find much of anything for these” said Rousseau.

Rousseau said that the demolition will not impact much traffic in the area and that the project will be a fairly small one.

“We are having it seeded back to turf and letting it remain open as additional park space,” he said.

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