The city of Urbana Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA) on Monday approved Urbana City Schools’ request for a conditional use permit to construct a pre-kindergarten through eighth-grade school building near the Champaign Family YMCA on Community Drive.
The granting of the conditional use permit, which passed by a 4-1 vote (BZA member Lisa Haulman voted no) and contains three supplemental conditions, was needed due to the proposed site of the new school being in an R3 zoning district (high density residential district). Per the city’s codified ordinances, educational institutions are allowed in an R3 zoning district under conditional use.
Prior to the BZA rendering its decision, two individuals – Michael Myers, project manger for Fanning Howey (the firm hired to handle the project’s architectural work), and Pamela Babjack, former Urbana zoning officer – spoke in favor of the conditional use permit being granted.
Myers said the school district’s plan is to construct a 180,000-square-foot pre-kindergarten through eighth-grade facility on approximately 53 acres of land owned by the district that is currently agricultural fields. The facility, he said, will serve roughly 1,500 students and contain on-site parking for staff and visitors, event parking, accessible fields and playgrounds for public use, and two access points with the primary access point being Community Drive.
Babjack added, “My approach is that the conditional use permit be granted with the one condition that all ordinances be followed.”
BZA members, who along with Haulman include Chairman Tom Gates, Vince Gonzalez, Marty Hess, Cledis Scott and alternate Skipp Mintchell, were also presented with a report prepared by city Zoning Officer Adam Moore and Community Development Manager Doug Crabill. The report states that the school district’s application for a conditional use permit meets the general standards for conditional uses as outlined in the city’s codified ordinances.
Moore and Crabill’s report concludes with their approval of the conditional use application with the following supplementary conditions and safeguards:
•The school district shall conform to city of Urbana engineering standards for the construction of all publicly dedicated infrastructure.
•The school district shall continue to work with the city of Urbana to minimize overall project impact, including traffic related improvements such as turn lane improvements and a possible traffic signal at Community Drive and U.S. Route 36 East.
•The school district shall develop an agreement in accordance with chapter 715.02 of the Ohio Revised Code for the joint construction or management of public work, utility or improvement. Such an agreement is referenced above, and such an agreement will require approval of Urbana City Council and the Urbana City Schools Board of Education.
“I believe we should approve this conditional use, and we should give our administration these three recommended supplementary conditions,” Gates said. “(The supplementary conditions) put the responsibility back on the people (Urbana City Schools Board of Education and Urbana City Council) who should have that responsibility.”
Hess added, “At this point … I think this is the best place for it to be with some fine tuning, and we don’t get to fine tune it. All we get to say is it’s either OK to put it there or it doesn’t meet the conditions.”
Opposition speaks out
Haulman, who provided the lone dissenting vote, stated her issue with allowing the conditional use permit centers around one particular factor the BZA is asked to consider per the city’s codified ordinances, which is whether the granting of a conditional use permit will result in something hazardous or disturbing to existing or future neighboring uses?
“It’s dangerous,” she said, referring to the school district’s plan to extend Boyce Street to the proposed building site.
The school district states in its preliminary project plans its desire to extend Community Drive to the facility, which will be the main access road, while the Boyce Street drive would be a second access point, as requested by the city, and be used by staff and buses only.
Haulman’s concerns, she stated, are with larger vehicles (construction equipment, delivery trucks, etc.) passing through the residential neighborhood via the proposed Boyce Street access road.
“If somebody gets hurt or somebody gets killed, I’m not going to have that blood on my hands, I can tell you that right now,” she said. “I’m not for this at all. I’m for the school, but not for this location. Sell the land and do something else.”
Seven city residents, all of whom stated they were in favor of a new school, spoke against issuing the conditional use permit for this particular location.
The concerns expressed by these individuals focused primarily on the school district’s preliminary plan to extend Boyce Street. Concerns focused on increased traffic on Boyce Street, the safety of students walking on Boyce Street, the condition of Boyce Street, which was designed as a residential street, and the lack of lighting near the proposed extension.
Residents asked why the school district would not extend Washington Avenue instead of Boyce Street and whether a traffic study was conducted prior to deciding on the Boyce Street extension?
“A lot of these questions should have been taken to the board of education,” Hess said. “They are the ones building this.”
In response to the concerns over the Boyce Street extension, Gates said, the BZA’s decision on whether or not to grant the conditional use permit is based strictly on land use, not access roads to the proposed site. Issues involving infrastructure, he said, are left up to the Urbana Planning Commission.
The report prepared by Moore and Crabill states, “The district and its representatives have informed the city that they will submit a zoning permit application/site plan review application on or before Oct. 2 for preliminary review by the City of Urbana Planning Commission.”
Crabill said the city anticipates the preliminary review will take place during the Planning Commission’s next meeting, set for 6 p.m. on Oct. 26 in the municipal building’s fire training room.
“The school district has indicated these applications may be preliminary with final review/approval to follow at a later date,” he said.
Joshua Keeran may be reached at 937-652-1331 (ext. 1774) or on Twitter @UDCKeeran.