The Urbana Planning Commission on Monday approved the preliminary site plan for the construction of a pre-kindergarten through eighth-grade school building at 550 Community Drive.
The motion, which passed by a 5-0 vote (members Julie White and Bill Edwards were absent), includes a lengthy list of stipulations and recommendations.
Planning Commission member Kerry Brugger made the motion to accept the preliminary site plan based on the conditions set forth by the city of Urbana Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA), the 18 comments/points addressed by city department/division heads as stated in the report issued by the Technical Review Committee and one additional request involving the secondary access point to the school property.
“The applicant shall plan to extend Washington Avenue as a collector street from its current terminus eastward to Summit Avenue and connect the Washington Avenue extension to Community Drive,” Brugger said, adding the city’s comprehensive plan, created in 1974, highlights one of the biggest problems with the main routes in the city, a lack of crosstown routes running east and west. “The major street plan calls for Washington Avenue to be extended eastward from its present terminus to Dugan Road.”
The preliminary site plan submitted by Urbana City Schools on Oct. 2 has Community Drive extended from its current terminus near the YMCA to the future intersection of Washington Avenue, while the secondary access involves the extension of Boyce Street from its current terminus near the Urbana City Schools Athletic Complex to the future intersection of Summit Avenue.
“While we appreciate the Planning Commission’s approval of the preliminary site plan, we are surprised that the commission added the 19th condition requiring the extension of Washington Avenue,” Urbana City Schools Superintendent Charles Thiel said. “At previous meetings it was stated that the job of the commission was not to design and problem-solve the plan, but it appears that is what the commission did by their action (on Monday).”
During the Oct. 26 Planning Commission meeting, Michael Myers, project manager for Fanning Howey Associates (the firm hired by the school district to handle the project’s architectural work), presented reasons the site plan calls for Boyce Street to be extended instead of Washington Avenue.
“One of the obstacles that we all know we are going to run into along (Washington Avenue) is that this is a very low, wooded area,” he said. “It may have wetlands and very poor soil conditions through the area. During initial evaluation of this (area), we saw very extreme costs in trying to mitigate some of the issues. Plus, it’s a very long length to get back to that connection point as well.”
On Monday, Brugger refuted those claims.
“There’s been comments made about the poor soil along the proposed Washington extension,” he said. “First of all, we build roads in Florida. If they build roads in Florida, I’m sure thinking we can build roads in Ohio, whether it’s mucky, soft or not.
“The other point is, we’ve done the GeoTech (geotechnicalengineering), and it comes back pretty darn good,” Brugger added, saying the soil is comparable to the soil under the roadway on East Lawn Avenue. “There isn’t anything in that GeoTech that says we are building on a swamp.”
Brugger also addressed public and staff concerns over the ability of Boyce Street and Dorothy Moore to withstand bus traffic, even though similar residential streets near the current elementary schools consistently handle bus traffic.
“I don’t believe we are doing ourselves any favors by saying its OK and that we can get by with this because we are doing it now,” he said. “We are running (buses) on Russell Street, we are running buses on Boyce Street, and we are running buses on Windsor Avenue. Just because we’ve done it that way doesn’t mean its OK to keep doing it that way. I for one want the school, and I don’t think anybody in this room doesn’t want the school to be built. We just have to build it for the long term.”
Other members speak out
Planning Commission members David Hess and Bill Bean also voiced concerns over the school district’s plan to extend Boyce Street instead of Washington Avenue.
“For the most part, I think it’s a pretty good plan,” Hess said. “The main hang-up I keep coming back to is Boyce Street and Washington (Avenue). I really feel this project is important enough that we’ve got to do it the right way.
“In my opinion, Boyce Street feels like a square peg in a round hole to me. Everything else I’m comfortable with,” he added.
As mayor of Urbana, Bean said his concerns center around not only the residents living near the proposed Boyce Street extension, but also the future growth of the city.
“(The Boyce Street extension) is going to impact those people on Boyce Street, on Dorothy Moore and the surrounding area,” he said. “Also, we have a bottleneck at Jefferson and Boyce.”
Bean added the city’s growth depends on extending Washington Avenue.
“Without Washington Avenue, it’s going to be very difficult for future growth in the northeast part of the city,” he said. “I just think we should work toward doing what’s right with the growth, the health and the safety of our citizens.”
Joshua Keeran may be reached at 937-652-1331 (ext. 1774) or on Twitter @UDCKeeran.