Today’s 6 p.m. Urbana City Council meeting will begin with a public hearing to consider the planning commission’s recommendation against rezoning the commercial part of the property at 861 S. Main St. from R-2 Medium Density Residential District to B-2 General Business District.
At a Jan. 28 meeting, the planning commission voted 4-1 to deny property owner Linda Rivera’s application for rezoning so that she could operate a bed & breakfast, cafe and spa. The property currently is used for apartments. Zoning Officer Adam Moore said that approving this rezoning request would create an island of B-2 zoning not contiguous to any other business district. This is commonly known as spot zoning. He noted that council rejected a rezoning application for properties in the same area in 2017, that the city had commissioned a neighborhood study plan in that area, and that rezoning the property would increase the building’s nonconformity regarding setback restrictions from the property boundaries.
“It is our belief that more B-2 district land is needed within the city of Urbana to satisfy the commercial growth pressure we have felt over the last few years, however, the comprehensive plan is very specific and encourages commercial development to happen within established growth centers within the city and not haphazardly throughout other districts,” said Moore.
Rivera owns eight apartments in Champaign County, including three in the South Main Street property that she purchased in 2002, two of which are currently occupied. She submitted the application after considering other uses for the almost 1,900-square-foot residential structure built in 1880. Rivera said that there are no restaurants near that area, but several neighbors at the meeting said that the neighboring Clark’s Market has seating available.
Four neighborhood residents spoke at the meeting and described the property as a nuisance due to a lack of parking availability and noise. Several also expressed concern that Rivera or future owners may decide to turn the property into a bar if the rezoning request is granted.
Following the public hearing, the regular city council meeting will start with an executive session concerning personnel before re-entering the public meeting and considering the following topics.
The council is expected to vote on an ordinance sponsored by council member Ray Piper that includes lawn clippings in the city’s definition of “litter” after its third reading. Piper said that he has received several complaints about people blowing their grass into the street and hopes to solve the problem with this ordinance, while several other council members expressed concern over the difficulty of enforcing such an ordinance.
At the last council meeting, city Law Director Mark Feinstein said that Piper wanted lawn clippings added to section 531.08 of the Urbana code, which specifically addresses litter, because defining it as litter not only gives the city the ability to deal with it if it’s a nuisance, but also assesses criminal penalties for littering.
Also today, Managing Director of Local Affairs for DriveOhio Andrew Bremer will speak to council about a resolution that would authorize the city to enter into an agreement with DriveOhio to participate in the autonomous vehicle pilot program and promote autonomous vehicle testing sites in the city. Council member Dwight Paul made a motion to table the resolution at the last meeting, which was supported by council members Cledis Scott, Ray Piper and council President Marty Hess. Paul said he was not necessarily opposed to the ordinance but wanted more information about it.
The topic of the DriveOhio resolution was brought up at the last council work session on March 26, and Paul is expected to take the ordinance off the table at this meeting for further discussion and potential passage.
“It basically just opens up opportunities if a company comes to DriveOhio and says ‘we’re looking for x, y and z attributes of an area, where can we go to do some testing,’ we would be on the list essentially by passing this and having this agreement in place,” said Community Development Manager Doug Crabill. “The sky is the limit of what type of things could develop from this. It’s kind of getting out ahead of it before anybody else gets on board.”
Crabill said there would be no financial commitment and that the city could terminate the agreement after 90 days. He said there may be economic benefits to allow autonomous vehicles to test here. He added that in Ohio all autonomous vehicles must have a safety driver.
Also at this meeting:
– Council will hear a resolution that may be passed on first reading authorizing the director of administration to prepare and submit final application to participate in the Federal Aviation Administration airport improvement program, and to execute contracts as required.
– Council will hear a resolution that may be passed on first reading authorizing the mayor to apply to the Champaign County Commission under the fiscal year 2019 Community Development Block Grant community development program and to pursue other economic development and public infrastructure-related CDBG programs.
Christopher Selmek can be reached at 937-508-2304