Champaign County commissions $40k study to assess housing potential

The Champaign Economic Partnership has commissioned a study that will examine Champaign County’s housing situation as well as what can be done to improve it.

The study is being conducted by the Greater Ohio Policy Center and is expected to be completed in January. It will look at common housing challenges in the city of Urbana as well as the villages of Mechanicsburg, North Lewisburg and St. Paris, said Marcia Bailey, the economic development director for Champaign County.

“We want development to occur where there is available or nearby infrastructure. We are an agricultural community and we want to be able to preserve agricultural land as well,” she added.

The study will cost $40,000 and will come from funds set aside by Champaign County commissioners to be used for economic development, Bailey said. The study aims to compare municipalities in the county to others in the state that are tackling similar problems such as having aging housing stock, a fair amount of blighted properties and limited land for new housing developments.

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Bailey said the study will be similar to the one recently conducted in Springfield that looked at what the city could do to attract new housing opportunities.

The Comprehensive Housing Market Analysis for Springfield was released in August and made six major recommendations to city officials. Those recommendations included playing into preexisting assets, continued focus on downtown revitalization efforts and rehabbing existing housing stock.

Bailey said her organization is looking to do the same in Champaign County and wants to use the findings of their study to make the area more marketable to developers. She said that includes looking at what new housing options would work best in the county, whether that would be smaller single family homes or loft apartments in recently renovated buildings.

“One of the big things that we are looking at right now is what type of housing is in demand,” she said. “We are seeing more loft apartments in downtown Urbana for example. We want to continue that trend.”

Bill Bean, the mayor of Urbana, said his city is landlocked and there is not much land available to develop new single family homes. He said, instead, some property owners in downtown Urbana are turning the second and third stories of their buildings into loft apartments.

“Instead of growing out, we are growing up,” he said.

Bailey said in the city’s Monument Square, she estimates 10 loft apartments and more that are currently being developed.

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However, the city’s last major housing development was completed in the early 2000s. The subdivision known as Parmore Estates, on the eastern edge of the city, consisted of 90 single family lots as well as two condo sections of 20 lots each, according to its developer Bill Parker, who is the president of Par-Mee Development Corporation.

He is currently working on a subdivision called Park Place of Urbana. The first phase of that project will consist of 13 small, patio/single family homes along Powell Avenue, which is expected to be completed in the next two years, Parker said.

However, Bean said land for new housing developments can be hard to find in the city. He said it depends on whether property owners are interested in selling their property or are working with a developer.

“In order for us to grow, we need to get developers to look at us. We need to let them know what we have to offer,” he said.

Bean said he believes the housing study will be a good tool for future development not only in Urbana but the county as a whole.

Greg Kimball, the mayor of Mechanicsburg, said his village has similar housing problems such as the lack of available land for new housing developments and a limited number of developers operating in the area. He said there is also a fair number of nuisance properties in the village.

Kimball said he hopes the study will help them work around those issues as the village hopes to reassess its housing stock while working to increase property values.

Facts & Figures:

38,754: Estimated population of Champaign County in 2018, according to U.S. Census Bureau

4: Number of cities and villages that will be examined in Champaign County as part of the housing study

$40,000: The cost of the housing study that is expected to be completed in January

The Springfield News-Sun has provided extensive coverage of housing and employment issues in Clark and Champaign counties, including recent stories on wages, job opportunities and a recent housing study conducted in Springfield.

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