News Local/State

Conservation District Sought For Champaign’s Clark Park Neighborhood

Members of the Clark Park Steering Committee.

Members of the Clark Park Steering Committee, in front of a Clark Park home; from L to R: Bill Stewart, Jim Anderson, Mike Reed, Susan Appel, Allan Tuchman. Jim Meadows/Illinois Public Media

Members of a residents’ group in Champaign’s Clark Park neighborhood say they are not against new home construction. But the group wants the city to create a conservation district in their neighborhood to keep bigger houses from being built there. The Clark Park Steering Committee submitted a conservation district application to the city in early August.

Steering committee member Susan Appel says designation as a conservation district would require that any new home construction and alterations to be “appropriate” to the Clark Park neighborhood.

“The idea is to continue things like the fairly consistent setbacks from the street, the arrangement of garages in relation to houses, the scale of houses so that they’re not enormous compared to their neighbors’”, said Appel.

The Clark Park neighborhood — named for the park located at its center — is located directly north of the Champaign Country Club. The neighborhood includes nearly 300 single-family homes, built on lots laid out in the early 20th century. Many of the lots are narrow, and their houses are small. The city of Champaign is considering changes to zoning rules that would set guidelines for building larger houses in relation to lot size then has been allowed previously throughout the city. But Steering Committee members say allowing bigger houses on Clark Park’s small lots could alter the character of the neighborhood which its smaller houses help create.

Committee member Jim Anderson says their smaller houses, with garages tucked away in the back, have encouraged an atmosphere of neighborliness and sociability that they fear would be lost if bigger houses are allowed. Anderson cites examples of newer houses built closer to the street than the older ones, with garages that dominate the building fronts.

“So there are instances where garages have been built just a few feet away from people’s side windows, taking away views that were once there and replacing them with walls,” said Anderson. “That’s not a very neighborly kind of action.”

Ben LeRoy, a planner with the city of Champaign, says the Clark Park Steering Committee is the first to apply for conservation district status under the city’s historic preservation ordinance. He says the protections provided by a conservation district are not as strong as those in an historic district, which the city also offers. But LeRoy says a conservation district would allow the Champaign Historic Preservation Commission to decide if new construction or alterations in the district are appropriate in cases where the building is deemed to contribute to its overall pattern of development or architectural style.

“Let’s say you want to add a garage onto your house, or you want to change where the windows are in the front,” said LeRoy of an historic district. “You have to come in, demonstrate your plan to the Historic Preservation Commission, you go through a hearing process and they would determine if whether what you’re doing meets certain enumerated criteria.”

The Historic Preservation Commission will hear the Clark Park proposal at its meeting on Thursday, October 4 at 4 p.m. at the Champaign City Council Chamber. LeRoy says that before that happens, the city will schedule a public meeting about the historic district applications, and all Clark Park residents will receive notifications in the mail.

The Historic Preservation Commission’s approval of the application would formally nominate Clark Park for designation as a conservation district. If nominated, the proposal would then go to the Champaign Plan Commission for its ruling. Whether or not the Plan Commission endorses it, the Clark Park conservation district proposal would then go to the Champaign City Council for a final decision.

CORRECTION: This story incorrectly referred to Clark Park Steering Committee member Jim Anderson as Scott Anderson. The story has been corrected. - JM 8/22/18