The Carbondale Observer

News and commentary about Carbondale, Illinois and SIUC

Armory Update Part 2

with 5 comments

In my last post on the bidding process on the old National Guard Armory at Oakland and Sycamore, I didn’t have any solid information on the plans the top bidder, Andy Wallace of Alpha Rentals, has for the property. Since then, he and I have corresponded via email and, with his permission, I’m posting some of his ideas.

Wallace has several ideas, which I list below. In some instances I’m using Wallace’s language, in others I’m paraphrasing. Wallace’s ideas for possible uses are:

  • North Maintenance Shop – This could house an old car club (middle aged gentlemen who own and restore old cars), two radio controlled car clubs (both clubs use electric cars, which produce very little noise and draw very few spectators), a slot car club and track, and a small hobby shop to support these clubs. The shop would most likely be open 6-9 p.m. four nights per week. The club schedules would usually include one evening per week and activity on the weekends. The clubs are interested in a move to a central location in Carbondale.
  • South Maintenance Shop – In the short term, this could be used for storage for old cars (for the old car club) and possibly for motor home storage in the winter. In the future, the building would likely be converted to loft apartments. These would be R-1 apartments allowing no more than two unrelated people per apartment, which is how the property is currently zoned.
  • South Parking Lot – This would be left as-is to provide parking for the main building.
  • Main Building – The building is large enough to include several uses. I’ll break them into separate bullets starting with offices for Alpha Rentals. This includes space for 2-4 full time employees and would be open from 10 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Monday through Friday. During the busiest time for rentals, July 15-August 25, Alpha staff works 12-14 hour days and can be in and out seven days per week. These office hours are unchanged.
  • Main Building – One resident-manager apartment. The resident-manager needs to be on site to take care of community rentals of the gym space.
  • Main Building – One additional apartment to help cover overhead (property taxes, insurance, maintenance, and a hefty energy bill).
  • Main Building – 4-6 office spaces available for rent.
  • Main Building – Rental of the main gym space for events. The space would be offered a special rate to a supporting neighborhood association, which Wallace hopes would use the space. This would allow the gym to be used as it has been for the last forty years – as a banquet hall, venue for sporting events, and stage. This use will require a large investment in the kitchen facilities because the National Guard will strip it.
  • Main Building – Licensed massage therapist. This person has a full-time job and would like to operate one or two nights per week, likely from 6:00-9:00 p.m., and mostly on weekends.
  • Main Building – Possible small coffee and sandwich shop, although Wallace isn’t sure that use would be viable considering nearby competition.
  • Main Building – Alpha has several tenants who are veterans and would like a more modern serviceman’s club, but this use likely wouldn’t work without a liquor license.

Wallace also mentioned that he plans to contact several other small community clubs and groups if it becomes clear that he will be the purchaser and offer them space. He also has a few other ideas that he hasn’t fully fleshed out yet, but are along the same lines.

Looking at this list of ideas, this strikes me as a really good mix of uses for the Armory. If the bidding process ends with Wallace as the purchaser, the Armory would include small scale retail, commercial office, non-profit, and residential uses. It would include space for hobbyists (something Carbondale mostly lacks) and the hobby shop would generate sales tax for the city. As reader PtG points out in a comment on the last post, it would bring the Armory property onto the tax rolls. I see this mix of uses as a major benefit for Carbondale.

I’ve argued in the past that the worst possible outcome isn’t that the Armory is used for something we don’t like. The worst possible outcome is that citizen opposition or our outdated zoning code makes it impossible to use the Armory for anything, which would lead to it deteriorating and eventually being torn down. If we want to preserve our old buildings, we have to make it possible to use them. This means flexibility. It means an openness to change. It means having a little faith in people instead of always expecting the worst.

It also means confronting the issue of zoning. Most of the Armory property is in an R-1 district (I think it’s R-1-8, which is a single-family residential district with minimum 8,000 square foot lots) and our code does not allow these uses in that district. The remaining part of the Armory property is zoned R-3, which is a bit more permissive but which – as I read the code –  still wouldn’t allow these uses. The only way to save this building is to allow it to be used. That’s going to require a change.

The most likely solution would be a rezoning – probably to PUD (planned unit development). Rezoning the property to PUD would allow at least some of the uses Wallace has in mind, depending on how you read the PUD ordinance. It isn’t a perfect solution, but it’s probably the best one available under our outdated zoning code.

I’m more concerned with ends than means. If PUD is the means to the end of allowing the property to be used, then I’ll support it. But in the long run, we need to take a serious look at changing our code to allow and even encourage mixed uses.

Incidentally, I’m not sure PUD would be available for this property. The PUD ordinance is fairly complicated. For example, it requires minimum setbacks (“yards”) of 20 feet on all sides of the property. Does the Armory conform to that requirement? We won’t know until and unless someone tries to rezone it. Take a look at the ordinance (click here) and see if you think PUD would be a solution.

Comments are welcome.

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Written by The Carbondale Observer

February 28, 2012 at 7:45 am

5 Responses

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  1. We have for way too long treated the city’s zoning ordinance as a sort of scripture, to be defended at all costs. That isn’t the reason we have such an ordinance.

    No one, in writing the ordinance, could have foreseen that a competent developer with a proven track record would be in a position right now to buy the Armory and redevelop it for mixed uses. If PUD doesn’t work, and the stopgap SUP can’t be bent to fit around this, the right thing to do is AMEND THE DARN ORDINANCE so it can serve the city and its citizens.

    John Holt

    February 28, 2012 at 9:44 am

    • John Holt – I agree completely. The city is in the process of rewriting the zoning code and I’m hoping we get something more modern and more flexible.

      The Carbondale Observer

      February 28, 2012 at 8:44 pm

  2. Did the work and figured out something? Carbondale isn’t very big, it isn’t hard.

    The Armory is in “The Arbor District” and you can bet that rock throwers, who use the Arbor District PAC as their front, will be out to stop any productive use. You have to wonder how long they can use fear, based on poor logic, to stop all real estate movement, that isn’t making the Arbor District PAC controllers money?

    I can just imagine the argument – if you rezone the Armory, the quality of life in the Arbor District will be greatly effected. Dogs and cats will be sleeping together, etc, etc.

    PtG

    March 5, 2012 at 8:02 pm

    • PtG – The boundaries of the Arbor District are West Mill St., South Oakland Avenue, West Main Street, and South University Avenue. The Armory is not in the Arbor District.

      http://www.arbordistrict.org/nabe_map.html

      The Carbondale Observer

      March 5, 2012 at 8:17 pm

      • I thought the Arbor District is a state of mind and a sense of being? There are physical boarders now? Have they built walls, gates and parking areas to exclude outsiders, like SIU?

        My rumor mill operatives say the Arbor District leaders are hard at work trying to get the city to own the Armory and a neighborhood group formed. You haven’t heard that one yet?

        PtG

        March 7, 2012 at 12:43 pm


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