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Wakeland v. City of Urbana

July 26, 2002


Appeal from Circuit Court of Champaign County No. 95C1453 Honorable Ann A. Einhorn, Judge Presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Appleton


Plaintiffs, Howard and Craig Wakeland, bought three lots in the 800 block of West Main Street in Urbana, Illinois, intending to tear down the houses on the lots and replace them with an apartment building. Before the Wakelands carried out that plan, the city "down-zoned" the lots, restricting them to single-family residential use. The Wakelands filed a complaint for declaratory judgment against the city, asking the trial court to declare the ordinance unconstitutional as applied to them. Daniel Folk and W. Randall Kangas owned homes near the lots and opposed any further proliferation of apartment buildings in the neighborhood. They filed a petition to intervene, which the trial court granted. After a bench trial, the trial court upheld the ordinance. The Wakelands appeal, arguing that the factors in La Salle National Bank of Chicago v. County of Cook, 12 Ill. 2d 40, 46-47, 145 N.E.2d 65, 69 (1957), and Sinclair Pipe Line Co. v. Village of Richton Park, 19 Ill. 2d 370, 378, 167 N.E.2d 406, 411 (1960), clearly entitled them to declaratory relief. We disagree with the Wakelands and affirm the trial court's judgment.


On July 1, 1985, the city created an enterprise zone encompassing the 800 block of West Main Street. The city mailed letters and brochures to local businesspeople, including the Wakelands, encouraging them to invest in the enterprise zone and offering incentives to do so, including financial assistance, exemptions from sales tax on building materials, tax investment credits, and abatement of real estate taxes.

The Wakelands had already built a six-unit apartment building at 813 West Main Street. Intrigued by the incentives the city offered, they conceived the idea of buying the three lots next to 813 West Main Street, tearing down or moving the six-unit apartment building, and building a 48-unit apartment building on the four lots. Since 1978, they had built 26 apartment buildings in Champaign-Urbana. Because the University of Illinois was nearby and its north campus was expanding, apartments were in demand. Howard Wakeland made sure that the three lots, 807 1/2, 809, and 811 West Main Street, were zoned as R-4 (medium-density, multiple-family residential). In October 1986, the Wakelands bought the three lots.

The Wakelands' six-unit apartment building stood at the southeast corner of the intersection of Main Street and Lincoln Avenue. The three lots were beside it, on the same side of the street. Lincoln Avenue, a four-lane arterial highway, extends north and south through the length of the city and intersects with Interstate Highway 74 to the north. Main Street extends into the downtown business district some four blocks east of Lincoln Avenue. The downtown begins at roughly the intersection of Main Street and McCullough Avenue. Immediately west of Lincoln Avenue, Main Street enters the university's north campus. One block north of Main Street is Stoughton Street. One block south is Clark Street.

Run-down houses, ranging from 70 to 90 years old, stood on the three lots; former owners had converted them into rental properties. The house at 809 West Main Street was a rooming house. The house at 807 1/2 West Main Street was divided into two apartments, and the house at 811 West Main Street, a large Victorian house, was divided into three apartments. The Wakelands intended to redevelop the lots within three or four years after buying them. In the meantime, they continued to rent the houses to tenants. On May 14, 1995, the house at 811 West Main Street burned down. Although the Wakelands collected $50,000 in insurance for that house, they never built anything in its place. At the time of trial, tenants occupied the other two houses. The Wakelands never built the apartment buildings and never did anything in anticipation of building them, such as preparing diagrams or blueprints, buying building supplies, or applying for a building permit.

Howard Wakeland testified:

"[T]he fact that you buy property right now doesn't mean that you're necessarily going to build on a property. It means that you have put it in your inventory for the future, for development, and you're going to pull it out when you need it."

On October 17, 1988, the city council passed a resolution directing the Urbana planning commission (Commission) to study the "Downtown to Campus Area," a broad tract of 500 acres between the university and downtown, and to recommend how to reconcile the diverse uses of land in the area. Urbana Resolution No. 8889-R8 (eff. October 19, 1988). The mayor approved the ordinance on October 19, 1988. One of the objectives of the study was to "[i]dentify methods for protecting and preserving the character, scale[,] and appearance of the low[-]density residential sections of the [s]tudy [a]rea." Urbana Resolution No. 8889-R8 §3(6) (eff. October 19, 1998).

In the summer of 1988, the Commission invited the public to come to meetings and identify problems in the current use of land within the study area. In late 1988, the Commission gathered data about the study area, including land uses, zoning, infrastructure, traffic, and the age of structures. The Commission acquired the data by field surveys--walking or driving through the entire area, building by building, block by block--and from public records, such as township assessor records, tax rolls, and utility records. To assess the historical significance of houses, the Commission relied on a 1985 survey by the Preservation and Conservation Association, a nonprofit group of architects and historians. This survey discussed the age and architectural styles of houses in a large portion of the study area, including Main Street from Lincoln Avenue to downtown. In June 1990, after 30 public meetings, followed by open meetings of the city council, the Commission published its "Downtown to Campus Plan."

The "Downtown to Campus Plan" was an 82-page document setting forth the Commission's findings and recommendations, supported by historical overviews, maps, and housing and population statistics and projections. The document described a proliferation of apartment buildings that threatened the neighborhood's single-family homes, many of which were old and architecturally significant. According to the documents, the area was losing its historic appearance. During the 1980s, nearly 40 apartment buildings went up, often right next to single-family homes, with no intervening buffer or screening. Since 1965, the number of dwelling units in the study area had increased by 90%. With the apartment buildings came more noise, more traffic, more people. Parking spaces grew increasingly scarce. Because of encroaching development, homeowners were moving out of their stately old houses, turning them into apartment buildings and rooming houses, and letting them decay.

Recognizing that "[t]he Downtown to Campus *** Area [was] one of the most diverse neighborhoods in Urbana," the Commission attempted to balance the competing uses of land. The Commission said: "This required compromise and trade-offs between the interests of single-family homeowners, apartment owners, developers, businesses[,] and the University." The existing zoning ordinance was "inadequate to protect [the area's] unique qualities." Therefore the "Downtown to Campus Plan" recommended the down-zoning of many properties. For instance, it recommended changing the zoning classification of most of the properties on Main Street, between Lincoln Avenue and McCullough Street four blocks to the east, from higher-density uses to low-density residential (i.e., single-family housing). The lots at 807 1/2, 809, and 811 West Main Street fell within the proposed low-density residential area.

On November 21, 1988, more than two years after the Wakelands bought the lots, the city council passed an ordinance creating an interim development district. Urbana Ordinance No. 8889-32 (eff. November 22, 1998). The mayor approved the ordinance on November 22, 1998. The ordinance prohibited multiple-family development in the interim development district except for reconstruction because of fire, explosion, or an act of God. Urbana Ordinance No. 8889-32 §XIII-6(A) (eff. November 22, 1998). The Wakelands' properties on West Main Street lay within the interim development district.

In the preamble to the ordinance, the city council found that "existing zoning regulations *** permit developments which may be incompatible with the current residential density and neighborhood character of the [s]tudy [a]rea." Urbana Ordinance No. 8889-32, at 2 (eff. November 22, 1998). Therefore, the city council anticipated that "[t]he Downtown to Campus Study will recommend a neighborhood land use plan to amend the 1982 Urbana Comprehensive Plan and may also recommend *** zoning ordinance amendments." Urbana Ordinance No. 8889-32, at 2 (eff. November 22, 1998).

The Commission criticized the 1982 comprehensive plan for doing nothing tangible to preserve single-family residential neighborhoods. As the "Downtown to Campus Study" noted, the 1982 plan "emphasized two diverse and often conflicting goals, '[c]onservation' and '[d]evelopment,'" but the plan took no practical steps toward conservation. The study explained: "[T]he 1982 Plan did not propose any widespread land use or zoning changes to protect the area despite its [sic] emphasis on conserving older residential neighborhoods." In fact, according to the study, the plan "allow[ed] much higher residential densities than the neighborhood currently ha[d]. If new development occur[red] at these [permissible] densities," the area would continue to lose its quiet, historical character. The Commission recommended that the city council amend the 1982 comprehensive plan by adopting the "Downtown to Campus Study." The city council did so on June 4, 1990.

On January 22, 1991, the city council passed an ordinance rezoning 203 properties, including the Wakelands' three lots on Main Street. Urbana Ordinance No. 9091-75 (eff. January 22, 1991). Over the Wakelands' objections, the ordinance down-zoned the three lots from R-4 to R-2 (single-family residential). The mayor vetoed the ordinance on January 31, 1991, but the city council overrode his veto on February 4, 1991. The city codified and republished the ordinance as Ordinance No. 9293-124 (eff. July 1, 1993). Whenever the ordinance changed a multiple-family residential structure, rooming house, or duplex from R-4 to R-2, that property became a legally nonconforming use. One could not structurally alter the building. If the building burned down or suffered substantial fire damage, the owner could replace it only with a conforming structure, i.e., a single-family residence or, with a conditional use permit, a duplex.

In its rezoning, the city departed from the "Downtown to Campus Plan" in a few instances. For example, the study recommended down-zoning some church buildings on Main Street, the Canaan Baptist Church and St. Patrick's Church, to R-2 and making them legally nonconforming uses; but for reasons that are unclear, the city left them as R-4. Similarly, Paul Smith owned five houses on Stoughton Street that were occupied by up to four renters and, although the Commission recommended down-zoning these houses to R-2, the city zoned them R-4. Additionally, on the south side of Clark Street, in the 800 block, some houses remained R-4, contrary to the Commission's recommendation.

On March 24, 1995, the Wakelands filed two petitions with the Commission: a petition to amend the comprehensive plan and a petition to amend the zoning ordinance. Both petitions sought to rezone the three lots from R-2 to their former R-4 classification. On May 18, 1995, the Commission voted to recommend that the city council deny the requested amendments. On July 3, 1995, the city council followed that recommendation.

On October 2, 1995, the Wakelands filed a complaint for declaratory judgment, seeking a declaration that the R-2 zoning, as applied to their properties on Main Street, was unconstitutional and invalid. They also sought a declaratory judgment restoring their properties to their original R-4 classification.

During the bench trial, the Wakelands presented evidence of mixed uses within a three- or four-block area surrounding their lots. A zoning map dated March 20, 2000, illustrated the profusion of diverse uses. Buildings appeared in different colors, depending on their zoning classification, and the character of the area could change literally from one street to the next. The properties on Clark Street, only one block of north of Main Street, were all of a higher-intensity use than R-2. From Lincoln Avenue to McCullough Street, not one property on Clark Street was zoned as a single-family residence. The same was true of Stoughton Street, one block south of Main Street. From Lincoln Avenue to McCullough Street, all of ...

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