Garden Hills, originally a suburban subdivision outside of the city limits, is one of the largest neighborhoods in the city of Champaign, made up of over 1,000 homes. The neighborhood currently deals with many problems including gun violence, poverty, excessive amounts of vacant homes, lack of street lights and major flooding issues.
However, some of the problems are about to get solutions.
On March 5, 2019, the Champaign City Council approved the first of five phases in the Garden Hills Drainage Improvement project, headed by civil engineer Alex Nagy.
The reason for the drainage project is because the current sewers are too small to accommodate all the water when it rains. This results in the water backing up and flooding the neighborhood.
At times, the flooding has been so bad that it makes the streets unpassable.
Phase one consists of acquiring 46 properties on Hedge Road, relocating the residents and demolishing the homes. The homes on this road need to be torn down in order to make room for a detention basin. After the demolition, the area will be an empty field until phase two begins. The cost of this phase is estimated at 4.9 million dollars.
Phase two begins with the construction of the detention basin. The basin will have “park-like” amenities such as walking paths, lighting, benches, water features, and native plants. This phase also includes the beginning of the reconstruction of Hedge Road. There will be new storm sewer piping, entire street reconstruction, and street lighting. It is estimated that this phase will cost 7.7 million dollars.
Phase three includes the installation of large diameter storm sewers that function to transport storm water to the basin. The storm sewers are the main drainage system that is being implemented. This phase would cost approximately 5.9 million dollars.
Phase four is the installation of smaller diameter storm sewers that would connect to the larger sewer system. The cost of this phase is estimated at 12 million dollars.
Phase five, the final phase, consists of the finalizing the street reconstruction that begins in phase two. Small improvements to the intricate sewers systems would be made, however the primary focus of this phase is the finishing the street reconstruction. This phase would cost approximately 12.4 million dollars.
At the end of March 2019, all residents living in the 46 homes on Hedge Road were notified. Within the next year and a half, city staff will work individually with each resident on their relocation.
Because of reasons like this, the initial phase of the project alone could take years. The earliest that phase two would begin is 2030. Since the entire project will cost 42.9 million dollars, that will also effect the timing of the project. The Champaign City Council will be taking time to raise money to put towards the project.
In 2013, the Champaign City Council expressed interest in a storm water management plan, however they did not take action until 2019.
On March 6, 2019, the United Garden Hills Neighborhood Association Facebook page posted about their displeasure with the project’s timeline. The post read, “They won’t even be starting tear down for another year and half. Not to mention they valued the property at 47 thousand dollars, what till the other property effected by the flooding be worth in another ten to fifteen years … 0!”
President of the Garden Hills Neighborhood Association Chad Smith said on the page, “This is a start, and should keep them from backing out. Sadly, not only will we have a huge parking lot, and dumping grounds, but our lights and sidewalks are wrapped in this package.” Another problem that Garden Hills faces is lack of street lighting and non-existent sidewalks. Because walking paths and lighting have been incorporated into phase two, the residents have to wait longer for solutions to those issues as well.
Because of the flooding issue, Smith posts in the Facebook page after every storm asking if all of the residents and their homes are okay. Other residents typically respond with photos of the flooding. On March 9, 2019, resident Ean Aterson posted a photo with measuring tape in the water outside of his home, showing that there were nearly six inches of rain from the storm the night before.
However, the flooding doesn’t always stop at the streets.
On February 21, 2018, a video was posted on the Facebook page showing the basement of a resident’s home that has been completely flooded. It was so bad that they had to replaced their furnace and water heater.
That was the second time their basement had flooded; the first time the resident’s wedding dress was ruined.
Resident Darlene Dobynes said: “I can’t help but worry every time I brush my teeth or take a shower. The water is contaminated. I don’t even drink the water.”
While having the Garden Hills Drainage Improvement project be unanimously approved was a step in the right direction, the residents feel that they have waited long enough and this project has too slow of a timeline.