Some Champaign residents in Garden Hills have expressed concern over the number of businesses selling alcohol in close proximity to the neighborhood, saying those businesses are more prevalent in their neighborhood than others in the city.
Indeed, a CU-CitizenAccess review of licenses for businesses that sell alcohol found a greater density of establishments selling liquor in and near Garden Hills. The review found at least 19 licenses of such businesses within a mile-wide radius.
“It’s just unbelievable,” former Garden Hills Neighborhood Association President Amy Revilla said. “If it’s not liquor, it’s gambling. And they kind of go hand in hand.”
Location data on the liquor licenses show three large clusters around the city. The largest is campustown and the second largest is the northern shopping area on Prospect Avenue and Neil Street. The third is a cluster surrounding the border of Garden Hills.
While some establishments are liquor stores, others are restaurants, hotels or other businesses.
Deputy Liquor Commissioner Matt Roeschley said these locations are reviewed but couldn’t speak to why there is a greater density of places selling alcohol near the neighborhood.
“I would say I’m not equipped to speak to specifically the market dynamics or why specifically folks choose those particular areas to locate their businesses,” Roeschley said. “But I am aware generally of the sort of concentration of liquor establishments in certain areas like that … the locations are reviewed … this is properly zoned.”
Garden Hills is a largely low-income and minority neighborhood that has dealt with multiple community issues for decades, including flooding, poor lighting and gun violence.
At a community meeting in March last year, residents were in the midst of their normal meeting when one member mentioned that there was yet another liquor store opening up near the neighborhood. People in the meeting scoffed in an agreement of dissatisfaction with the addition of another “liquor or gambling joint” being created in the area.
The Garden Hills neighborhood has been “neglected” until recently in the eyes of some in the neighborhood.
“Well, we have been screaming, for we have a huge drainage issue out here,” Revilla said. “We have no lights. We don’t have sidewalks in predominant areas where there’s kids walking and what have you. And we are getting the drainage situation addressed. And sadly, that’s because of a lot of the stimulus money, because of the pandemic, that the city received.”
Residents pointed out that there were dilapidated houses on Hedge Road in such poor condition that they had to be demolished. Flooding was so bad in some areas that mosquitos and other bugs were abundant in the neighborhood. There was a lack of lights in the community to light the roads and there were no sidewalks.
With some of the funding from the American Rescue Plan Act during the COVID-19 pandemic, an ongoing $35 million project focused on building a brand-new park and a detention basin promises improvements for the people in the neighborhood.