NORMAL — Normal faces major housing challenges over the next 20-plus years, but officials hope a new plan can help change that.
"Normal, like the surrounding region, is generally overbuilt," according to the latest draft of the town's new comprehensive plan. "The town needs to close gaps between housing demand and supply by responding to changing demographics and through a commitment to smart growth."
That could mean moving away from traditional, single-family detached homes, many on the outskirts of town, toward other types of units within Normal's established boundaries — steps that not only help residents afford housing but cut urban sprawl and infrastructure costs.
That's among suggestions in the plan, a blueprint for the town's progress through 2040, assembled by McLean County Regional Planning Commission alongside town officials, residents and stakeholders over nearly two years.
Normal City Council heard about the plan in detail for the first time Monday in a joint meeting with planning commission members. The commission will discuss the document Nov. 9, and the council could adopt it Nov. 20.
The priority is housing, where officials see a need for change now, and "making matters more complicated is Normal's potential to add nearly 4,000 new residential units through already-approved annexation agreements."
What's more, "Affordability remains a concern for ... recent graduates, young professionals, seniors on fixed incomes, people with disabilities and low- to moderate-income households."
Recommendations include "ensuring that town policies are set up to allow and encourage developers to respond adequately to changing demands"; to "use regulations, incentives and collaborative programming to help preserve and repurpose the existing housing stock, and to affordable and supportive housing to the inventory"; and to "support aging in place."
Town Planner Mercy Davison told the council some developers are already making changes because they see where the market is going.
New in the latest plan is an official "University Influence Zone," to define where Illinois State University has a hand in developing the town. It includes not only uptown and campus but Main Street as far north as Raab Road.
"This plans calls for the town and ISU to work together in the UIZ to enhance the public realm, promote smart growth and strike a balance between supporting the student population and protecting the traditional character of the neighborhoods surrounding the campus," according to the plan.
Other areas highlighted in the plan include health and sustainability; economic vitality; community identity and public places; humanitarian and social aspects; and infrastructure and public safety.
"A consistent theme across the content of this plan (is) the need for the effective use and growth of technology," said Teri Legner, information technology director for the town. "Technology is no longer optional. ... It has become a utility, and we should treat it as such, just like our roads."
City Manager Mark Peterson said the plan, more than any in his 30 years with the town, is truly comprehensive.
"The town staff is going to have to step up because there is a lot of work to be done," said Peterson. "We're ready."