NIU Creates New Parking Concerns

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Just when you thought parking around the NIU campus was creating concerns, Northern Illinois University is adding a new parking lot that leaves a lot of questions for local residences and the City of DeKalb. 

DeKalb County Online was contacted Monday about new construction happening near the ‘north 40’ campus of NIU. With stakes and marking over a large area adjacent to the current gravel parking lot, a crew of men were mapping out a new parking lot to be added. DCO approached the crew from Elliot-Woods Construction on what was being planned and was referred to Mr. Mike Woods. DCO asked Mr. Woods what was happening and we were advised that they were going to build additional parking for the university. When asked to see the building permit DCO was informed “we don’t need a permit as this is university land and they can do what they want” said Mike Wood in an anthropocentric tone.

The concern is this new parking lot is in a flood plain and could add to concerns about future flooding. This future parking lot does not conform to the City of DeKalb standard of parking lots being paved. City Manager Bill Nicklas was contacted about this parking lot and responded that he had no knowledge of this project. He referred to Zackary Gill, City of DeKalb Engineer and found that just last week the architect for the NIU project had notified the city that there were plans to build a new parking lot with the project starting very soon.

None of the homeowners near the project were contacted about this parking lot and the effects it might have on additional flooding. The plans call for the removal of 8 inches of soil and adding 8 inches of refined gravel. Packed gravel will create more of a run-off problem than soil. The new parking lot will have spaces for 212 additional cars. No impact study was done on the challenges of having another 212 cars driving on the northeast section of the NIU campus. With all the current NIU parking lots in that area, there will be over 1,200 cars purging into this part of DeKalb adjacent to an already busy residential area.

“With any other project, the City of DeKalb would require a Traffic Impact Study,” said DeKalb City Engineer Zach Gill. “That process is mandated through the City’s Unified Development Ordinance, however, which it is my understanding the University is exempt from doing anything to our lack of zoning authority over the University (State) grounds.” The City’s Unified Development Ordinance also requires all new parking lots in the city to be concrete or asphalt and not gravel. 

A recent FIOA to NIU about student population and growth shows another year of declining enrollment, and as the pattern in recent years reveals the second semester will see yet another decline.

If this is the future pattern (lower enrollment) why would there be a need for additional parking? A recent FIOA request shows there are more commuter students now at 16,000 students (2019) than 20 years ago with 25,000 students. The President of the University Lisa Freeman said the relationship with the City and University is at an all-time high, but the lack of transparency for this project suggests differently. It seems this town-gown relationship only goes one way. 

The parking lot is under construction over the Thanksgiving break. Like many questionable projects at NIU in the past, work is always started on holiday breaks to avoid any coverage from the local college newspaper.

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