Annexation spurs Boone County growth debate

Proposed zoning changes, annexations and timing of an early morning public hearing have raised concerns among some Caledonia residents that Poplar Grove officials are promoting suburban sprawl at the expense of their rural lifestyle. Poplar Grove officials counter that they are trying to increase their tax base along Illinois Route 173, which offers opportunities for growth, especially after new on/off ramps are constructed at the I-90 intersection.

The morning after the Super Bowl, Poplar Grove officials held an 8 a.m. public hearing Feb. 7, which concerned annexing four properties that would connect the village to its neighbors to the west—Caledonia and Candlewick Lake housing development. Poplar Grove also has plans to change zoning for two of the four properties to allow for development by eliminating the properties’ agricultural designation.

The four properties are within two miles west of the Illinois 173 and Illinois 76 intersection, which is approximately 4 miles from I-90. One property along Ramsay Road, which will likely be developed into single family homes, is targeted for annexation and a zoning change. Another property immediately west of the Illinois 173 and Illinois76 intersection, may become a location for light industrial and commercial businesses.

For those two properties and another to be annexed, the Catholic Diocese of Rockford was asked by a developer to request the Diocese’s 20-acre parcel be annexed by Poplar Grove.

Dr. Owen Phelps, director of communications for the Rockford Diocese, said he didn’t know which developer contacted the diocese, but he said they complied with the request to “be a good neighbor.” Phelps added that the Diocese has no plans to sell the property. The Diocese plans to build a parish on the land.

The Diocese property is south of 173 LLC’s 92-acre parcel of land that will likely be zoned from agriculture to light industrial and commercial. Members of 173 LLC are L. E. Boeske, Douglas Fitz, Tim McCarty and Flora Meadows LLC. McCarty identified 173 LLC as being the developer that pursuaded the Diocese to request the annexation. McCarty said for the 92-acre site to receive public water and sewer services from the village, the property needed to be annexed. However, 173 LLC’s land couldn’t be annexed without the Diocese property being first incorporated into the village.

Wallace Ramsay, long-time resident who lives near the proposed changes and former Boone County Board member, argued Poplar Grove’s overall development plan “is not following smart and responsible growth.” Ramsay is calling for more intergovernmental cooperation between agencies to plan developments, and he wants to preserve green space between villages and keep agricultural land.

He also wants Poplar Grove officials to heed the Boone County Soil and Water Conservation District’s report that suggests the land owned by the Candlewick Lake Association is not suitable for development.

Ramsay emphasized more single family developments will also increase pressure on local school districts, which are already strapped for money and classroom space to accommodate existing students, let alone an influx of new students that will likely come with residential developments.

Other municipalities around the nation have offset increased educational expenses attributable to residential developments by imposing impact fees that function as a one-time tax on newly constructed homes. The money from the impact fees is then paid to the local school district.

Neither Winnebago County nor Boone County charge impact fees. However, Winnebago County had its first public meeting about imposing impact fees Feb. 3.

Roger Day, Village of Poplar Grove president, argued development is inevitable, and said the Village is trying to increase its tax base by relying more on commercial and light industrial development rather than zoning more land for single-family residences. Day also said when the latest annexation proposals were negotiated, developers agreed to pay for extension of water and sewer services to the areas.

Ramsay’s concerns and Day’s responses are commonly heard wherever development is a hot topic. More than 80 percent of development in the United States has occurred since the end of World War II, according to author James Howard Kuntsler, an advocate for smart and sustainable growth.

Kunstler argued in a series of books that most of America’s development has been built according to the needs of automobiles rather than people. As a result, Kunstler said the U.S. has an unhealthy reliance on fossil fuels to operate motor vehicles, and places undue pressure on the remaining land to grow food crops to feed an increasing population.

Kunstler advocated more mixed-use zoning and gradually shifting from taxing buildings to taxing land. According to Kunstler, the taxing of land rather than buildings encourages better utilization of already developed property, renews dilapidated areas and discourages sprawl.

He also encouraged New Urbanism architecture, which scales back lot sizes, and is reminiscent of pre-World War II developments.

In spite of data from studies such as the 2004 Green Communities Survey that shows area citizens support sustainable and smart growth efforts, local elected officials continue to advocate the same approaches to development that most survey respondents, Kunstler and Ramsay all lament.

The survey, which was sponsored by a group of 12 local government and non-governmental organizations, found respondents were not pleased with land development in Winnebago County and were upset with suburban sprawl. Joel Cowan, demographer with the University of Illinois College of Medicine at Rockford, said the respondents support controls on land use, want better land-use planning, and do not want to leave development to be determined primarily by the developers.

No known similar survey has been conducted for Boone County residents.

Participants in the Green Communities Survey were: Winnebago County; City of Rockford; City of Loves Park; Winnebago County Forest Preserve District; Rockford Park District; Natural Land Institute; Burpee Museum of Natural History; Four Rivers Environmental Coalition; Rockford Area Council of 100; Neighborhood Network; Winnebago County Health Department; and University of Illinois Cooperative Extension Service.

See March 10, 2004, article “Environmental survey results shows concern,” for more information about the survey.

Another public hearing concerning the properties is scheduled on Valentine’s Day, Feb. 14 at 7 p.m., at the Poplar Grove Village Hall, 100 S. State Street.

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