Aug. 9 Winnebago County Board briefs

Farm Bureau opposes building home on family farm

Winnebago County Farm Bureau President Earl Williams addressed the Winnebago County Board Aug. 9 to ask that a re-zoning petition be denied.

Chad Bentley, the petitioner, wanted to build a home on the 2.5-acre piece of his family’s farmland. The go-ahead would require the parcel to be re-zoned from Agricultural Priority District to Rural Agricultural. Bentley said the home would be built in an area that least disturbs the land’s agricultural use.

“My mother and father-in-law would like to keep their family close,” Bentley said of the land his wife’s parents are offering to share with them. “They’d like to see their grandchildren be raised on their farm.”

Bentley said neighbors, the Fire Department and highway commissioner have no problem with his petition.

“What it comes down to is you folks here tonight on this board,” Bentley concluded. “Me and my wife feel that this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for us.”

The County Board’s Zoning Committee recommended approval by a margin of 4-3, but the Zoning Board of Appeals flatly recommended denial because the move would not be consistent with the county’s long-range land-use plan.

Although a new plan is nearing completion, Williams warned, “The time and expense of this process will be wasted if the County Board continues the approach of not following its own regulations.”

With agriculture being the county’s top industry, the Farm Bureau normally holds a lot of sway with the board. Hoping to exercise his pull with the board, Williams argued the county is notorious for not following its own guidelines in preserving farmland.

“The county has a reputation, in rural residents, of not following the plan,” Williams reported. “We’re entering an era of where urban sprawl should not be considered a goal.”

Although noting the growing importance of agriculture for food and fuel, Williams was not successful in flexing bureau muscle.

Pete MacKay (R-5) argued the petition lacked any meaningful opposition.

“The piece is a tract that will be located on family land, on the family farm,” MacKay reiterated. “The only people that want to stop this are people that believe we have a mandate or a motive to preserve farmland, and we do not.”

Although acknowledging the importance of preserving agriculture, Paul Gorski (D-5) said he’d support the petition and that farm owners should be encouraged to preserve their own land.

John Harmon (R-4), however, sided with the Farm Bureau, stating the decision has nothing to do with family.

“I wonder if rules simply mean nothing,” Harmon proffered. “The truth is, we don’t zone something for a mandate. We zone a plot of land. We zone dirt, not people.”

Harmon argued approval of the petition would leave the door wide open to developers who may purchase the land later.

“I understand that it seems, in some respects, like a small thing to do to 2 1/2 acres in a county this size. But believe me, the precedent that these things set is gonna reverberate for a long time,” Harmon alleged. “This is the kind of thing that does not do your grandchildren a favor.”

Although somewhat sympathetic to Bentley’s plight, Harmon said the petition was simply not in the best interest of the rest of the county.

MacKay retorted by arguing the board has approved similar petitions hundreds, if not thousands, of times, and has never experienced a single problem as a result.

Doug Aurand (D-3), a member of the Farm Bureau, expressed regret he’d have to go against the bureau on the matter.

“We have a [land-use] plan that’s so out of whack,” Aurand reported. “We’re trying to fix it right now. We just did this a month ago for another family. Family values mean something special to me. I think this is a case where we want to try and help these people out.”

Aurand suggested, in the future, issues regarding building on family land should be addressed through special-use permits.

In a 20-6 vote approving Bentley’s request, Harmon, Randy Olson (R-1), Tom Owens (R-1), Jim Webster (R-2), Dave Yeske (R-2) and John Ekberg (R-10) voted “no.”

Board on track for rail

Board members unanimously approved a Resolution Supporting the Establishment of a Rail Authority in Winnebago County. The Rail Authority would fall under the control of the Airport Authority, but will not have taxing powers.

County Board Chairman Scott Christiansen (R) explained, “It allows us to go beyond municipal and county lines,” connecting with places like Rochelle’s intermodal hub.

“We’ve got about 80 percent of what we’re after,” the chairman reported. “We’ve still got a little bit more to clean up in the veto session.”

The matter has already been passed by the House and Senate.

Other resolutions passed

A resolution authorizing execution of an Agreement with the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) for federal participation in the Latham and Old River roads construction project was approved.

A resolution urging state legislators to fund the Capital Improvements Program was also unanimously passed by the Winnebago County Board Aug. 9.

Vanderwerff: Bridges stable

County Engineer Joe Vanderwerff stated, of the 94 bridges maintained by the county, 11 are in need of repair or replacement.

According to Vanderwerff, federal funds have been allocated to replace five bridges, with a sixth still in the design stage. Repairs for the remaining five bridges are in the works.

“Our bridge situation is in very stable condition,” Vanderwerff reported, “and we will continue to monitor that.”

Winnebago County also monitors 72 bridges in the township system.

Emerald Ash Borers inching closer

Jim Webster (R-2) indicated the expedited migration of Emerald Ash Borers toward Winnebago County is proof humans are helping them along. Webster urged the community not to transport firewood—one of the ways people are making the menace more mobile.

The Illinois Department of Agriculture (IDA) is surveying ash trees in DuPage, Lake, Grundy and McHenry counties, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture is considering the release of parasitoids to control the borers.

An infestation of borers was discovered in Kane County by the IDA in June.

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Cherry Valley Village President Jim Claeyssen and Christopher Nelson were re-appointed to the Cherry Valley Cemetery Association to six-year terms ending in March of 2011 and 2012, respectively.

Event to honor families of first responders

Clayton Balmes, of the Historic Auto Attractions Museum in Roscoe, invited board members to participate in an appreciation day not only for first-responders, but for their families.

“If it wasn’t for them, to fix them emotionally, they wouldn’t put their uniform back on,” Balmes said. “This day is for them.”

Balmes expects 4,000 to 5,000 families to attend, and promised a display that is second to none, including some heavy-duty National Guard equipment.

from the Aug 15-21, 2007, issue

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