County Board considers planned community development

Residents cite safety and farm viability concerns

Some potential neighbors of the proposed Stormont Highlands subdivision would rather see manure spread across a nearby field than houses. They’ve been sharing that message with people driving down Montague Road and hope Winnebago County Board members hear it, too.

Montague, Weldon and Edwardsville roads border the proposed subdivision. Barbara and David Clay, who reside at 7251 Montague Rd., are among the development’s chief opponents.

Barbara said the subdivision would bring 400 more cars to the area—doubling the current traffic flow. She also said farmers’ use of the area roads heightens safety risks.

“We’re setting up for disaster,” Barbara said.

She also said the influx of families would burden both Winnebago Consolidated Unit District 323 and Win-Bur-Sew Fire Protection District. If the board approves the developers’ planned community development application, Barbara said, it would set a bad precedent. “They’re opening the door for anybody that wants a special use permit,” she said.

After the Winnebago County Zoning Board of Appeals voted 6-0 not to recommend approving Hauser Construction, Inc., and Youssi Development, LLC’s planned community development application during an April 12 meeting, the Winnebago County Zoning Committee voted 4-3 to approve the development. It’s coming before the County Board Thursday, May 11.

County Board Member Pete MacKay (R-5) said he plans to vote in favor of the developers’ application.

“I think it’s good zoning,” MacKay said.

Fellow County Board Member Randy Olson doesn’t concur. Though Olson has no problem with the project per se, he’s concerned about the precedent it could set. He said if a sewer line were brought to the site, it could launch something that can’t be stopped.

“They’re really opening the door to future development,” Olson said, acknowledging the development would generate property tax revenue. MacKay also said well permits would control the number of homes in the development.

The developers’ counsel, James Tuneberg, stressed there’s a difference between a planned community development application and a special use permit. Tuneberg said a planned community development application was more “sophisticated.”

But he acknowledged both requests require a specific site plan, and the proposed site’s underlying zoning doesn’t change. The proposed site is zoned agricultural. Tuneberg said there are two farms near the site.

He said a dairy farm is north of the third phase of the proposed development, and another farm is immediately adjacent to the planned subdivision. Barbara and David Clay said the Illinois Livestock Management Act prohibits residential development within 1,000 feet of a farming operation.

Tuneberg was unsure how far the potential development was from either farm, but he said he was confident no such prohibition existed.

According to the act, a facility—defined as a farming or dairy operation—with fewer than 1,000 animals must be at least one-quarter mile from an occupied residence and one-half mile from a populated area. For facilities with more than 1,000 animals, the minimum setback of one-quarter mile from an occupied residence increases 220 feet per 1,000 over the limit. The minimum setback of one-quarter mile increases by 440 per 1,000 over the limit in populated areas.

The act states a “populated area” consists of at least 10 non-farm residences.

Robert Weldon is part owner of a 157-year-old family farm just north of the proposed development’s Edwardsville Road entrance. Weldon said the proposed residential growth could more than stifle the enterprise he and his siblings operate.

“I believe that 223 homes next to our dairy (farm) could significantly affect our mode of operation and could threaten our existence,” he said in a May 5 e-mail.

Weldon’s worried about potential neighbors’ reactions and the repercussions.

“Our so-called ‘grandfather rights’ could be challenged by new residents who discover that their new homes aren’t quite as pastoral as (they) envisioned,” he said.

The act’s “grandfather provision” states facilities expanded and constructed before 1991 must adhere to the Illinois Environmental Protection Act’s setback requirements. According to the Illinois Environmental Protection Act, a facility must be at least 200 feet away from any existing residence.

Winnebago County Farm Bureau Manager Roger Christin said legislation doesn’t address reverse setbacks. Christin said reverse setbacks would require people, other than farm owners, to build a home at least one-quarter mile from a farming operation.

“That’s one of the problems with the Livestock Facilities Management Act,” he said.

Christin said reverse setbacks have been discussed with his organization, but it hasn’t attempted to take any action. According to Christin, addressing reverse setbacks would put the entire act under scrutiny.

He said that might not be such a good idea.

“You’d take a lot of risks. It could be a double-edged sword,” Christin said.

He said the farm bureau aims to deal with the issue by encouraging more responsible development at the local level.

From the May 10-16, 2006, issue

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