County sued over ethanol plant zoning

A citizens’ group opposed to a proposed ethanol plant in southwestern Winnebago County, near Rockford city limits, has filed complaints against several Winnebago County Board members, including chairman Scott Christiansen.

The complaint results from a Jan. 26 meeting of these approximately 16 board members following a regularly scheduled meeting of the County Board. The complaint specifically names in addition to Christiansen, Randall Olsen, Christopher Johnson and Tom Owens. They are alleged to have met at Garrett’s Café on Bell School Road.

The citizens’ group, Informed Citizens Engaged, seeks a writ of mandamus to bar these board members from voting on the rezoning application of Wight Partners International. The Chicago-based company seeks rezoning of the southwest side site to build an ethanol plant there.

The complaint alleges the board members at their private session discussed public business, including how they would vote on the rezoning issue, and that they conducted a count of votes to determine if their view of the matter could prevail.

Under state law and county ordinances, the Zoning Board of Appeals must conduct a public hearing within 45 days after the date of the rezoning application. Beyond that, the issue is to be referred to the Department of Planning and Economic Development at least 10 days before the public hearing.

If a zoning amendment is protested, it requires three-fourths of the County Board voting in favor for it to be passed. The complaint asks that a judge bar the 16 board members from voting on the issue and that the process be started over again in compliance with state and county laws, making a three-fourths majority impossible.

A proposed hearing by a Rockford City Council committee, planned for next week, may be delayed. Ald. Frank Beach (R-10), who chairs the Codes and Regulations Committee, has been asked to hold up the meeting. A resolution by Ald. Victory Bell (D-5), which opposes the rezoning and raises the issue of racism in the ethanol proposal, was tabled.

Many southwest Rockford residents feel their area has become the dumping ground for unsavory projects that any other area in the County would be sure to reject.

From the March 8-14, 2006, issue

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