Land ‘development’ ruins farmland

I had a conversation today with a friend of mine that took me back 35-plus years. My friend and her family live on McCormick Road outside of Stillman Valley in Ogle County. This is a beautiful wooded area with productive farmland adjacent to Camp McCormick—the Girl Scout camp. My friends and their neighbors are battling the Ogle County Board and the Zoning Commission in an attempt to stop a once proposed and now approved subdivision. The zoning has been changed. The farmland is now destined to be dug up, graded, paved over and turned into subdivision lots.

I grew up on a small farm in once-rural Boone County. I remember when one of the first land developers (odd term that—land developer—how does one go about “developing” the land?) breezed into Boone County and proposed a subdivision. I remember because the proposed subdivision was adjacent to my grandparents’ farm, which was the bulk of our acreage.

Dad and Grandpa went to all the meetings, wrote all the required letters, filed all the proper protests and confidently went to the courthouse for the final meeting. Dad was sure this could be stopped. He was wrong. The land was re-zoned and, to add insult to injury, the “developer” threatened lawsuits should one of our cows wander onto his new subdivision. The death bell rang for the small family farms, and now they are all gone. Dug up, graded, paved over and turned into sterile lawns growing only Popsicle trees with neat and orderly landscaping that pollute the land with lawn chemicals and provide nothing beneficial for any life form. The northern half of Boone County has become overcrowded with dangerous roads, subdivisions and the latest addition to the landscape: “mini malls.”

So, here I am, 35-plus years later, listening to the same battle, fearing the same outcome. I remember farm families fighting each new subdivision and the county board and Zoning Commission ignoring the very public they were supposed to serve, indeed, ignoring the very land they were supposed to protect. We in Boone County became convinced the deals were signed, sealed and delivered long before any voice of protest was raised. No matter the protest, the subdivisions ate up rural Boone County like a cancer.

And now I ask: Why are the voices of protest never heard? Why are the people who have lived in an area for sometimes generations never heard? Why are the land developers who do not and have not lived in an area given free rein by the county boards? I ask these questions of the Ogle County Board. And I also ask each Ogle County Board member to drive through Monroe Center, another Ogle County battleground. Note the signs in each front yard. Talk to the people living along McCormick Road and note how they feel about the prospect of a subdivision that will drastically increase the amount of traffic and noise, not to mention the added strain on the ecosystem.

Better yet, Ogle County Board members, stop, reach down, and take a handful of soil. Let it run through your fingers and watch it fall back to the earth. Then ask yourself: How does one develop the land?

Conny Pfeifer is an Ogle County resident who is concerned about the future of farmland.

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