Land-use plan proceeds without environmental inventory

StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-118115536230968.jpg’, ‘Photo by Stuart R. Wahlin’, ‘Arista Strungys, Camiros associate (left), and Nicolosi & Associates attorney Roxanne Sosnowski (right) fielded questions from the public.‘);
StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-118115540230968.jpg’, ‘Photo by Stuart R. Wahlin’, ‘Empty seats at the UIC College of Medicine auditorium were blamed on last-minute notification of the public meeting.‘);

Winnebago County’s 2030 Land Resource Management Plan is moving ahead on schedule, but critics argue the process needs to be put on hold until a comprehensive environmental inventory has been taken.

The Winnebago County Board approved a $355,000 contract in 2006 for a new land-use plan and zoning re-writes. Chicago-based land-planners Camiros, Ltd., and Rockford’s Nicolosi & Associates were awarded the contract. Camiros is focusing on land use planning, while Nicolosi & Associates will re-write the Unified Development Ordinance (UDO) for enforcement of the new land-use plan.

Nicolosi & Associates attorney Roxanne Sosnowski said she expects a first draft of the UDO to be completed this fall.

“It is important that the future land-use plan drive all of the projects in Unified Development Ordinance,” Sosnowski explained, “which is why we are making sure that we are reviewing these goals and policies and recommendations as we move forward with the drafting of the ordinances.”

Sosnowski’s husband, Rockford Ald. Joe Sosnowski (R-1), is employed as vice president of commercial real estate for the Buckley Companies, LLC. Nicolosi & Associates is one of eight businesses comprising the Buckley Companies, who specialize in development, investment and marketing of real estate.

The Buckley Companies are also principals in two downtown Rockford TIF District projects, the former Gas & Electric/CAMCO Building, 303 N. Main St. and an upcoming project at 302 S. Church and 324-326 Chestnut streets.

The Nicolosi & Associates law firm also represents Loves Park and Rockton. The firm formerly also represented Roscoe and Caledonia, but resigned from their roles in both municipalities under controversial circumstances.

Citing his experience with this firm in the local daily, Phil Nicolosi has also announced this week his interest in Winnebago County State’s Attorney Paul Logli’s job, after Logli announced he would not run again in 2008.

During a May 29 public meeting, representatives of Camiros and Nicolosi & Associates unveiled the first phase in the development of Winnebago County’s 2030 Land Resource Management Plan. The presentation outlined the plan’s goals, objectives and policies as set forth by various focus groups.

The plan’s eight areas of focus are Agriculture, Economic Development, Growth and Annexation, Housing, Natural Resources and Environment, Public Facilities, Telecommunications and Technology, and Transportation.

For months, one Environmental Focus Group member, Mark Dahlgren, has been stressing the need for taking an environmental inventory. In absence of an official inventory, Dahlgren conducted one on his own time. Despite his background in science, Dahlgren noted a professional inventory still needs to be taken.

“Unfortunately, a professional study of this magnitude would require at least two biologists, over a period, to compile the data of this county’s 500-plus square miles,” Dahlgren told County Board members March 8. “If we are to create an objective land-use plan, determination of what there is, and where it is, is necessary.”

During the May 29 public meeting, Dahlgren argued, “To me, it would be an embarrassment to make a land-use plan without a proper environmental inventory first.”

Not everyone, however, agrees the county can afford to wait for the inventory to be completed.

Arista Strungys, a Camiros associate, responded, “I understand how helpful it would be to have something like that when mapping, but there’s a finite amount of resources right now, and so the idea that we do have to proceed further with the future land-use planning—use the information that we have available now, and take that into account.”

County Board member Mary Ann Aiello (R-9) quickly sided with Dahlgren and asked Strungys: “How can you come in with a land-use plan, either late summer or early fall, and have something proposed when the environmental inventory hasn’t even been done yet? Don’t you think that’s putting the cart before the horse?”

Aiello continued, “Most people know you have to have an environmental inventory to know even how to develop and plan land use…I think we should go along and do it in a very methodical way.”

Strungys acknowledged Aiello’s concerns, but stressed adherence to a timeline.

“We want to include as much of that [environmental inventory] as we can,” Strungys replied. “The plan can be amended as well, once an environmental inventory is taken.”

John Cantrell, zoning officer and acting long-range planner, said an environmental inventory can be a lengthy process.

“A full NRI [Natural Resources Inventory] report will take around two years,” Cantrell explained, “so, we really don’t like the idea of kind-of having to wait for another two years to create a new long-range plan.”

All in attendance agreed an inventory should be taken, but county leaders noted funding such a project is a challenge.

Winnebago County Grants Coordinator Judy Barnard indicated she’s been looking into having a local firm conduct an environmental survey concurrent with development of the land-use plan.

Dahlgren believes the inventory should go out for bids instead, because grants are subject to time constraints.

“I think there should be a bidding process,” Dahlgren told The Rock River Times. “I think they should have a minimum of three qualified corporations, and then take one of the three…An inventory like this should have been done a long time ago, and nobody ever proceeded with it.”

When Dahlgren asked if the inventory would go out for bids, Barnard stated the project does not qualify for a bidding process because it is a professional service. Barnard noted, however, the County Board could request bids.

Aiello suggested the inventory could be funded by the county’s landfill host fee, and maintained land-use planning should be delayed until the survey is completed.

Burpee Museum President Lew Crampton serves as chairman of the Environmental Focus Group, but disagrees with Dahlgren’s assertion the environmental inventory needs to be completed before moving ahead with land-use planning.

“I think the county is making pretty good progress moving forward,” Crampton said. “Do we want to stop that and wait for a comprehensive environmental inventory?”

Crampton acknowledged the need for an inventory, but said it could be taken while the other work on the land-use plan continues—a sentiment echoed by County Board member Doug Aurand (D-3).

“The sooner we can get a plan to that County Board, the sooner you’re gonna have a chance of passing that plan,” Aurand argued. “If you delay this a year or better, you’re gonna be in the middle of an election cycle…Better get a plan in place. Then, let’s make changes to it like we do everything else.”

Winnebago County Farm Bureau Manager Roger Christin added: “I would sure hate to see us postpone something, because the present 2010 plan is broken. We need to go on and get a new plan that we can work with.”

Director of Regional Planning and Economic Development Sue Mroz said, “I agree that we need to keep going and need to get that environmental study going right away, and we’re taking your recommendations very seriously.”

Despite the arguments in favor of conducting the inventory first, land-use planning will proceed without delay.

Aiello and Dahlgren were not the only ones dissatisfied with the May 29 public workshop, however.

Although a press release was issued May 23 to announce the meeting, many focus group members were not notified until that day. Cantrell explained the resignation of Long Range Planner Reggie Arkell resulted in problems accessing the e-mail addresses of focus group members.

Stephen Schultz, chairman of the Growth and Annexation Committee, thought the last-minute notice was unacceptable.

“In my opinion, this unbelievably short notice represents a clear lack of desire to get the public input of those who worked hard to contribute to this process to date,” Schultz stated in an e-mail response to Cantrell. “I am deeply disappoi

nted in your decision to proceed with a meeting time and date that provides a few hours notice to people who have invested many hours in this process.”

Cantrell has since announced the public presentation of goals, objectives and policies will be repeated June 12 at 5:30 p.m. in the Memorial Hall Auditorium, 211 N. Main St.

A final draft of the land-use plan is expected to be presented to the County Board by January 2008.

Related links:

Winnebago County’s 2030 Land Resource Management Plan homepage:

For more detailed examination of the goals, objectives and policies, visit:

Dahlgren’s 16-page environmental inventory can be viewed at:

from the June 6-12, 2007, issue

Enjoy The Rock River Times? Help spread the word!