Neblock unable to salvage rezoning amendment

StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-11726931326524.jpg’, ‘Photo by Stuart R. Wahlin’, ‘Winnebago County Board members voted down a map amendment requested by Neblock, Inc., to rezone part of its property.‘);
StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-117269320916489.jpg’, ‘Photo by Stuart R. Wahlin’, ‘The Winnebago County Bord approved a resolution asking the state for the authority to create a noise ordinance.‘);

“It looked like a mountain coming over the top,” said Angie Goral (D-7), describing cars and other scrap metals towering above the fence line of the Neblock, Inc., salvage yard on the northwest corner of South Pierpont Avenue and Cunningham Road. “All that junk is piled way high over that fence.”

Feb. 22, the Winnebago County Board debated whether Neblock’s track record warranted honoring the company’s request to rezone .86 acres of its property from Rural Residential District to Light Industrial.

Neblock’s plan for the area to be rezoned is to erect a 12-foot fence, which would result in more storage space. Proponents argue this would give Neblock the opportunity to lower salvage piles out of public sight.

Because the Rockford Township site lies within 1-1/2 miles of city limits, the Rockford City Council adopted a resolution Jan. 16 to object to the map amendment.

The city’s objection meant the amendment would require a supermajority of at least 21 board votes for approval.

“Mr. Neblock has not been a good neighbor,” alleged Winnebago County Board Member Pearl Hawks (D-6), whose district is home to Neblock, Inc. “If he vacates Concord and moves his business further to the west, it’ll be too close to homes.”

Dorothy Redd (D), who also serves the Sixth District, agreed and encouraged fellow board members to vote against the amendment.

“It really looks bad,” Redd described Neblock’s property. “He’s not a good neighbor, and I don’t think we should condone this.”

Some board members, however, said the appearance of the salvage yard is precisely the reason the map amendment should pass.

“I think that this should be approved because it would be an improvement upon what’s going on out there now,” Pete MacKay (R-5) argued.

John Harmon (R-4) responded to reports of junk littering the property outside Neblock’s current fence, stating the Health Department determined the items had been dumped there by others. Harmon said the new fence would prevent dumping there and that Neblock had already spent $18,000 to bring its existing fence into compliance.

“Mr. Neblock has been a pretty responsible operator,” Harmon added. “He apparently has never been required to pay a fine. He apparently has never been required to pay compensation for doing harm to anybody, in regard to his business. I think his record kinda speaks for itself.”

“My real argument in favor of this is, somebody’s gotta do these things,” Harmon concluded. “Mr. Neblock’s business may not be clean and pretty, but somebody’s got to do the salvage work.”

“This is true,” Goral responded. “We do need waste yards like that, but we also need some control over keeping them clean. The people in the neighborhood should also have a good quality of life.”

Hawks took the floor again, relaying calls from constituents imploring the board not to allow the salvage yard to be enlarged.

“Sometimes I think people lose hope as to what can be improved in their neighborhood,” Hawks explained. “They don’t know how to go about stopping things like this.”

“These girls [Hawks and Redd] are right about the fact that they’ve given up hope, because no one does anything anyway,” Goral said. “Mr. Neblock has an operation there, but he keeps it very dirty.”

“I believe that Mrs. Hawks and Mrs. Redd understand exactly what their constituents want,” Bob Kinnison (R-10) said before the vote. “I’m gonna support them.”

“A lot of you have not been to District 6,” Redd indicated. “Some of the zoning laws are not being enforced, and this has to change. I’m gonna encourage you to vote ‘No.’ Then, go and see why.”

“We need to clean up District 6,” Redd urged colleagues. “We need your help.”

“I think that what we have to remember here is that Neblock’s been out there longer than most of the neighbors,” MacKay pointed out, again arguing the step would be an improvement. “The Light Industrial zoning district was designed to be compatible with residential neighborhoods.”

In the end, only Paul Gorski (D-5), Harmon, MacKay and Jim Webster (R-2) voted to approve the rezoning, and the amendment failed.

A subsequent Special Use Permit to allow outside storage in the Light Industrial District was also voted down. MacKay abstained, arguing the board was essentially voting on something that didn’t exist.

In other business, the board approved a resolution proposing legislative issues to the Illinois General Assembly.

In particular, the county wants the state to grant the board authority to create a noise ordinance for unincorporated areas.

Some board members, however, thought the wording was too vague.

“How do you define noise?” MacKay asked rhetorically. “What does that mean? What is noise?”

Kinnison noted noise is generally measured by decibel level and that any such ordinances should correlate with those of bordering communities.

“Instead of trying to re-create the wheel, we have the opportunity to look at our neighboring municipalities who already have those laws,” Kinnison suggested.

Dave Yeske (R-2) voiced concern about whether farms, which often use loud machinery, would be affected. Yeske moved to amend the resolution to reflect a noise ordinance would only apply to residential areas. The amendment was defeated by voice vote.

Phil Johnson (D-8) and Doug Aurand (D-3) reminded board members the resolution is simply aimed at gaining the authority to create such an ordinance, and the board could hammer out the details at a later date.

“All we’re asking the state to do is give us the authority to do it,” Aurand stated, just before the resolution, was approved. “Then when it comes back to us, we can address your matter at that time.”

Just prior to adjournment, some sparks flew on an unrelated matter.

Gorski referred to the recently published “Winnebago County Board Chairman Scott Christiansen’s Report to the Taxpayer: Your Tax Dollars at Work,” which were scattered throughout board chambers.

“On page one, there are comments made about: For the first time, Winnebago was directly involved with bringing jobs to the area,” Gorski noted, asking that a correction be made in future printings. “I believe that past County Boards have been directly involved in bringing jobs to Winnebago County, and some people might take offense to that. It might be considered an insult to past boards.”

“It appears to have been paid for by a political action committee; Christiansen for Chairman,” Gorski added. “So, I’m wondering why the political communication has been dropped off on our desks here.”

“Throw it away!” Christiansen snapped. “Throw it away.”

Many expect Gorski to challenge Christiansen for chairmanship again in 2008.

The Winnebago County Board will next meet March 8.

From the Feb. 28-March 6, 2007, issue

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