Nicolosi & Associates respond

Editor’s note: The following is in response to the article “Nicolosi & Associates expanding influence” in the Oct. 18-24 issue of The Rock River Times. Staff Writer Stuart R. Wahlin sent these questions to Roxanne Sosnowski, associate attorney at Nicolosi & Associates, LLC, by e-mail Oct 10. He spoke to her that day, and she said the response time was inadequate. She agreed to a response by Oct. 13. Oct. 15, she e-mailed and apologized for the lack of response. Oct. 16, she said the question went to the “project manager,” and she was awaiting his response. Oct. 17, she did not respond to a phone inquiry. Oct. 18, Sosnowski inquired several times via e-mail if she had missed the deadline and if the story was published. The following text was sent as the fourth e-mail of the day, and her official response.

Roxanne Sosnowski (via e-mail): I was disappointed to see that your article took on the ridiculous “tabloid” journalistic view that I hoped it would not. Your article was not a newsworthy piece about the Winnebago County Land Use Plan or the rewrite of the Subdivision and Zoning Ordinances, which you outlined to me it would be. In fact, your article was a meager attempt at discrediting myself and my husband simply because I am an attorney for Nicolosi & Associates, and he is an agent for The Buckley Companies. I am sorry I was unable to respond to your inquiries within your timeframe. As I reported to you several times, I needed approval from my client before I submit responses to the press. As a lawyer, I took an oath to represent my clients to the best of my ability, and I must allow them to review any comments directed to the press on their behalf.

You know as well as I do that I responded to your every e-mail and call within one working day’s time. I responded to your lengthy questions as quickly as possible.

TRRT: In your own words, why is the Camiros/Nicolosi team best qualified for this task?

Sosnowski: Camiros, Ltd. is a consulting firm that provides a full range of services in the areas of planning, zoning, urban design, economic development and landscape architecture. The firm provides services to both public and private clients. Camiros, Ltd. has provided zoning consultation to more than 50 municipalities and counties as well as defense of zoning ordinances and zoning approval services to private developers. Additionally, the firm has prepared numerous land-use plans for cities and counties across the country. Camiros, Ltd. is nationally known for their strong emphasis on, and use of, public participation in the planning process, their comprehensive plans are vision-based and emphasize the development of consensus-based policy and strong implementation linkages.

Nicolosi and Associates, LLC is a municipal law firm with over 50 years of experience in Winnebago County. Our zoning, land use and development experience ranges more than five decades involving work with many forms of local governments; from drafting comprehensive zoning codes for cities, villages, counties, and townships to creating modern, effective individual zoning, subdivision and development regulations for our representative clients. Our services have included advising on the development and implementation of specific plans, general and specific plan amendments, zoning changes, subdivisions, conditional use permits, variances, design review applications and other planning entitlements as well as issues involving school and park impact fees. Our attorneys are well trained in the areas of zoning and land use law. Our staff experience includes cum laude graduates from highly-respected legal institutions as well as individuals who possess dual degrees such as a master’s in public administration.

TRRT: How will your firm be splitting duties with Camiros, Ltd.?

Sosnowski: Nicolosi and Associates, LLC will be taking the lead on the Zoning and Subdivision Ordinance rewrite and will prepare the Comprehensive Financial Plan. Camiros, Ltd. will take the lead on the land-use plan. Each organization, however, will share data and will be integrally involved with all projects. Essentially, Nicolosi and Associates will assist with the land-use plan (specifically in the areas of data assembly and mapping), and Camiros, Ltd. will perform review of the Zoning and Subdivision Ordinances prepared by our firm.

TRRT: Do you believe that being a local company gave you an edge in the selection process?

Sosnowski: One valuable asset to our firm is the fact that we are a locally-based business in tune to the desires of the community. Larger municipalities may contract out their ordinance re-drafting to larger out-of-town law firms with the mindset that “no local firm can handle that type of work.” We understand that what is “right” for one community may not always be “right” for another. Knowing and understanding the local market, developers, and other development professionals gives us a better connection and the ability to perform less expensively. Whether this played a role in the County decision is only speculation on our part.

TRRT: Please explain the advantages of having a local firm with your expertise working on this project.

Sosnowski: Due to a local firm’s location, it has the ability to perform tasks locally and save the County money on transportation and other expenses that come from hiring an outside firm. Additionally, given a local firm’s broad knowledge of the County arising from doing business in Winnebago County a local firm is in a unique situation to be able to provide data and other information an outside organization would have to spend time accumulating and may not ever really be able to fully appreciate.

TRRT: What are some of the most important things that your firm wants to ensure for Winnebago County by being involved in this process?

Sosnowski: We want to ensure that Winnebago County has a zoning/subdivision ordinance and land-use plan that works well for the County and reflects the wishes of its residents.

TRRT: What changes/improvements is the County in need of (that Nicolosi & Associates will be addressing)?

Sosnowski: Portions of the Zoning Code have not been rewritten since the 1960s, making it administratively inefficient for the County to enforce and resulting in confusion for staff and residents.

TRRT: Ultimately, what is Nicolosi & Associates’ vision for Winnebago County once the plan has been implemented?

Sosnowski: Winnebago County has its own vision for the 2030 Land Resource Management Plan. Once completed, the Plan will ensure that changes in the region occur pursuant to a consensus of area stakeholders such as civic and business leaders, school officials, various interest groups, and citizenry. Winnebago County will be working towards achieving a unified comprehensive plan that will bring together the existing or updated land-use plans of the municipalities and townships. This will not usurp local land-use decision-making authority. Rather, the land-use plan will reinforce the municipalities’ and townships’ role as the primary agents of change while creating a coordinated vision for the future of the region as a whole. The land use plan will also seek to achieve balanced growth that occurs in the most rational and efficient manner.

TRRT: Could you please talk about how the community might help provide input for this project?

Sosnowski: The Winnebago County Long Range Planner Reggie Arkell is the project manager for both the Zoning Code Revision and the Land Use Plan. Mr. Arkell is arranging interviews with all of the municipalities and townships which will, in effect, be a forum for residents to address directly to the consultants their concerns and ideas for these projects. Additionally, interviews will be scheduled with other organizations across the County, which makes up a diverse representation of those who work, live and do business in Winnebago County. Finally, for both projects, public
workshops and public hearings will be scheduled where drafts of both documents will be made available.

TRRT: By now, you’ve likely been made aware of Rockton resident Richard Ott’s guest column from our Sept. 6-12 issue. In case you haven’t read it, Mr. Ott implies a relationship between campaign contributions and the Land Use Plan contract awarded to Nicolosi & Associates/Camiros, Ltd.

Since he made an issue of it, I’d simply like to give you an opportunity to respond to his claims of “contributions and influence.”

How do you respond to Richard Ott’s guest column that implied The Buckley Companies/Nicolosi purchased influence by contributing to campaign funds (namely, Chairman Christiansen’s)?

Sosnowski: Camiros, Ltd. and Nicolosi & Associates, LLC were chosen unanimously for these projects by an independent committee made up of several residents of Winnebago County. Camiros is a land-planning organization with over 30 years’ experience in the industry and operates as a well-respected urban planning and development firm within their field. Nicolosi & Associates, LLC is comprised of lawyers trained in the areas of municipal law with a specific concentration on such areas as zoning and land use. Few would challenge our firm’s real expertise in municipal law, which it has handled for more than 50 years. Our attorneys keep current on recent developments in zoning and land use. We regularly attend and have made presentations at the Illinois Municipal League annual conference and were recently invited to speak at the Illinois Municipal Treasurer’s meeting in St. Louis. While it may be true that a partner in our law firm supports Republican candidates with campaign contributions, this is hardly unusual. Our firm has supported fair and honest Republican candidates since its founding in 1948. Our firm was selected, along with Camiros, to perform these tasks by an independent committee, who sent out and published a request for proposal to local and regional firms. If Nicolosi & Associates did not possess the skills to complete this work, we simply would not have been selected.

TRRT: Winnebago County Purchasing Director Sally Claassen responded to Ott in a guest column in our Sept. 20-26 issue. She assured that language in the contract prohibits Nicolosi & Associates/Camiros, Ltd. from construction and development in the same unincorporated areas for the duration of the contract. Does the same prohibition apply to all of The Buckley Companies?

Sosnowski: Nicolosi and Associates, LLC is a law firm and does not construct or develop land. However, two partners of the law firm do own a development company. The Buckley Companies has agreed to not acquire, develop or undertake construction upon any real property located in unincorporated Winnebago County for the duration of the agreement.

Camiros, Ltd. is a land-planning firm from Chicago, Illinois, and is also not engaged in the business of developing land.

From the Oct. 25-31, 2006, issue

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