Springfield Corridor development suggests more sprawl

StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//img-rbFGUjvi9q.jpg’, ‘Photo by Jeff Havens’, ‘William Charles-owned Rockford Blacktop displays its company motto on its vehicles, “Paving the planet for over 55 years.” The company owns property near Springfield Avenue and constructed the road.’);

About 150 people filled the Rockford Science and Technology Academy Aug. 24 for the second meeting concerning the joint city/county plan to develop the Springfield Avenue Corridor. Presenter J. Christopher Lannert of The Lannert Group was vague in his response to a question about how he would characterize development in the plan, and if it could be described as “new urbanism” or “smart growth,” which various local governmental agencies have advocated in the past, including the county.

Lannert said: “That’s a very difficult question. Because this study incorporates so much land and because it is as varied as it is both between the existing uses which are there as well as the vacant land and the natural characteristics, I would say it could be a combination. This is not a political answer. It could be a combination of all the above.”

The approximately eight-mile corridor skirts the northwest, west and southwest edges of Rockford, and encompasses portions of Winnebago County. The presentation displayed proposed land-use and development plans that encompass an area within one-half mile of each side of the recently constructed Springfield Avenue. The presentation also addressed transportation plans.

Maps of the corridor indicate mostly mixed-use commercial development on the north section, which is in the vicinity of a new Wal-Mart that is under construction. The middle section of the corridor is primarily commercial development, while the south end is light industrial and mixed-use commercial development.

Also planned are vegetative “buffer” zones between roads and land-use areas, three sizes of “uniform” signs for the corridor, ornamental lighting and posts, and a network of asphalt paths. Green areas are mostly land already owned by the Rockford Park District, such as Page Park and Klehm Arboretum.

Lannert explained “the plan is a way to control development.” He added the plan can be altered, but it shows potential developers land-use possibilities.

Attendees expressed concerns about being annexed into Rockford, how implementation of the plan will be financed, coordination with Rockford officials, and use of eminent domain to acquire property.

Tom Ditzler, who had his property seized for the corridor in 2000 by a controversial version of eminent domain called “quick take,” was also at the meeting. He expressed concern about the lack of a provision to protect old trees in the plan. Ditzler had a 200-year old oak tree destroyed when Springfield Avenue was constructed through his former property.

Transportation goals were described as safe and efficient movement of people and goods, needs of neighborhood and mobility, and 20-year projections for road use to avoid traffic congestion. No mention was made about public transportation.

Robert D. Bullard, professor of sociology at Clark Atlanta University, wrote in his 2004 book Highway Robbery: Transportation Racism & New Routes to Equity, that “decisions to build highways, expressways and beltways have far-reaching effects on land use, energy policies and the environment.”

The book describes the role transportation policies and transportation tax dollars have had on past social and economic inequality

He said “it is not uncommon for many low-income, people of color households to spend up to one-third of their income on transportation.” The book later indicates that most families spent about 10 percent of their income on transportation in 1935, which rose to 20 percent in 2003.

Bullard adds: “Beyond the financial burden and disparate health impacts placed on communities of color and low-income communities, the auto-oriented transportation system also makes it more difficult to find and keep a good job.”

The Springfield Avenue Corridor creates a beltway around some of Rockford’s poorest areas that also have the largest number of minorities.

Bullard summarizes that the “struggle against transportation racism has always been about civil rights, social justice, equity and fair treatment. For more than a century [which corresponds with the rise of the auto-oriented transportation system], African Americans and other people of color have struggled to end transportation racism. …It is time to refocus attention on the role transportation plays in shaping human interaction, economic mobility and sustainability.”

Winnebago County used an Illinois Department of Transportation grant to pay Lannert $49,500 for the study. A draft report of the study is expected to be available from the county in one to two weeks. The report was not available at the meeting, and Lannert said Mayor Scott had not been presented with the report.

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