Viewpoint: Roscoe waits for next move on Petry project

The site of the proposed Petry flood plain project has been quiet for more than a week. On March 18, Rockford Blacktop Construction Company removed its equipment from the site and pulled a pump from the retention basin during the night.

More recently, silt fencing was installed across the face of a hill just south of Tom Flynn’s home. Flynn said last week all new silt fence was erected completely around the property. Such fencing is required as a condition of a federal permit to build on a flood plain.

The village government appears to be waiting for some reaction from developer Jeff Petry since the village board declined to approve the tract involved in the project. The board acted after it was informed it had a flood plain ordinance that specifies no more than 15 houses on a floodway. Petry wanted to build up to 100 houses.

“As far as I know, there hasn’t been any indication of whether we’re going to have trouble with it (development),” said Village President H. Ward Sterett. “Nothing has been said by Petry.”

Asked about the future of the retention basin on the project site, Sterett said: “It’s his property. As far as I know, he has complied with all the requirements and got the permits.”

Regarding complaints from some residents about the unprotected pond, he said: “I don’t think residents of the village are concerned about it. It’s just some crazy people across the river demanding things from the village that are just ridiculous. As far as I’m concerned, they’re just a few crackpots.”

As to the prospect of litigation, Sterett said: “I’m concerned about litigation. We made an agreement that only 15 houses would be built on that plat, and his name is on it. We’re at a standstill.”

Sterett said a representative of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources had visited the site and told him the only way to be certain whether Petry is in compliance with regulations is to hire a surveyor. Sterett said he doesn’t think the village should bear that expense unless there is litigation.

Chicory Ridge Subdivision residents are concerned about the huge retention basin built by Petry. The basin was to contain storm runoff, but the construction allegedly hit the water table, and it filled with water.

Residents are concerned because they see the pond as a potential danger to children and, since it contains stagnant water, as a giant mosquito factory and a health hazard. They want to know who issued the permit for the pond, and did the village set a precedent in doing so?

The residents want the pond filled in, and Flynn said: “We want to know who pays?” Village officials have taken no action and have made no public statements. Flynn and his group said they have been unable to get any answers from the village.

Roscoe’s problems with Petry Construction Co. began in November 1993 when the village signed an agreement to annex the area now known as Chicory Ridge. Critics allege the agreement, gave the developer everything he wanted and very little to the village.

For instance, the pact required the village to zone the subdivision in accord with the developer’s wishes. It also exempts the developer from furnishing conventional drainage, such as curb and gutter, on subdivision streets and exempted him from building any retention basins in locations where storm runoff could be drained directly into the river. Streets would not exceed 22 feet in width, and no trees would be planted along roadways.

In addition, the village would, for a period of 10 years, rebate a portion of the sales tax received to pay for installation of sewer trunk lines in the subdivision. Further, the agreement states that the developer would not be liable for payment of any fees—such as impact fees—in connection with the annexation.

When it came to the development of plats 17 and 18 on the flood plain, Petry used this agreement for leverage. He allegedly told village officials that if they halted or impeded his flood plain development, he would sue the village. Village President Ward Sterett felt the village would lose in court.

Sterett, as a result, declined to take any action against Petry. Subdivision residents were angered by that stance because they feared flooding and other problems from the proposed development.

On March 4, a petition drive, spearheaded by one of the trustees of the village, was made public. It accused Sterett of being unresponsive to the taxpayers.

The petition states: “We, the undersigned registered voters residing in the village of Roscoe, do hereby affirm and acknowledge, by virtue of our signatures below, that we are objecting to, and in disapproval of, the manner in which the current Village President H. Ward Sterett, is leading the village of Roscoe.

“Mr. Sterett has shown intolerance to those who have a different opinion than his opinion, ignores the voices of the voters, and their concerns; has acted with complete disregard of the best interests of the village of Roscoe; and has granted favoritism to his personal friends. We are herein seeking a complete change of direction, so that the best interests of the village of Roscoe may be served.”

Sterett has more problems in connection with the controversial project.

He received a letter dated March 15 from attorney Amy Silvestri, a former member of the village board, which charged one of her clients was denied access to a public hearing at the Roscoe Village Hall March 14. She said her client was barred by a police officer from entering the hall.

That, said Silvestri, would be a violation of the state Open Meetings Act. Her letter said: “I am advising you that my client does not intend to pursue legal action at this time. However, if this conduct is engaged in again by the village of Roscoe, my client does intend to pursue all remedies afforded by law, including the pursuit of criminal charges (as the violation is a misdemeanor) and pursuing civil action—which allows my client to seek a writ of mandamus, an injunction, an award of attorney fees and other damages. As a public body, it is inexcusable to engage in such egregious behavior.”

Should there be any litigation, there are two documents that would figure in such a lawsuit. One is the application by Petry to the Illinois EPA for approval of the flood plain project, and an application to the village for filling the flood fringe and creating a retention basin for storm water runoff.

The application to the EPA, prepared by Arc Design, said: “No fill will be placed within regulatory floodway limits. Approximately 75,000 cubic yards of fill will be placed in lifts and compacted.”

An application to the village engineer for approval of plats 17 and 18, including the retention basin, asked: “Is the project located in the floodway?” Answer: yes. “Is the project located in the flood fringe?” Answer: yes. Proposed volume of filling flood fringe? 476,000 cubic yards.”

On March 1, nearly four months after construction of the basin began, the village engineer issued Petry a permit for the basin. The excavation is nearly 1,000 feet long and 12-14 feet deep. It constitutes what attorneys call “an attractive nuisance.”

The 476,000 cubic yards of fill, according to Flynn, were put on the floodway to raise the elevation above flood limit. He said the grade today is 8 feet higher than it used to be.

While the village government sits and does nothing, it appears they will have the choice of either being sued by the developer or being sued by the residents of Chicory Ridge.

From the April 13-19, 2005, issue

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