ZBA passes on proposed 241-acre subdivision

Developers failed to gain support from the Winnebago County Zoning Board of Appeals and potential neighbors of a proposed 241-acre subdivision at the board’s April 12 meeting.

Board members voted not to recommend the approval of a planned community development application. Hauser Construction, Inc., and Youssi Development, LLC, applied in hopes of beginning work on the proposed Stormont Highlands subdivision.

The developers’ attorney, James Tuneberg, said the application is similar to a special-use permit. Tuneberg said the permit allows them to create residential development that must adhere to the present zoning. Tuneberg said the land is zoned agricultural.

He stressed the permit would sustain that zoning, “The underlying zoning never changes.”

Winnebago County Planner David DeGroot said Edwardsville and Montague roads border the development on the north and south, respectively. He also noted Weldon Road borders it on the west.

Board member Ed Conklin expressed concern about altering agricultural land.

“It would be a travesty to change the character of that part of the area,” Conklin said.

According to DeGroot, the proposed Stormont Highlands subdivision would have had 233 residential lots and nearly 90 acres of open space.

David George Clay—who lives halfway between the proposed site and Meridian Road—said the developer’s intent to burn off old growth to encourage natural vegetation would pose a fire risk. Clay said the development’s locale—far away from a fire department—would heighten the risk, adding, “This is a poor site for a subdivision.”

Tuneberg stressed fire protection measures would be in place. He said a dry well and piping would allow water to be pumped from an existing pond to deal with potential fire issues.

Jennifer Snow, a potential neighbor, said she didn’t understand the need to burn to encourage growth.

“I have 100 acres that’s natural, and I never burn it,” Snow said.

Some area farmers, he said, have been “demoralized by the location of the subdivision.”

Robert Weldon, part owner of a 157-year-old family dairy and livestock farm, said the development could endanger his business.

Weldon said residential development limits what can be done on neighboring agricultural land. He expressed concern the control potential neighbors might try to exercise of his farm.

“It can be lost if rural Winnebago County does not stay viable,” he said.

Weldon described what lack of viability looks like—“When barns become empty, there’s no incentive to maintain them,” he said.

Winnebago County Farm’s Richard Beuth said his organization didn’t support the development, either. But Beuth said it had nothing to do with standing in the way of progress.

“We don’t expect to preserve every acre of prime farmland in the county,” he said.

But Beuth stressed the development isn’t compatible with its location.

“It’s really just another urban subdivision set in the middle of rural area,” Beuth said.

Tuneberg said he wasn’t surprised by the farm bureau’s position.

“I would expect that coming from the farm bureau,” he said.

Beuth worried out loud that potential residents would expect a noise-free, odor-free and dust-free environment. He stressed that an agricultural area can’t be described as such. Beuth said he urged the board to avoid making a mistake it couldn’t fix.

“Once we build a house on a property, we can’t put it back the way it was,” he said.

Clay also noted people unfamiliar with rural areas could face risks due to ignorance about their surroundings. Clay wondered how they would learn.

“Who will teach the newcomers?” he asked.

Jerry Paulsen, director of the Natural Land Institute, also spoke against the planned development.

“I’m concerned about the precedent this would set,” Paulsen said.

He stressed the development is no “conservation development,” despite being labeled as such. Paulsen said those type of developments generally have more open space.

Tuneberg said the board’s decision isn’t necessarily a setback, since its input is strictly advisory. He said he plans to continue to present evidence and testimony regarding the development, when needed.

Tuneberg said, “This is a one-of-a-kind development that will raise the bar for residential development in unincorporated Winnebago County.”

From the April 26-May 2, 2006, issue

Enjoy The Rock River Times? Help spread the word!