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Editorial: Deer-in-the-headlights of a chance

March 17, 2010

By Frank Schier
Editor & Publisher

Editor’s note: The following remarks were made during the public comment period at the March 11 meeting of the Winnebago County board. More on the subsequent vote on the final plat and variance, along with comments on future of this property, pollution, stormwater/flood control and Conservation Design will follow this text.

Hello, I’m Frank Schier, a Winnebago County Taxpayer, who contributed to the $300,000-plus maybe with staff and extra legal time, maybe $400,000-plus that funded the 2030 Land Use Resource Management Plan. I, and many others, in many focus groups and public hearings stressed the desire for city sewer and water for development within a mile and a half of any municipality’s border.

The final plat and variation for the 9.89-acre Garden Estates subdivision, owned by Gensler family, is the first test of the county’s expensive 2030 plan, which I helped pay for. Stick to it, or you have wasted my and all the other taxpayers’ money.

Now, this came across before the final passage of the 2030 plan, and many of us know the Genslers were given a pretty hard time by the city, and the city in return allowed for septic in the pre-annexation agreement. That was the city’s behavior, horse trading and mistake, not the county’s. With all due respect to the Genslers, a fine family with a fine business, you have to look at the greater good and not defeatist timing. Stick to the plan the taxpayers paid for, or sign yourself up for a future of never-ending battles.

Consider the wind ordinance, and the lawsuit that was predicted is upon us all. Special interests have to get into the mainstream of compromise.

The mainstream of the Kishwaukee river and its watershed will be affected by this decision, time and time again. The Kishwaukee is one of the three “Class A” rivers in the state. As public officials, you are stewards of the quality of that river and all the parks and forest preserves around it. 

Make this first exception, let them build it, and others will come, saying, “The Genslers got an exception, they’re the precedent. You have to let us do it, too, if you let them,” and as I told the Chairman this afternoon, the whining will commence.

Set the strict precedent and protect all of our children’s natural resources.

However, since you don’t seem to listen very well, as proven by the lawsuit rotor beating over our heads, you could take another approach and make this a win-win for the people and the Genslers, and require the strictest elements and even cutting-edge features of conservation design development.

I make this as a challenge to the Genslers, too, which will garner them the goodwill of the Green community and their neighbors.

If this final plat and variance passes, add an amendment, because of the sensitive nature of the environment, for all the elements of Conservation design for each structure: require a closed-loop septic system with composting toilets, as well as a system  of rainwater catchment, and on-site recycling all of its gray water, a green roof, low-impact lighting, permeable pavement for all roads, driveways, sidewalks and patios, buried power lines, bioswales and buffer zones to the surrounding woodlands to absorb runoff.

The opportunity is here to be a showcase for pollution control,  stormwater management. This should be the start of a very strict Conservation Design Ordinance for any new development [residential or commercial] throughout the county. Look at what just happened with the failure of Cherry Valley floodwater SSA. All those little runoffs add up to a whole lot of flooding and public rejection. Don’t be rejected and set us up for more battles. Make us proud. Thank you.

Further notes and editorial comments: Jake Henry, a neighbor of the property in question, spoke as well, questioning woodland preservation, future runoff and adherence to the 2030 plan’s minimum acreage for exceptions to mandatory sewer. Board member Paul Gorski (D-5) expressed his concerns about adherence to the 2030 plan and proposed consideration of “an amendment to the variation to include conditions regarding Conservation Design elements.”

Much to my amazement, the board voted 16-11 to lay over the final plat for the consideration of adding elements of Conservation Design in an amendment to the final plat and variance. I had polled my sources, and I thought I didn’t have a deer-in-the-headlights of a chance of stopping the approval. I just spoke to reinforce all efforts and treasure involved in the last three years of approving the 2030 plan.

Much to my  appreciation, those of us in the audience could literally hear various members of the board thinking as they voted. They had actually listened to the public commentary pleadings. I was impressed.

As I left the meeting, I ran into the Genslers and their attorney on the steps of the Public Safety Building. Mr. Gensler was absolutely furious. He said he felt he had been told he was not a good person, although he used another word for that sentiment. I told him I would help him with green resources and experts to assist him with Conservation Design. He was still stinging from the vote, and said, “Don’t ‘Sir, me!” He went on to avidly assert he had been “run around by the city and the county” when all he wanted to do was build homes for his family. His attorney and a gentleman who I think was his son told me to contact them later, motioning to leave the matter be for the unpleasant moment. I did.

I’ve arranged for experts with the Illinois Renewable Energy Association, of which I am a board member, to garner references and contractors for all the points I mention in my county board meeting comments. They will be forwarded to the county, Gorski and the Genslers. Either we control the pollution and stormwater runoff (residential and commercial) property by property, or our future will continue to be badly flooded in many ways.

Gorski informs me that he will try to get the matter on the agenda for the county board’s zoning committee meeting on Wed., March 24 in the county administration building at 5:30 p.m. He and other board members are concerned that this plat and variance could indeed set a precedent—for more small groups of urban sprawl with the “tuxedo” of Conservation Design on them.

The deer-in-the-headlights may get hit in oncoming traffic one way or another.

For more about the county board meeting, go to http://rockrivertimes.com/2010/03/12/county-board-to-consider-amendment-to-subdivision-asking-for-septic/

From the March 17-23, 2010 issue

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