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Gensler variation approved to waive sewer requirement
Posted By Staff On March 26, 2010 @ 9:58 am In Happening Now | 1 Comment
• News and notes from the March 25 Winnebago County Board meeting
By Stuart R. Wahlin
In a 22-5 vote March 25, members of the Winnebago County Board opted to disregard the county’s recently-adopted 2030 Land Resource Management Plan, which expressly discourages development on well and septic systems. (See “County’s stance vs. septic faces first test” in the March 3-9, 2010, issue).
This tenet of the 2030 plan, which cost taxpayers in excess of $350,000 to develop, is designed to promote orderly and efficient growth, while limiting sprawl and preventing “leapfrog” development by requiring connection to public infrastructure.
The only exceptions to the requirement are Conservation Design subdivisions, which are clustered developments designed with the preservation of green space and natural resources in mind, or residential lots of at least 40 acres in agricultural areas. Another exception to the rule, as was learned March 25, would be if board members simply decided to overlook the requirement.
In 2007, the Gensler family, owners of Gensler Gardens, purchased 9.89 acres at 7631 Stillman Valley Road in Rockford Township with the hope of building several homes for family members.
To that end, the Genslers prevailed in their request to rezone the agricultural land, despite resistance from neighbors and a unanimous recommendation by the Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) to deny the request.
The County Board’s Zoning Committee, and subsequently the full board, voted to grant the Genslers’ request in 2008, however.
March 25 would be the last hurdle facing the Genslers, as board members would rule whether to approve the final plat for the Garden Estates subdivision and a related variance to waive the county’s sewer requirement, because the property is not served by the Rock River Water Reclamation District’s public infrastructure grid.
The requests were originally on the County Board’s March 11 agenda, but board members agreed to a layover after public speakers, including The Rock River Times Editor and Publisher Frank Schier, urged the county to stick to its 2030 plan.
The vote has been described as the county’s first test of the 2030 plan, and Schier warned that granting the variance could set a dangerous precedent, opening the door for similar requests.
Schier returned March 25, explaining he’d nearly been denied the opportunity by Chairman Scott Christiansen’s (R) office to speak to board members that night, because there was concern he would be speaking about a zoning issue.
Board rules typically do not allow for public comments regarding zoning matters to be voted on, but the requests by the Genslers do not fall under the zoning ordinance, and are therefore subject to public comments. After speaking with Christiansen about his request to speak, Schier was placed on the agenda under public participation.
“This raises the issue—it’s a very, very important issue—that zoning can’t be spoken about before you,” Schier told board members. “I think that was a mistake. I think you’re over-stressing the possible litigation dangers there. I wish you’d reconsider that.”
Turning his attention to the Gensler requests, Schier said, “You’re not the only one that seems to want to ignore it,” referring to other local media outlets.
“They let their competitiveness edit the news,” he asserted. “In other words, if one of your competitors dares to engage a free public speech segment of any public meeting as a professional advocate or, God forbid, just a plain citizen, ignore them.”
Schier noted The Rock River Times has been publishing articles about renewable energy and other green issues since the paper was established, suggesting other local media have only jumped on the bandwagon in recent days. WREX-TV, for instance, now refers to itself as “Rockford’s green leader.”
“I’ve seen much of the media now, since it’s become a fashion statement, become what I call ‘green fashionistas,’” Schier noted. “But for the hard issues, like the elements of Conservation Design and the Gensler issue…they’re not there.”
Schier tipped his hat to the Genslers as a respectable local family, adding: “But remember another great family that was before you once, and that was the Ditzlers. The Ditzlers didn’t get much respect. In fact, they got a highway rammed right through their property.”
Through the use of “quick-take” eminent domain about 10 years ago, the county seized blind veteran Tom Ditzler’s wetland property, an area also considered sacred by Native Americans, to make way for the Harrison Avenue extension.
“I respect the Ditzlers, I respect the Genslers, but I respectfully say to you, too, that the 2030 plan is the 2030 plan,” Schier stressed to board members. “We have presented elements of Conservation Design, which can be an alternative.”
Schier warned board members, however, not to be fooled in the future by developers touting facets of Conservation Design.
“All those elements cannot become an excuse for sprawl,” he warned. “You have a 2030 plan. It says you will have sewer and water, not septic. Please stick to that in the future…and don’t get captured by Conservation Design, and elements of Conservation Design, dressed up in that green, transparent tuxedo. Remember, that’s not Mother Nature under there.”
Petitioner Scott Gensler followed Schier’s remarks by thanking board members for granting the family’s 2008 request to rezone then-agricultural property to a “rural estate” designation. Gensler also thanked board members for considering the final plat and variation to be voted on minutes later.
“My family is looking forward to being done with this political process and is excited to build our future homes,” he asserted.
Earlier in the week, the local daily publication’s editorial staff urged board members to grant the sewer variation, arguing the exception to the 2030 plan should not be considered a precedent. In its endorsement, the daily did not mention that Gensler Gardens is one of its advertisers, however.
Contacted prior to the vote, Gensler attorney Bryan Selander declined an opportunity to comment regarding the issues surrounding his clients’ requests.
When the matters came to the floor, only Bob Kinnison (R-10) and Steve Schultz (R-2) voted against approval of the final plat, but several more board members put their foot down when it came to waiving the sewer requirement.
Paul Gorski (D-5), who’d requested the layover during the March 11 meeting so that the possibility of Conservation Design elements could be considered for the subdivision, explained: “The final plat actually isn’t contrary to our 2030 plan. This variation to the subdivision is contrary to our 2030 plan.
“But also contrary to our 2030 plan would be the suggestions that were offered to introduce Conservation Design principles into a subdivision this small,” he noted, referring to Schier’s proposals during the March 11 meeting. “Our 2030 plan doesn’t give consideration to Conservation Design principles in subdivisions or areas less than 40 acres, so any amendment, any change to this variation to include those elements, wouldn’t be appropriate.”
Because the plat and variation do not fall under the zoning code, and there was no ZBA hearing to afford public input, Gorski asked that the county look into establishing a public hearing process for such matters.
In a roll call, only Gorski, Pearl Hawks (D-6), Kinnison, Schultz and Dave Yeske (R-2) cast “no” votes, and the variation was approved.
In other zoning news, board members adopted a resolution establishing a fee schedule for wind turbines. Upon application for review or inspection, a fee of $25 per foot of height will be imposed for each of five or fewer turbines. For six or more turbines, the fee is reduced to $12 per foot of height apiece. If an inspector determines a major turbine component must be replaced, a flat fee of $1,200 will be applied.
The board also approved the renewal and expansion of a special-use permit (SUP) for Cordray Brothers, Inc., to allow a stone and gravel quarry operation at 4723 S. Conger Road in Seward Township. The board issued a related SUP permitting concrete manufacturing on the site.
• Opposing a reduction of state income tax revenue to be passed on to the county. Historically, the state remits 10 percent of its income tax revenue to local governments, which the county relies on to help cover public safety and criminal justice costs. Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn’s (D) proposed budget would reduce the county’s share by $1.6 million. The resolution urges state government to follow the example of local governments statewide, which have made cuts to live within their means, and not to shift its deficit burden onto municipalities.
• Authorizing submission of an application to the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration for the creation of an economic development district (EDD) in partnership with Boone County, which would make the two-county area eligible for federal grants related to infrastructure and other economic development projects. Winnebago County’s annual cost for participation in the EDD is $48,375. (See “County Board to consider implementing economic development district” from the March 17-23 online edition).
• Allocating $10,000 from landfill tipping fees toward a City of South Beloit’s $15,000 estimated cost for a remediation plan related to the former Beloit Foundry. Once the remediation plan is completed, the city would be eligible for a $450,000 grant for the site cleanup.
• Authorizing a change order, reflecting a $103,036.21 cost decrease, for the East Riverside Boulevard development project to Rockford Blacktop Construction. A related resolution, modifying two professional service agreements with Missman, Stanley & Associates for additional design and right-of-way acquisition, was also adopted at a cost of $54,395.
• Executing a $36,624.21 construction engineering agreement with Fehr-Graham & Associates for work related to the reconstruction of the Lakeside Drive culvert. A related resolution awarded Pease Construction, Inc., of Ringwood, a $202,468 contract for reconstruction of the culvert.
• Awarding $139,000 to Maggio Truck Center for the purchase of two tandem trucks to replace trucks in the fleet with more than 200,000 miles.
• Authorizing the execution of two one-year lease agreements with existing renters—DPL Asset Management, LLC and Legal Helpers, P.C.—at 555 N. Court St., which the county purchased late last year in an effort to consolidate a number of Health Department operations under one roof.
Board members unanimously confirmed the appointments of Lori Burke, of AMCORE Financial, Inc., Kent Mallquist, of Alhark Corporation, and former RadioWorks President Bob Rhea Jr. to the newly-created Rockford Area Venue and Entertainment Authority (RAVE). RAVE will oversee programming for the Coronado Theatre, Davis Park and the MetroCentre.
Sheriff Dick Meyers (D) was presented with the Illinois Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve’s (ESGR) Above and Beyond Award. The recognition, awarded to only five in the state, is presented to employers who go “above and beyond” the requirements of the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA).
Isidro Barrios (D-11) was absent.
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