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Editorial: Real zoning or ‘Green Tuxedos and Ball Gowns’?

March 31, 2010

By Frank Schier
Editor & Publisher

Editor’s note: this editorial is an expansion and loose reconstruction on mostly extemporaneous remarks made during the public comment period of the Winnebago County Board meeting, March 25. The major questions concern what is proper land use for all, everybody. It used to be called “Zoning.”

Hello. Frank, The Taxpayer, here, to entertain you once again. As some of  you know, I spoke to the county board at the last meeting about the Gensler  final plat and variation for the 9.89-acre Garden Estates subdivision. This is the first test of the county’s expensive 2030 plan, which I helped pay for. When I sent in my application at noon today to speak tonight, I was a few minutes late, and I called the chairman’s office to confirm that I would be able to speak, due to the lateness of my request. I was informed I could speak but not about zoning for the Genslers. I requested a conversation with the chairman, and he kindly called me back. We agreed I had not spoken about zoning at the last meeting, rather a final plat and variance, and I could speak about the same again at this meeting.

But let’s talk about zoning anyway, just  as a general concept. The ban on public, free speech before this board on zoning issues is a violation of our free speech rights about one of the most important issues this body deals with on a consistent basis. The county’s legal counsel has argued, and the board has agreed, that new issues or evidence brought up in this public comment period can be construed to be a violation of the evidence requirements from the county Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) and the Zoning Committee. Those recommendations form the base of what this board finally decides. That is to say, our board members are supposedly not intelligent enough to sort out what is new evidence and what was presented before the ZBA and Zoning. That is also to say, people who may not have been aware of the ZBA or Zoning proceedings have no right to speak about a matter that may affect them greatly. I think that if the public was duly warned not to present new evidence, and the wise ears of the board are in full discernment, the overly litigious reservations of the county’s legal counsel can be set aside. Let people speak about zoning. It’s a hugely important issue, and everyone should have the freedom to address this body in its full meeting. Please revisit this free speech ban; first, at the committee level, and then the whole board should consider free speech again. Many “Frank The Taxpayers” actually exist.

I won’t give my full name because apparently, and not surprisingly, to the other media, I don’t exist. I say this because none of the issues I raised at our last enjoyable conversation were featured in other media reports because I am one of the media. Never mind, some let their competitiveness edit the news by exclusion. In other words, if one of your competitors dares to engage in the free public speech segment of a public meeting as a professional, an advocate or god forbid just as a citizen, ignore them.

While giving appropriate and very good graces to the Genslers, the issues I brought up apparently don’t concern the daily. The elements of Conservation Design may be a mystery to them. Yes, those do exist who say, “I’m green because it’s a real trend and fashion statement now.” And yes, they and others have discovered the truth of the motto of the Winnebago County Green Business Awards, “Sustainability is Good Business” and the economic motto of the Rock River Trail, “Green Equals Gr$$n!” (please see the full-page ad on page C4). And oddly,  they have noted, we have no visionaries anymore.

Yet, many see, with ever-increasing checkbooks of knowledge, that protecting and preserving the environment is economically and culturally profitable. Real Greenies really love our natural areas and want them available to everyone. Real Greenies know jobs, educated people and their employers are all attracted to the enhanced quality of life that brings our future children and adults out into the beauty of our prairies, woodlands, wetlands and rivers.

 Others exist concerned with “cool” over  content, belonging over believing, trends over truth, and exclusiveness over purported inclusiveness. These “chosen” enlightened few  purport a spirituality as shallow as it is harmfully intolerant. Just cross them, and you’ll find out. I call them “Green Fashionistas.” Welcome to the secret shadows of the “new age” and the purchasable, seduceable, gullible media cesspool. I have the film on my stupidity, too. Some like to go along to get along, don’t upset those pension plans, stay politically correct. Some actually tell the truth and fight for the raw truth no matter how personally dangerous or uncomfortable the raw truth is.

Because the Genslers are the fine folks with a fine business, no one wants to put them through any more hell than the bureaucracy already has.

Again, the raw truth is they know they purposed a project in an environmentally and economically sensitive area. Again, the irony is they have two great greenhouses that sell great trees and plants. The raw truth is they are going to have to cut down quite a few trees and kill quite a few plants. Again, the irony is if anyone will probably do this in the least harmful manner to the environment and restore the environment, it will be them.

The raw truth is this final plat and its variance stand as the first test of the 2030 plan. The raw truth is that we flunked the test because of fine folks caught in the middle at the wrong time on an issue they fully knew was controversial and not simple. It’s the never-ending world series of individual and private property rights versus the environment and the public good. It’s a hard ball world, and we all have the lumps to prove fast pitches, line drives and stolen bases.

Speaking of stolen bases, remember Tom and Jan Ditzler, and their daughter, Christina? They were and are a fine family, but the county board rammed a huge, four-lane road across their home plate. And they had fine land, too; it wasn’t a business; but it was beautiful woodlands, wetlands and creek, now ruined—it had a hidden  Native American cultural site, now overrun by a still-sinking road that roars through the quiet. That “fine” road through that fine family’s fine land didn’t concern the daily or this county  board too much at that time—there’s a fine how-do-you-do double standard. But let’s be fair. 

So, how do we do development? We can’t stop it, but we can contain it and make it environmentally friendly. That includes fighting windfarms that industrialize our natural landscape and threaten many qualities of animal and human lives. That includes fighting for every inch of natural areas and agriculture. That includes a concept called  Conservation Design.

Beware! Conservation Design can be urban sprawl all sold out in a green transparent tuxedo or ball gown. Then, we must state the raw truth that someone is impersonating Mother Nature; and they’re really wearing no clothes; and it’s not sexy. Yes, the “empoorers or empooresses” of development cloaked in Conservation Design present naked greed, deceitfully clothed in an attractive filter of green.

Unfiltered and contrary to many, I don’t believe there is any “safe” septic system. Wells can be contaminated and then pollute the aquifer. Demanding that we stick to municipal sewer and water for new development stands as the strongest constraint of urban sprawl. Why? Simple. Municipal sewer and water are expensive; either the taxpayer pays or the developer pays—now—at the time of development.

Otherwise, later, as the sprawl fills in around the septic systems, which will eventually fail, the taxpayers of the future, your kids, will pay for our mistakes today. That will cost more, now, in the very meanwhile and in the poor future.

Have you driven out Old River Road and on some of the sideroads? The raw truth is those cookie-cutter subdivisions repeat ugly and repeat ugly, one rooftop next to another. The animal-filled woods and plant-rolling farmlands were so lovely. Conservation Design subdivisions are prettier than cookie cutters, but they cost us our environmental and economic souls, if we fall for the fake Mother Nature that has really sold out to the developers and real estate industry.

Every instance (from here on out where the 2030 plan is tested) demands the choice of whether or not we’ll stab the future in the back. We just made the first wound. Can we heal it?

Largely repeating what I said at the last meeting. If this final plat and variance passes [and it did], add an amendment [which they did not], due to the sensitive nature of the environment. Require elements of conservation design for each structure. Require a closed-loop septic system with composting toilets, as well as a system  of rainwater catchment; an on-site recycling of grey water; a green roof; low-impact lighting; permeable pavement for all roads, driveways, sidewalks and patios; buried power lines; bioswales and buffer zones to absorb runoff to the surrounding woodlands and Kishwaukee River.

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 [requiring municipal sewer and water] for any new development throughout the county. Look at what just happened with the failure of Cherry Valley SSA. All those little runoffs add up to whole lots flooded and public rejection of the SSA. Don’t be rejected and set us up for more battles. Make us proud. Thank you.

Using research provided by Drs. Bob and Sonia Vogl,  this paper provided the chairman of the Zoning Committee, Chairman Christiansen’s office and the Genslers’ attorney the following:

Best wishes to all,

John Sweeney has my two textbooks on Conservation Design for reference, but I would like them back this week. As I promised, here are some references for the Genslers. I really hope they include these elements in their new homes and make those homes showcases for Green building. Such an achievement would certainly be good advertising for their business.

Drs. Bob and Sonia Vogl were kind enough to provide the following:

Permeable Paving Stone: Unique Landscapes by Philip T. Schleifer L.A. Inc., Garden Prairie, IL, Office: (815) 597-1019. Andy’s Professional Landscaping, Cherry Valley (815) 332-3305.

Composting toilets: Human waste collections in a sealed container with vent. Waste decomposes over time and can be used as compost. Sun Mar and Biolet brands order through Ace Hardware and Home Depot.

Closed loop sewage treatment system: Home-sized unit made in Afton, Minn., includes composter, grey water, water recycling. Complete system cuts water consumption from 75 gals/person/day to 3 gals. 3 units to a complete system  www.equarius.com

Grey water systems: Collects water from sinks, laundry and showers. Disinfect with either chlorination or sand filter.   Use for lawn and garden. www.bracsystems.com.

Rainwater collection systems: Collects rain running off the roof. Use for lawn and garden water. Bracsystems.com

Rain Barrels:  Winnebago County Soil and Water Conservation District.   www.winnebagoswcd.org/rain barrel handout.pdf. (815) 9652392 ext. 3.

Native landscaping with swells and swales: Tyler’s Landscaping, (Tyler Smith, Rockford Park District Board Member) Rockford, IL, (815) 636-8500.

Green Roofs with native plants: Native landscapes with swells and swales. Simply Prairies, Ashton, IL, http://simplynaturalchoices.com/Simplyprairies.html

This sample list of sources provided by Drs. Robert & Sonia Vogl, consultants on Renewable Energy & Sustainable Living,    Winnebago County Freedom Field Board Members, President and Vice-President, Illinois Renewable Energy Association

References to high-energy efficiency homebuilders (they are really the way to save some money and be leaders at the same time) are also available upon request. (815) 732-7332.

Dear reader, the county board did not make us proud. Our only hope in this first test is the Genslers themselves, as you yourselves will be our only hope in every single future test of the 2030 plan. You, personally, must make your county board member fully aware you do not want urban sprawl or an industrialized countryside. Reject even Green energy if it comes in the towering form of a high-velocity wind turbine. If you don’t, a bridge across the Rock River at the mouth of the Kishwaukee River to a new Northwest Highway may find its way through the back yard of your favorite place of peace, forest or river bank. 

Some in the countryside are allergic to controversy, as illustrated by my favorite eastern European saying, “Tell the truth, and RUN!”

I’m not going anywhere, and most of you aren’t, either. We’re here to stumble. Get used to what’s coming. The Ditzlers stayed. Stop by their place, and bring some beer. Take a look. Ask them how they feel. Ask them what their land and lives used to be like. They’re honest, too.

 Deceitfully-constructed Conservation Design can be the attractive light at the end of the 2030 plan’s historic tunnel, which is really a huge highway that will run us all over again and again. Why? Because we forgot the lesson of the Ditzlers and Genslers. Please don’t forget those lessons of family love. Creeping sprawl will haughtily haunt all places. Peace will not exist, no matter how much the Green Fashionistas dress misery up and call it fine-line sophistication. Sprawl is sprawl. That’s raw. It’s a permanent wound. Are you going to stab the future in the back?

From the March 31-April 6, 2010 issue

One Comment

  1. John

    April 1, 2010 at 12:44 pm

    I have an idea. Why not issue permits based on a one-for-one trade? That is, let’s tell all of the real and imaginary Sunil Puri’s out there that for every “project” involving undisturbed land or farmland they “develop”, they must put together a project to “re-develop” one area/commercial tract in downtown. Of course laws would need to be changed which is where this idea would fall completely apart.

    I bet that such a requirement would send the carpetbag “developers” scurrying away.

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