By Frank Schier
Editor & Publisher
No matter how I hope green things seem to be changing, the more I realize they remain a pain—yes, I’m a dupe.
To put this in the proper frame of reference, let me tell you a little story. Once upon a time, a newspaper publisher (me) was invited by this group of lawyers to participate in a farce on stage, known locally as “The Legal Follies.”
Admittedly, these follies go on every day in the Winnebago County court system (like a perpetual and avid offender getting off because of a judge-and-attorney relationship), but this was an open presentation of making fun of public figures, and I agreed to participate in the “funning” at my “expense.”
This was shortly after the time we had saved Gary Kaeding’s life by getting him out of the Chester Mental Health Center (where the ax murderers are) by non-stop calls to the governor’s office because we felt then-State’s Attorney Paul Logli had been instrumental in sending him there in an outrageous miscarriage of justice. Kaeding was “different” but not “delusional,” nor was he dangerous to anyone.
As we were rehearsing in the Coronado, I marveled to myself how nice everyone was being (because Kaeding had attacked the entire legal system in the county in various ways; and although we disagreed with his presentation and some of his points, we defended his right to free speech and fair redress before the court—pro se—or without a lawyer). Then, my marveling illusion was shattered as a lawyer walked by me and said, “Yeah, that’s how we deal with the press; we co-opt them.” Well, did I feel rather dumb at that point? Yes. And I feel rather dumb “déjà vu” all over again.
When the Winnebago County Board passed the 2030 Land Resource Management Plan, I really thought we had saved 17,000 acres with the great effort put forth to move those acres from industrial or heavy residential zoning designation back to agricultural or green space for our future quality of life.
Well, after the Winnebago County Board’s recent vote to approve the “just-won’t-go-away” Cannell Farms Subdivision petition, a coming development west of Rockton, obviously the only green space considered was the area to be filled in various wallets and bank accounts.
Outrageously, this vote was taken without the minutes of the Zoning Committee meeting including testimony on this matter even being typed! No, the board members could not read them because they were not there. What kind of management incompetence is that? Oh, it could be purposeful incompetence, so testimony—like the very testimony of Rockton Township Supervisor Tom Jencius, who spoke against the petition—would not be included. This paper published his column against it, on the front page of our May 4-10 issue. But all the environmental groups were vapor on this first test of the 2030 plan. The hot air emitting from supposed conservationists about the evils of sprawl in the area is just so much bad breath from pretenders.
Since the “no-political-controversy-for-my-paycheck greenies” failed to show up and pay any attention, here’s the recap. There were really five motions on the subject in the April 12 board meeting.
First, the final plat was read in, and Zoning Committee Chairman Jim Webster (R-2) put it on the floor. Defeated by Webster, former chairman Dave Yeske asserts Webster had the authority to pull the entire matter from the agenda.
Webster said he didn’t know about that and said the whole board had informally said they wanted to close the matter. He also said State’s Attorney Joe Bruscato affirmed the vote could be taken without the minutes being published.
Second, Steve Schultz (R-2) believed there was important testimony on this issue. He made a motion the board should lay the entire matter over so everyone could read and consider that testimony once the minutes from the Zoning Committee meeting were produced. The motion was seconded. Webster said it was noted the Zoning Committee voted for the Cannell subdivision 4-2. With Angie Goral (D-7) absent for family matters, Frank Gambino (R-14), Pearl Hawks (D-6), Lynne Strathman (R-1) and Kevin Horstman (R-5) voting for the Cannell Subdivision and Schultz and Webster voting against it.
Schultz said, “We’ve been told how important it is to consider the testimony of record is at ZBA hearings, and we get the minutes in ZBA cases, and the board did not receive the minutes from the Zoning Committee case.”
Schultz said it was a “landside vote against the layover. It was pathetic.” Schultz said it has been historical protocal to honor board member requests and intention if the matter was from their district. Both he and Webster represent District 2, where the public sentiment is very much against the Cannell Subdivision.
The neighbors of the proposed subdivision formed a not-for-profit group, Winnebago Citizens for Controlled Growth, and filed a lawsuit, which they lost.
So here’s the four-part joke on the folks Webster and Schultz represent (and really the joke on the whole future of the 2030 plan for the rest of us):
1. The legal system dumped you.
2. Chairman Scott Christiansen, by not providing management to produce the minutes, dumped you (and Tom Jencius’ testimony).
3. The whole county board ignored your elected representatives (they broke historical protocol) and dumped you.
4. And by the way, Winnebago County Forest Preserve, Natural Land Institute and Winnebago County Soil and Water Conservation District (all had previously testified against the Cannell Subdivision one way or another) also dumped you, abandoned you, quit on the issue, gave up the fight and acquiesced to the sprawl.
So much for the “expertise” and “commitment” of supposed greenies and representative government. Special interests win; citizens right next door lose as to what their neighborhood will be like for them and their children, our children’s future. It gets worse.
The final plat—it passed.
Item No. 3 was the center area to be common, green space and space available for backup septic should the initial septic system fail in the long oval. (Hey, remember all the lip service to the “Principles of the Sacred Conservation Design” put forth by the 2030 Steering Committee?) No other Planned Community Development (PCD) that had been approved allowed that dual use of common space. Typically, that kind of space has to be a lot of record or an outlot; and in either case, is not allowed as a backup system.
More Sacred Conservation Design Principles were sacrificed on the altar on green dollars when Item 3, the landscape plan, was perverted, totally. The issue there is the original ordinance for this PCD required the landscaping to be consistent with the plan that was put forward by the developer. Gee, Conservation Design! Comparing the new plan Cannell submitted with the original plan, there’s not as much landscaping, trees, bushes. He reduced the plantings. He’s going on the cheap. It gets worse. Here comes the big one.
Item 4 was a request for a variation allowing the development not to be on public sewer and water. They needed the variation for this subdivision to be on private well and septic systems. Why did they do this? Because the septic was approved in the original PCD ordinance that passed for this development in 2009. Webster also cited the 2009 Village of Rockton vote to allow private well and septic within their mile-and-a-half jurisdiction from their borders.
Water Conservation District report back in 2009. But that agency did not step forward this time.Because wells and septic were back on the table, Schultz gave the argument that this land was “restricted soils” as denoted by the Winnebago County Soil and
However, the new officials on the Village of Rockton Board now may step forward. More on that in a bit. It’s going to get even worse before a remote possibility of the better may appear.
Item 5 was a variation for utility placement. Cannell asked to have the utilities, electrical services boxes on the front of properties instead of the rear. The only reason the developer wanted to make this change was again to reduce the lot sizes and increase the number of lots he could get out of that acreage.
Webster said the contention by Gambino (a Realtor) was that he could show many homes with the utility pad in front. Webster said he answered for every one Gambino could show, he could show two that were in back, and that is supposedly the code. (Boil, boil, toil and trouble, Conservation Design is a pile of rubble!) “So much for asethetics,” Webster said.
“It was common for the county board to take note of the times when both of the members from that district were against the issue,” Schultz stressed again. “Both Webster and I are against Cannell. That was my last gasp, and it didn’t work.”
As noted above, the Village of Rockton may be considering another vote on whether it will allow private well and septics for Cannell within a mile-and-a-half from village boundaries. Gee, maybe all those groups I believed in will come forward to really fight against sprawl, and fight for Conservation Design, or give some pretty teeth to all the lip service they gave the 2030 plan. But I think I’m a dupe because this is reality, not deceitful planning.
All “funning” and massive “expenses” considered, I’m not in the polite co-opt anymore. If you think this is bad, it’ll get worse. After all, we have to consider wind farms and then the Rock River.
From the May 25-31, 2011, issue