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Meet John Doe: County ignores long-range plans, wasting tax dollars, risking growth
By Paul Gorski
That headline is sure to irritate a few people, so let’s look at it more closely. By “county” I mean the Winnebago County Board. “Long-range plans” refers to the county’s 2030 Land Resource Management Plan (LRMP). And “wasting tax dollars” refers to almost $300,000, or more, spent developing the LRMP.
According to the county’s website, the LRMP is: “a vision of how growth and development will affect land in the unincorporated areas of the County through the year 2030. More specifically, the 2030 Land Resource Management Plan details out the County’s growth goals, objectives and policies as well as illustrates same via the newly adopted 2030 Future Land Use Map.”
All this in response to the problems caused by unmanaged growth, including zoning conflicts, flooding, air pollution and more. Unfortunately, the board often ignores the recommendations of the plan, risking smart and profitable growth.
Some board members cite that the plan is only a guide. The plan is actually a law; an ordinance adopted in May 2009, following almost three years of intensive public meetings, debate in committees and local government review. Read the history: http://wincoil.us/departments/zoning,-planning-and-mapping/long-range-planning-projects/.
The documented bills to develop the LRMP were in the $250,000 range, but add to that staff time, meeting costs and additional attorney fees above those costs. We are easily at $300,000. All for a law the board largely ignores.
The LRMP was to guide the development of new zoning laws. Our zoning laws, the rules allowing where homes and businesses are to be built, and what exceptions are allowed, were supposed to be updated to match the LRMP. Four years later, our zoning rules have not been updated to match the plan.
What’s the harm in not following the LRMP? A guiding principle of the plan is that we should have orderly, contiguous growth. Grow from the edges of developed areas outward, with similar types of properties butting up against each other.
Prior to the LRMP, poor planning helped fuel resident outrage when an ethanol plant was proposed just outside Rockford. The board shouldn’t have approved residential development next to the property in question years ago, but once it did, it should have not considered allowing chemical manufacturing next to the neighborhood.
Despite the nearby homes, the ethanol plant rezoning passed. A resident lawsuit ensued. The lawsuit revealed unsavory facts about the developer, and eventually the development failed for a variety of reasons.
Also prior to the LRMP, bad long-range planning led to homes being built next to a quarry just off East State Street. There should have been a buffer zone of light industrial or commercial between the quarry and the homes, anticipating what the quarry might be used for in the future. No buffer zone was included.
Not too long ago, with the LRMP now in place, the quarry’s owner asked permission to start asphalt manufacturing at the quarry (a permitted use of old quarries). Residents challenged, but lost.
These problems might have been avoided by consistent application of thoughtful land-use plans and zoning laws.
That brings us to the current day, when the seeds of discontent have just been sowed. The board recently approved a request to change farm property to residential, and to then allow business functions on that residential property.
Reviewing the planning map, this is a perfect example of “spot zoning,” or creating a special property type right in the middle of well-laid plans. As county staff noted, the zoning change was not consistent with the LRMP. Nor is the property contiguous with any other like parcels of land being used for the same purpose.
What does the future hold for this area? Does the county authorize residential development in the same region or a commercial district? An oil refinery?
Developers like predictability, they like seeing a clear path to success. Spot zoning and inconsistent application of the rules set forth in the LRMP ordinance only gives developers reason to question, “Does the county have its act together?”
We risk: wasting taxpayer dollars, aggravating residents, sending mixed signals to developers, and the orderly growth of the county when we ignore the guiding principles set forth in law, the 2030 Land Resource Management Plan ordinance, adopted May 28, 2009.
The LRMP is so important that we offer it for purchase, with all its maps, amendments, and pages of narrative describing how crucial orderly growth is to Winnebago County. Perhaps we should buy copies for board members.
Paul Gorski (http://www.paulgorski.com) is a Cherry Valley Township resident who also authors the Tech-Friendly column seen in this newspaper.
From the July 3-9, 2013, issue