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Meet John Doe: A guide to challenging zoning changes

July 17, 2013

By Paul Gorski

I outlined in “Meet John Doe: County ignores long-range plans, wasting tax dollars, risking growth,” July 3-9 issue (http://rockrivertimes.com/2013/07/03/meet-john-doe-county-ignores-long-range-plans-wasting-tax-dollars-risking-growth/) how the Winnebago County Board has ignored long-term planning goals for short-term gains. The county board is not alone in this regard, as our local cities and villages are tempted to do the same.

If you’re thinking about challenging a zoning change, I suggest you first clearly identify your objections as soon as you learn of the project. Know your goal.

Next, you should: 1) find out what the rules are for protesting the zoning change; 2) obtain legal representation to help voice your concerns; 3) file a protest if applicable; and 4) present your objections to the Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA).

Properly filing a protest or legal objection, if applicable, and presenting evidence supporting your position at the ZBA hearing are critical. Technically, only testimony given at the ZBA hearing is to be considered by officials voting on these issues. Depending on the zoning change, a protest/legal objection may force more than a simple majority vote to pass the change.

Focus on demonstrating how changing the zoning conflicts with existing plans and, more importantly, the long-term negative financial impact of the zoning change, regardless of short-term gains.

Case in point is a proposed shopping center at Perryville and Rote roads in Rockford. To make the development a reality, the zoning must be changed, and a reduction of green space from 10 percent to 4 percent is being requested.

Specific evidence challenging this zoning change would include that the zoning change is inconsistent with the city’s long-term plan, as the proposed changes would allow a store or stores to operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week, directly adjacent to a residential neighborhood.

The existing plan calls for a buffer of small offices or daytime-operated stores between the neighborhood and any such large development. This buffer is to put distance between the car and truck traffic and the lights that come from a 24-hour retail operation, as the traffic and lighting may affect the quality of life in the local neighborhood.

With the reduction of green space from 10 percent to 4 percent, this development will likely aggravate any existing flooding conditions in the adjacent neighborhood. Combine the loss of green space with the increase in paved surface area, and we may have to pay for potentially expensive flood control costs in the future.

Regionally, we have a poor record of flood management, as shown by the city’s buyout of flood-ravaged homes and the long list of areas with flooding problems, including: the Buckbee Creek and Madigan Creek watersheds; Windrush, Nipigon and Lookout drives; streets south east of Mulford and Harrison; and homes adjacent to Bell School Road. I would see us needing to add the neighborhood adjacent to this development to our flood list in just a year or two.

I’ve offered strong evidence in this case, but that’s not always enough sometimes to overcome “knee-jerk” decisions made by some elected officials.

I encourage you to use the law to your advantage; file a protest, if applicable, and present testimony at the ZBA hearing. Then, make your case to your elected officials and the public at large through letters to the editor and/or a press conference or two.

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 17-23, 2013, issue

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