McHenry County government has been working for three and a half years to develop something called a Unified Development Ordinance, UDO for short. Essentially, it is a document that combines the zoning, sign and subdivision ordinances into one document. If done right, a UDO resolves any conflicts that may have existed between the various separate regulations and streamline the regulatory framework for development projects.
“We live here. You don’t.”
What could the table full of developers say to that?
It was clear in Island Lake last night that the days of development companies coming to small towns to sell their visions for improving these communities by giving them gas stations and restaurants, attractive housing for seniors, upscale homes for young families, and a chicken in every pot are over. The curtain has been drawn back and the charade exposed.
As one resident said, “You are here to get the zoning on this property so you can turn-around and sell it and make your money.” (Wow, where was that guy 8 years ago during the go-go land development times?)
Let’s be clear. No one is against someone making money. What people object to is when someone uses someone else (in a less than genuine way) to make their money.
Like the snake oil salesmen of old, the land speculators roll in to town with the supposed cure for all that ails the residents, and leave as soon as the money has been made. And the townsfolk are left with a bad taste in their mouths – and a costly lesson.
Just because the development company paid a lot of money for the former Rimas Lodge property on the shores of Griswold Lake does not mean they are entitled to get to develop it the way they want. There is a public process for determining what development is appropriate for a given area. There are traffic studies to be done, environmental assessments to conduct, groundwater recharge concerns, school impacts, municipal water system capacity to consider and much more.
Well, at last night’s continuation of the Village’s March Planning Commission meeting, the residents of Island Lake made it abundantly clear that they value the natural resources and small town character of their community. They made it clear that traffic in the River Road/Route 176 area is already a mess, and the last thing they need are several thousand more vehicle trips filling the local roads each day.
And besides, as was pointed out, there is no demand for housing in the area, evidenced by the fact that there is already a lot of capacity on the books. For example, the Walnut Glen subdivision in town has just 36 homes built and 228 empty lots. That developer is gone, and it is unclear what will happen with the remaining parts of that subdivision.
On election day, April 10th, the Village residents came out in great numbers to elect a new Village President (who was President until 8 years ago), Charles Amrich, based at least in part on their displeasure with the Rimas Lodge proposed development that the prior administration appeared to favor.
The people who live in Island Lake have spoken. They aren’t in the market for any snake oil.
The Planning Commission will reconvene to continue hearing from the public on May 30th at 7pm.
Illinois conservation land trusts have helped preserve more than 200,000 acres of open land in Illinois over the last 50 years. The conservation land trust movement is gaining momentum and is supported by private landowners who are concerned about disappearing open spaces, farmland and wildlife habitat, deteriorating watersheds and the need for increased local recreational opportunities, according to the Prairie State Conservation Coalition’s recent census.
“As we move into the 21st Century, Illinois residents are supporting conservation land trusts’ efforts to protect private land from inappropriate development,” said Brook McDonald, president of the Prairie State Conservation Coalition, Illinois’ state-wide association of conservation land trusts.
“Residents understand that more open space improves their quality of life, keeps property taxes low and ensures healthier communities for the future,” said McDonald.
There are 40 conservation land trusts in Illinois. Conservation land trusts are local, not-for-profit organizations that provide private property owners with a variety of legal tools to protect their property from inappropriate future development.
The most popular tool is a conservation easement, a legal agreement between a private property owner and a conservation land trust that allows the land to remain in private ownership. These agreements permanently restrict the type and amount of future development and activities that are permitted on a property to protect the land’s scenic and conservation values. In return, the property owner may receive significant income, estate and property tax benefits.
The Land Conservancy of McHenry County (TLC), the local conservation land trust, has preserved nearly 2,000 acres of land in McHenry County, the vast majority of which are preserved by permanent conservation easements. These lands are still owned by individuals and families who pay property taxes (at a reduced rate), still live on and use the lands as they have, and can pass the property on to heirs or sell it in the future. However, they rest assured that the land will never be developed.
In partnership with the McHenry County Farm Bureau, TLC is hosting a workshop for McHenry County landowners interested in learning more about how preservation of their land with a conservation easement can help them realize personal, estate planning and income tax deduction goals. Legal, tax, property valuation and conservation easement experts will be on hand, as will local individuals who have worked with TLC to preserve their lands with conservation easement.
I heard them before I saw them, hundreds of Canada geese. A raucous honking as the birds circled a pond, vying for a spot to spend the night. The sun was near the horizon, and as I drove home, I noticed ribbons of the birds flying as far as my eyes could see – some in the classic V-formation, others in long lines. All, presumably, in search of open water where they would spend the night.
Branta canadensis, as it is known to scientists, has proved to be a highly adaptable species that benefitted greatly from the rapid suburbanization of metro areas like Chicago since 1980. In fact, the geese like the suburbs so much, that many have stopped migrating – they are now considered a year-round resident species. Geese like the suburbs for several reasons: habitat, food and safety from predators.
Canada geese like open water, especially when it is free of places where predators can hide. People call these areas stormwater detention ponds, and have a tendency to keep the lawn mowed right up to the edge of the water. To a flock of geese, these neatly manicured detention areas are perfect.
Geese are herbivores, meaning that they eat mostly plants. They like grass and corn (which is a type of grass). And if there is one thing the suburbs have in abundance, it is grass. Plus, as development marched steadily westward into agricultural areas, the suburbs also put detention ponds and farm fields in close proximity. To the geese, we could not have planned it any better.
Finally, the suburbs tend to have fewer predators to bother geese. Many suburban communities have implemented programs to cull coyotes that might otherwise prey on geese. (Cull means to reduce a species’ population deliberately through hunting). Additionally, hunting, for sport or food, is not permitted in most suburban areas, providing geese with a large safe haven in the ‘burbs.
The birds are now found in such high numbers that many consider them pests. There exists a whole industry that offers to keep geese from golf courses, corporate campuses, public parks and airports. Some use border collies that harass the geese enough that they will not stay in an area. Others have machines that make noise to scare the geese and keep them away.
There is a simple way to keep geese away from some areas: plant tall vegetation. Seriously. Geese will not be comfortable in a pond that is ringed with tall grasses or shrubs – there are too many places where predators can hide. Similarly, by maintaining more tall vegetation in a golf course’s “rough,” geese will choose to spend their time elsewhere.
Personally, I like Canada geese – they mate for life and the parents work together to raise their young. And I appreciate their hardiness. About a Century ago, the Canada goose appeared headed for extinction due to hunting and habitat loss. After conservation efforts began in the 1960’s, they rebounded. Then, as more suburban development occurred, their population exploded, thanks in large part to open water detention ponds and mowed lawns.
It seems ironic that humans provide the ideal conditions for the geese to thrive, and then complain that there are too many of them.
The first TLC easement was accepted in 1991 from Leta & Alice Clark at the corner of Thompson Road & Route 120. The sisters wanted to be sure that their "Wildflower Preserve" was never developed, despite a friend's comment that the corner "would make a perfect spot for a gas station" one day! Actually, legend tells me that the friend's comment is what led the sisters to seek out someone to help them make sure that fate would never befall their lovely corner.
The photo was taken in April 2010 while driving past on Route 120, heading from McHenry to Woodstock. About 10 years ago, IDOT redid the intersection and took some land along Thomspon and 120, which I believe led to the eventual die-off of several oaks that were very near to the roads.
There was an enormous bur oak right at the corner that died in 2009. Some say "fungus" was the cause, but I feel in my heart that the bur oak's fate was sealed as soon as its roots were cut and crushed during the road work a decade ago.