The Grundy County Zoning Board of Appeals voted unanimously against the zoning request that has Southmor Road residents worried their neighborhood may be the home of a future pig farm.
About 80 people attended Wednesday night's three-hour meeting on Bruce Barr's request to rezone his 57.2 acres at 3245 Southmor Road from agricultural residential to agricultural zoning. Members of the public have been attending committee meetings in mass numbers since August to protest the request.
"We're very satisfied with the yes vote," said Ray Grossi, resident of Southmor Road and one of the leaders of the charge against the rezoning. "But we still have another committee meeting and the full board vote. But I think we feel pretty positive we're making some headway."
The ZBA's recommendation not to change the zoning will go to the Planning and Zoning Committee, which will meet Nov. 30. After that, the request will go to the full Grundy County Board on Dec. 13.
Committee members Nancy Bjelland and Joe Bexson both stated publicly they felt the A-R zoning was still the highest and best use of the land.
The rezoning request has become controversial because a rumor has circulated that a pig farm will be put on the property, which is surrounded by both farming and residential property. Grossi has testified multiple times Barr told him he intends to put in a 1,000-hog confinement on the land.
As with previous meetings, Barr was not present.
Barr's lawyer, Frank Cortina, has previously said Barr made this statement out of anger from someone questioning him on what he was going to do with his own property. But Cortina told the committee Wednesday that Barr has made inquiries on hog confinements.
Cortina said Barr plans to look into the uses that any other agricultural land owner can do and continued that Barr has investigated a hog confinement. In a call prior to the meeting, Cortina said Barr has spoken with the Illinois Department of Agriculture about it. Barr's ultimate goal is to build his dream house there, he said.
"We've had several requests from A-R (agricultural residential zoning) to build a building, change the number of animals (they're allowed to have.) ... We have granted variances to a number of people. What is so unique? Is there something underlying?" asked Chairman Robert Breisch.
If Barr wants to plant row crops or build an accessory building before his residence, as Cortina has stated, this can all be done under the present zoning, Breisch continued, so why does Barr want to go through all this?
"He believes as the owner of the property he can make use of the property like everybody else (with agricultural zoning can)," said Cortina, who added the use of the property is not under consideration and cannot be a condition of the zoning change.
Cortina has stated he advised Barr to pursue the zoning change because under A-R a variance would be required to build a large barn for his farm equipment prior to the construction of a home. Multiple boards have stated this can be done with a variance under A-R.
Cortina argued Wednesday and had Rod Tonelli of Ruettiger, Tonelli & Associates, an engineering and planning company in Joliet, testify that Grundy's comprehensive plan puts agricultural use as its primary and preferred use. Therefore, the rezoning should be "the easiest decision this board has had to make," he said.
The Land Use Department recommended the property stay A-R because the area has grown in residential use and with the bluffs, heavy wooded spots, ravines and other landscape, A-R is a better fit.
Attorney for some of the neighbors, David Bzdill, argued the only reason Barr would want to change the zoning is to be able to do intensified farming, which includes feed lots, hog farms and poultry confinements.
"That issue in and of itself creates a problem," Bzdill said. "It is not a simple issue of down zoning."
Cortina has said Barr intends to plant row crops for now and is requesting the rezoning in order to construct a large barn. Bzdill argued he does not need to rezone to plant crops and could ask for a variance for the accessory building, which has been allowed often by the board.
The property was zoned A-R from A in 2006 to allow for a subdivision that was never constructed. At that time, the board approved the change after hearing proof the property was not prime farming ground. This has not changed, Bzdill said.
"This would result in a hardship to surrounding residential uses," he said.
About 17 of those surrounding residents spoke at the meeting, all against the zoning change. All stated similar objections, that a hog farm would decrease the value of their property. This use would cause odors and could result in a contamination of their wells due to drainage from the farm.
In addition, even if the rezoning was granted and Barr did not open a large hog confinement, there would be the possibility he would sell the property and someone else could use it for intense farming.
April Gerstung, neighbor to the property, said the property is already being prepared for a confinement with the construction of a road and fencing around a large amount of acres on the property.
"(Barr) has already set up the infrastructure of a confinement facility and started it without a permit," John McNabb of Southmor Road said.
"I understand he has the right to ask for the change, but we have the right to ask you not to grant the change," he said.