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Zoners rejects change for campground

County Board has final say on proposal

Published: Wednesday, April 17, 2013 4:13 p.m. CST

Following a long and emotional meeting Tuesday night, the Grundy County Zoning Board of Appeals of Appeals voted against the controversial plan for a campground in Goose Lake Township.

The petitioner, John Russ Jr., and his team, made the case for the proposed 29-space RV campground on the 44-acre property Russ owns along the Kankakee River in Grundy County. Some residents spoke in favor of it, but the overwhelming majority were against.

Ultimately, the board sided with that group.

"I don't think I'm very comfortable with what I've heard tonight," Board Member Ruth Herman said before the vote.

All three members in attendance — Herman, Vice Chairwoman Nancy Bjelland and Chairman Robert Breisch — voted to not recommend changing the zoning of the property from industrial to agricultural. That effectively nullified the other petition for a special use permit the campground would need to move forward.

Board members Joe Bexson and Chris Kindelspire were not present.

The plan gained approval from the planning commission in March and was put on file by a hesitant county board April 10.

Numerous county board members, following public comment at their regular meeting, entertained the idea of shooting down the plan then. They ended up voting to file the petitions to give both sides a chance to make their case.

Both sides did Wednesday night in a meeting that often got raucous.

Russ and his attorney, Ken Carlson, presented the testimony from the project engineer, a real estate appraiser and a planner.

The engineer, Robert Schmude, attempted to alleviate concerns about flooding in the area. Real estate appraiser Jay Heap responded to audience concerns about what the campground would do to home values. He said there are "similar use" properties in the area, so he did not expect the campground to negatively impact land values.

Planner Rodney Tonelli said using the property for recreational purposes would be consistent with the natural resources present at the site.

Russ also said some of the lots would be moved to address concerns about their proximity to nearby homes.

Audience members occasionally interrupted the testimony, with some taking exception to its length. Chairman Breisch had said public comment would be limited to about three to five minutes a person.

"What we're doing is not public comment," Carlson said, explaining that the applicant had a right to lay out his case.

The public comment portion was no less charged, as at least 20 residents spoke passionately in favor or against it, often eliciting cheers from their camps and jeers from their opponents.

Many of the arguments in favor centered around allowing more people access to the Kankakee River and trust in the Russ family.

The majority of arguments, however, were against. Concerns raised included safety in the popular boating and hunting area, flooding, potential threats to home values and the industrial corridor, and overcrowding of the river.

Some of the residents personally attacked Russ, with one resident stating that Russ was "not a good neighbor" as owner of the property and another saying Russ "doesn't have a conscience."

Several residents in favor of the plan defended Russ against the character attacks.

Russ himself took the podium to reinforce that his plans had gone through the necessary outlets and that the proposed campground was on solid ground legally.

"We have followed the guidelines to the letter," he said.

At one point, Chairman Breisch threw an audience member out of the meeting.

Breisch had thought of delaying the vote, wanting more information on the proposal, drawing audible groans from the audience. The man said something to Breisch, who stood and ejected him.

"This isn't easy," Breisch said to the crowd. "We've got a responsibility to listen to everyone."

"I can be fair and equitable with trying to look at both sides of the situation," he continued. "I'm trying to put myself in [the audience's] shoes and [the applicant's] shoes."

"I don't think any of you want to be in our chairs right now," added Vice Chairwoman Bjelland. In the end, the board decided to take action.

Their recommendation against the zoning change will go to the county board, which will have the final say.

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