Culture, Environment, Government, Legal, Wildlife

Butterfield: Where To, Now?

A group of 3 year-olds graze on the open space at 901 Butterfield Highway.

Driving down Butterfield last week we spied a herd of deer grazing in the snowy, white expanse of a field cleared in 2016. Among them were at least 4 bucks, with 3-point antlers. Around 2-1/2 years old. They would have been newly born in the spring before the Archdiocese of Chicago cut down 33 acres of sheltering trees on this scenic, colorful piece of woodlot on the west side of Libertyville.

The once colorful woodlot was viewed by more than 20,000 motorists every day.

The deer are a conundrum caught in a quandary. They have multiplied to 28 in number, primarily due to the removal of wooded habitat that housed their arch enemy, the coyote. Left unchecked, they face an uncertain future, either from lack of food, or an unlucky collision with an auto speeding along Butterfield Road. They must wonder, ‘What’s happening here? Where will we live next?’

We might ask the same question ourselves.

Cluster Housing: 148 homes planned for construction on 15.2 acres of land.

Back in August 2016, the Village announced an open meeting of the Plan Commission to present a housing development proposal to occupy a 40-acre lot owned by the Archdiocese of Chicago. The developer, it is now learned, had bid $15 million to buy the land for the purpose of installing 148 ‘cluster homes’ on the lot, plus two detention ponds and roads. 7 acres of woods would offer a treed park for walks.

The open meeting attracted over 100 residents who voiced their concerns and asked pointed questions that set the commission, and the developer, back on their heels. The meeting adjourned with a promise of refinements, and for a follow up, which was scheduled in January, 2017.

An astounding disregard for optics, and the local parish.

The machines made fast work of the Church’s order.

Then, in November, just before Thanksgiving, with an astounding disregard for optics, and an unconscionable dismissal of its local parish, the Church decided to spring into action. After receiving approval from the Village, it cut down 33 acres of mature trees which grew on the development site. The sheer sight of the woods coming down, so swiftly, leaving a naked field behind, shocked many in Lake County. More than 20,000 drivers passed the scenic woods every day.

By January, the development had surfaced all sorts of debate and before long, it became clear that the residents were pushing back. Their concerns ranged from traffic to congestion, from design to pollution. Ripping out the woods was the final straw. A summary of 19 specific concerns were circulated, and became talking points for review.

Looking north on Butterfield Highway, homeowners will enter and exit just left of the power line pole.

The Village Board became closely aware of the situation, and received a final proposal from the Plan Commission to halt the development. In a special March 2017 meeting, held at the high school auditorium, the Board of Trustees voted unanimously against the development as proposed. The pivotal issue was traffic congestion and safety.

Looking south on Butterfield, the commuters’ treks just begin.

It could have ended there, but a dose of reality was dispensed. Libertyville had just killed the Church’s $15 million dollar deal, and the Archdiocese, reputedly in search of cash, was miffed.

In June of 2017, the Catholic Bishop of Chicago filed a suit against the Village for its “capricious, arbitrary decision” which denied the Church its constitutional rights to sell the land. And so, it ended up in court.

The trial commenced in November 2018, and concluded December 7. The judge was buried under boxes of memoranda, reports and legal papers along with 10 days of procedural testimony. The sole subject: traffic safety.   Nevertheless, he offered a decision perhaps as early of January 31, 2019.

A portion of the 28 white tail deer that grazed on January 20, 2019. Not a coyote in sight.

We wait. But back to the deer. Where do they go? Ironically, their numbers swelled because the coyotes lost their homes in the woods. But what now?

As an FYI, the Lake County Forest Preserve is closed at night until March because they are thinning out the deer population. In their books, 15-30 deer can safely occupy a square mile (640 acres) of open land. Yet here we have 28 deer grazing on the corner of the 33-acre open patch. Maybe they hale from St.Mary’s and Pine Meadow golf course. Interestingly, on the Forest Preserve website I picked up their regrets about development and how it affects Lake County’s natural resources:

“Natural processes are disrupted. No harm was meant, but 150 years of settlement has greatly changed local habitat. The surface may look okay, but many habitats are not healthy. The gradual impact of people settling in this area has been astounding:

  • Prairies were plowed
  • Wetlands were tiled and drained for agriculture
  • Wildfires were suppressed
  • Predators and pollinators were wiped out
  • Invasive species were introduced and their populations exploded
  • Habitats have become islands in a sea of development
  • Streams are muddied
  • Prairies, woodlands and wetlands shrink smaller and smaller”

Three bucks in a quandary: where to now?

It’s all sobering to think about.  We wait for the judge to announce his decision.

Standard
Culture, Environment, Government, Politics

Trouble In The Back Forty: How We Got To Here

January’s public hearing on the 40-acre development up on Butterfield attracted a sometimes reasoned but also fiery rejection to the idea. The authorities went away ruffled and straightening their ties. The public filed out, quietly fuming, and baffled.

Bafflement prevailed because the question was asked how we ever came to this point: a 148-unit, high density housing development on the site of a recent clear-cut of over 2,000 60-year-old trees. The flames came from a few who castigated the developers and planners alike for taking advantage of the Village rules and a complacent, uninformed and trusting public.

So what happened?

The ground started to move in 2009 when the Archdiocese of Chicago signaled to the Village that they wanted to develop 97 acres of open land at the east end of St.Mary’s Lake. The Village looked at its Comprehensive Plan map and noted the parcel was drawn and zoned as Institutional Building, (IB).

Every smart village government has a Plan. This blueprint provides guidance to control against undesirable development. Our Plan had reserved the 97 acres for church buildings.

The Church however saw housing: affordable housing for Libertyville’s younger families. In a deftly cadenced move that any professional card shark would have applauded, the Church suggested to only develop the northern section, about 33 acres nearest Butterfield Road. South of that, another 7 acres of woods would be “untouched” and the bottom 57 acres would be left institutional. They asked that the 33 acres be redrawn as Residential.

Following two meetings and a lot of questions about Planned Development housing, traffic volumes, safety, isolation, tree preservation, housing affordability, open space and the wisdom of an unscheduled, redrawing of the Plan to suit the Church, they voted.   The Plan Commission went 5/2 in favor, April 2010.  The Village Trustees gave it a green light too.   33 acres were redrawn on the Plan map as Residential, and 7 acres left as Institutional.

However, the entire 97 acres are still today zoned Institutional Building.  While the Plan gives guidance, it’s the zoning which is law.

Only years later did the Church find a developer who would be happy to buy the land if they could build nearly 200 homes on the 33 acres, and take the 7 acres of woods south of the development site as well.

The developer quickly began to design the site, and eventually reduced the residential count to 148 single family dwellings, 3 & 4 bedrooms,  2,000-2,900 square foot, two-story units on tiny, fenced lots.  The designs didn’t comply with residential zone codes, but because they are a Planned Development, they got a pass.

Meanwhile the soft sell on the development commenced as multiple sets of beautiful drawings were dropped off at the Plan Commission office, with the Village Trustees, the engineering and public works departments, as well as the police, fire and the many other committees who need to vet the process.

Unfortunately, the public didn’t get wind of the proposal until a registered letter was sent to a few souls who lived within 250 feet of the site, net of any roads.  A public hearing in September hosted a small crowd of residents who, scratching their heads, asked what the heck was going on.

Even then, the public didn’t fully understand what was about to happen.

The Church, now very much on a roll, authorized the developer to get Village permission to remove 2,500 trees on the property.   After considerable expense and due diligence, the Village Trustees approved the logging on October 10.  By Thanksgiving, the trees were gone, authorized with a site development permit.

Yet no approval had come from the Village to re-zone, let alone develop the site.

The next Plan Commission meeting was postponed until January 9.  With time to study the proposal, it became clear to many that the development was off color.

Many emotional, esthetic issues entangle this debate, but high above them is the reality of traffic congestion, child safety, school crowding and Butler Lake pollution.

In addition to these challenges, the developer is attempting to sell very expensive homes to buyers who will have tenuous and dangerous access to and from their neighborhood.   The stark reality is that there is no convenient way to turn into the site, and nightmarish opportunities to exit.  A deal killer for the rational homeowner.

The Church has been suspected perhaps of disconnecting the site from Libertyville if we kibosh the deal.  Rumors run rampant that the land will host high rises, fast food stores and muffler shops if we were to lose the land to the neighboring village.

The probability of that happening is remote because none of the developer’s challenges go away.    In fact they are compounded by very expensive infrastructure needs and delays statuted in Illinois law.

So we now find the issue coming to a head with a February 27 vote:

  1. To re-draw the Plan map to include the 7 wooded acres as Residential;
  2. To re-zone all 40 acres from Institutional to Residential;
  3. To get a plat of the subdivision;
  4. To grant a special use permit to build a Planned Development;
  5. To develop a concept for the Planned Development.

The Village Trustees painted themselves into a corner back in 2010, but have had to wait 7 years for the floor to dry.  Whether they can find a solution to the conundrum is a toss-up.

Rest assured that the public is now paying attention.

Standard
Culture, Environment, Government, Politics

Warning, Sign Ahead

img_7562

The sign, like fine print, hints at bad news.

In Libertyville we are looking up every few moments to see what else has happened.

Last summer, without much ado, a sign was posted on an old playing field on the north side.    A little time later, a huge scraping of topsoil appeared, mounded like a two-story pyramid of dark chocolate.  It was soon iced with a frosty mantle of green weeds.   Five condo buildings are soon to follow.

img_7551

The new view from the treetops, sort of.

On the west side, a sign went up announcing a hearing about a corn field bordered by a tangled, but mature stand of 60-year-old trees. By October, the trees had come down. The plan calls for 148 homes.

Further south, another sign announced a hearing for a modest development of 19 houses over a small parcel of land and wetland.

Meanwhile there is a sign in front of the train station.   It’s the site for a multi-residential complex that will make rail commuting an adventure in the future. Some 150 units will be in place to hear that lonesome whistle blow, as some 46 trains roll by every day.

img_7555

Winchester: one up, and four to go.

All of these signs are caused by the popularity of a Village which has every reason to be proud. Founded in 1882, it was a remote outpost for Chicago travelers heading to Milwaukee.

Today it is a thriving, pretty town of 20,000 souls in the country, home to the #1 school district in Illinois, and #2 nationwide. It has a bustling main street that sees 23,000 cars daily, but still offers free two-hour parking on both sides, to visit the big-windowed, filigreed stores selling everything from $30,000 motor cycles to $10 hair cuts.

img_0986

Lunch in the park, in front of the Cook home.

In the Village Center,  residents lounge in a treed park hosting a vibrant, manicured rose garden, summer band concerts, lunches on the lawn, Thursday market and the view of a picturesque antiquity, the city father’s mansion now restored as a public museum.  Hungry for knowledge? The library is right there.  Just plain hungry? The Village lists over 70 restaurants and bars.

We are at the center of a giant societal magnet: everyone wants to live here.  And that is the challenge.  How do you keep that small town feel that brought you here 5, 25, or 75 years ago?

16114544_10210235586460173_5889575746604854179_n

Another housing plan, neatly drafted.

Fortunately, we have considerable oversight.  The Village has a Plan which is the blueprint for planned growth.  It has a commission that executes the Plan, and that includes sub commissions that monitor appearance and zone codes.  Hardly a tree goes down or a roof goes up that doesn’t get a committee say-so first.

Still, none of these measures and controls work if we, the residents, don’t read those pesky little signs.  Like fine print, they often signal bad news.

fullsizeoutput_3aa7

School Street an urban success: asking for over $1,000,000.

The trouble is, the signs keep popping up, like Village-sponsored graffiti, and our only choice is to pay attention.  Which can be a full time job.

The Village Hall posts a schedule of committee meetings.  There is at least one meeting every night, virtually all year.  If one is diligent, the meetings could be met, except that the school boards have their monthly meetings too, so it’s difficult.

station-square

Downtown: the Metra station gets a makeover.

Meanwhile, the developers move in, longstanding property holders look to reap their reward, and the borders of our Village are eroded and pushed, like impacted molars, causing pain with every new sign.

We can’t stop progress.  But we need to trust our Planners and Trustees to watch out for us.  In return, we do need to show up when those signs pop up.

As the saying goes, “if you don’t go to the meeting, the meeting doesn’t go your way.”

The next Public Hearing for the Butterfield proposal is February 27th, at the high school, 7pm.

Thanks for reading!  If you want to keep informed by the Village of new meeting agendas, click here.

Please share!

Standard