Residents packed the Willow Springs board room for the Nov. 27 meeting.  (Photos by Steve Metsch)

Residents packed the Willow Springs board room for the Nov. 27 meeting.  (Photos by Steve Metsch)

Consultant backs Willow Springs on zoning of LTHS parcel

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dvn 12 3 willow springs town hall1 2023

Attorney Burt Odelson (left) listens to a report from John Houseal about the property.

By Steve Metsch 

All for one and one for all was the theme of last week’s community meeting held at the Willow Springs Village Hall.

Concerned residents, politicians from the village and surrounding communities joined in their opposition to any industrial development of a parcel of land in the village owned by the Lyons Township High School District 204.

A 30-minute presentation by consultant John Houseal, about his study of the situation, solidified and supported longstanding village opposition to industrial use of the land at the Nov. 27 meeting.

Houseal’s research determined that, through years of zoning ordinances, the village has made very clear its opposition to any industrial use for the site.

The land is the west side of Willow Springs Road and is bordered by German Church Road and 79th Street. It is beside an elementary school and single-family homes.

dvn 12 3 willow springs town hall3 2023

Willow Springs resident Jim Distasio has several concerns about the site the Lyons Township High School Board wants to sell.

Last year, the high school board tried to sell the parcel for industrial use, a move that brought an angry response from the village and many residents who packed a January meeting at the high school.

At that meeting, the board voted unanimously Jan. 23 to reject bids of $46.5 million from Progolis and $55 million from Bridge Industrial for the 70 wooded acres.

In March, the high school board dropped its attempt to sell the land to an industrial developer.

Houseal, principal and founder of Houseal Lavigne, a planning, design and development company based in Chicago, conducted the exhaustive study and said he saw nothing in the village’s zoning history that would permit industrial use.

Village attorney Burt Odelson said a lawsuit against the village by the other parties would be very expensive.

“Houseal Lavigne is well established in our community and numerous other communities,” Odelson said.

Houseal noted there is no industrial zoning around the property.

“There is no guarantee any municipality has to provide zoning to maximize the property or heighten the best use. Planning has to be reasonable. Zoning has to be reasonable,” Houseal said.

“Existing planning for the site very much promotes the health and safety and general welfare of the public,” he added.

In his conclusion, Houseal said that several plans over the years by Willow Springs never included industrial use for the land.

“Planning here for this property is appropriate, is consistent for sound planning practices and good planning for the surrounding area and is not arbitrary,” he said, adding “rezoning it to accommodate an industrial development would be harmful, not consistent with good planning practices.”

Sixteen people from the audience spoke on the topic during the meeting that lasted just under 90 minutes.

An industrial development could expose school children nearby to toxic emissions, one woman said, “calling it a moral and ethical obligation” of the village and school board to oppose it.

Jim Distasio, who lives next door to the land, had the crowd applauding after his presentation.

He criticized the high school board for “putting profits before people, your inability to communicate and collaborate and your stubborn refusal to admit wrongdoing.”

Countless hours and taxpayer dollars “have been wasted” because of that, Distasio said, noting the board tried to sell the property again for industrial use after hearing opposition from the community.

“No one here has ever denied your right to sell that property, but you should respect the zoning if and when you choose to sell,” Distasio added.

Jill Grech, vice president of the school board, said, “We appreciate the invitation to attend tonight’s town hall meeting.”

The board believes in making decisions that strongly impact all the students, she said, “and it is our intent to work with all municipal partners as we consider the future use of this property,” Grech said.

Christopher Getty, the supervisor of the Township of Lyons, had the crowd laughing when he noted the township has no connection with Lyons Township High School.

“We stand with Willow Springs. We support you,” Getty said to applause.

Resident Fred Whiting said it has taken decades to develop Willow Springs into “the community we love today.”

“Make no mistake, our community is being threatened,” Whiting said.

He advocated the dismissal of LTHS Supt. Brian Waterman, citing the board’s “deceitful behavior.”

“As a taxpayer of District 204 for over 40 years, I’m demanding a public apology (for the board and school officials),” Whiting said.

Willow Springs Village Trustee Ernie Moon, referring to a comment recorded at a board meeting, said, “What bothers me is I heard we’re not real educated.”

“If they’re so educated, why in the hell didn’t they just ask about and check for the zoning laws here in Willow Springs? … They could have saved a lot of money on both sides,” Moon said.

After the meeting, Odelson said Willow Springs is in an “excellent position” with “sound and sincere” zoning.

“I think the message was loud and clear tonight,” Odelson said.

Willow Springs resident Danielle Scarpelli agreed, saying she “could not be prouder of our village.”

Willow Springs Mayor Melissa Neddermeyer said she was encouraged by the meeting.

“Overwhelming and wonderful. The support of neighboring communities and residents has been tremendous. The review by our land consultant was very re-affirming. People seem to be happy with the outcome,” the mayor said.

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