Wedding venue decision on hold pending traffic study
UPDATE: Hidden Creek Estates has withdrawn their annexation request. All these special ordinances will not take effect since they, and possibly the venue's entire business plan, were contingent on that annexation.
ROSCOE, April 30, 2021: Supporters and opponents continue working behind the scenes on the annexation request for the Hidden Creek Estates wedding venue, even as the Village of Roscoe Board has canceled Friday's special meeting on the subject. The first booking at the venue was scheduled for May 6.
Village Administrator Scott Sanders told the Roscoe News, "We are working with the County to review potential traffic and access aspects of the project, and will not be taking any further action on the proposed annexation until that process is concluded." Roscoe Township does not handle zoning issues.
Asked when the Village of Roscoe might decide on the annexation request, Sanders replied, "I do not immediately have an anticipated timeline, but I assume that we will try to resume this on one of our regular May meeting agendas. The next regularly scheduled meetings are May 4th and May 18th. I would be surprised if we are ready to reconsider by the 4th."
Brad Lindmark, the Winnebago County Board Member whose District 4 includes the area north of McCurry Road, said the county has to do a traffic study. When asked last week about the annexation request, he told us, "If I had to vote, I would vote no... I would rather have [the zoning reviewed] in Winnebago County than in the Village of Roscoe."
Jim Hursh of the law firm of DeRango & Cain, LLC, who had been contacted by several people opposed to the development, told the Roscoe News that he was quite surprised to see so many people at the April 20 hearing. "I think that speaks volumes about how people feel about it. With this many people concerned, I think the village is going to have to take notice." He added, "This is where democracy is at and it's a good example of democracy. The people making the final decision - the [Village] board menbers - their constituency is not the neighbors who are affected by the annexation [but] the people who are already in the Village."
The property at 13276 White School Road in Roscoe Township is owned by Seed Real Estate LLC, which is based out of the home of Dude and Kerry Frank of Roscoe, the founders of Hidden Creek Estates.
To begin the April 20 hearing, Scott Sanders read the Zoning Board of Approval's initial recommendations, though several members of the Village Board wanted to modify them later in the evening.
- The ZBA's intial recommendations would allow a maximum occupancy of 200 persons ("This would be exclusive of staff members.") The tavern/bar/wine tasting activities would be limited to the location shown on the site plan, though alcohol could be served and consumed elsewhere on the property, such as nature areas and trails, provided such events comply with all laws.
- The venue could operate between 9:00 a.m to 11:59 p.m. but no amplification would be allowed between 10:00 p.m. and 10:00 a.m. Lighting must not disturb the neighbors. Food could be served on the property, such as bread, cheese, fruits, and meats, but no preparation or operation of the kitchen on site will be permitted, except for a catering kitchen. Videogame terminals would not be permitted.
- For a period of one year, the owner would be permitted to use the grass parking lot identified on the diagram. Construction of permanent parking on that lot would need to be completed within a year, with 8 inch minimum base, and finished to provide uniform surface, curbs not required. The parking capacity could be no greater than the number of parking stalls identified on the diagram.
- No lighted signage would be permitted on the property. Continuation of current agricultural uses would be continued permanently. The owner would be permitted to plat or subdivide, but these special user permits will not apply to the subdivided parcels, and would expire on change of ownership.
- The owner wouldn't be responsible for constructing gutters or paying annexation, recapture, or impact fees, but if the property were subdivided and platted, then these fees would be payable at the time of platting. This agreement would be binding for eight years.
Then Kerry Frank, the owner of Hidden Creek Estates, gave her presentation, saying "I came from nothing. We were living on $50 a week... We founded an entrepreneurial company, we took what little we had and built [a business] in South Beloit... I was a hard-working person with a passion and perseverance. I didn't go to college. I just want to present to you that I'm that same person. I had an incredible journey. I'm in a different place in my life today, but I believe in helping." Ironically, in 2012 she had wanted to locate her tech company in downtown Roscoe, but the Village Board had denied her zoning request. "But I still believe in Roscoe. I still believe in our community."
Kerry Frank said that her family's mission is to look for opportunities to pay back and help others. "Our family was very concerned there would be a subdivision that would rip all those trees out," she continued. "We decided we would sit down as a family, we decided we want to save it. It's just what we did. I know some people might not agree with my idea of saving a property. Then we had to figure out a way to pay for it."
"Our focus is one wedding a weekend," says Kerry Frank, plus other types of events: corporate off-site gathering, anniversary celebrations, birthday parties, ladies business get-togethers, and charity events. "It's a very small barn," she added, and the business would be "very seasonal... six months a year." She describes the property as a place where "people can create wonderful memories and have shared experiences... heavily wooded, with a beautiful pond fully stocked with fish that's been there forever - we're in the middle of revitalizing that pond... The woods that surround the property are magnificent, huge and very private... Just being out there gives you a sense of peace and we want to share that peace with the community."
The family is also renting out the cottage to visitors through Airbnb and VRBO. Finally, Kerry Frank said, "We would like to have the property open to the community a few afternoons and evenings per week. Hidden Creek or Promontory neighbors can access our property, use the private wooded trails, enjoy a glass of wine or beer on the patio or around the pond and enjoy the nature. We hope to serve charcuterie boards to pair with our wine offerings... We don't have a restaurant nor do we ever intend to do that. [Our hope is that] people could get together with a few of their friends..."
"Our intention is to protect the community," Frank says, and they have hired a private security company to be onsite for events and weddings. "We worked with highly respected local experts on the best way to point speakers to minimize noise for neighbors. We did tests and decibel readings around the property line and found very low impacts.... We're proposing 75 parking stalls, which limits traffic. We will have a parking attendant at weddings to back them in... Wwe will not allow street parking or any other kind of parking." A 4 x 6 sign on the property in front of the driveway, "with a handcarved aesthetic, kind of rustic," will say "Closed" when the parking lot is full, to prevent more guests from entering.
Kerry Frank said, "We are in the process of restoring a portion of the property to natural prairie and wildlife refuge: a four year project... and continuing to lease a portion of the land to local farmers... We've spent hundreds of hours cleaning up the woods, pond, and creek to restore them to healthy and thriving natural environments.... When we bought it, the creek had stones and chairs in it."
Addressing rumors that have been circulating, Kerry Frank stated, "We've never shot fireworks on the White School property. We will not allow couples to [do so] at their weddings or events. We are not holding 700 person events. We have not allowed Chicago Events to post about our property. We have reached out to them to remove their content. They posted it without our permission, it has since been removed. We're not building a digital marquee sign." In response to complaints that she began development without official approval, she said, "The barn was about to collapse so we had to redo the foundation to save the barn," and that they received the proper permits for everything they have done.
Though neighbors complained of noise from multiple parties last summer, Kerry Frank emphasized, "Our private property was used last year for two family events. My daughter did her wedding photos there, my sister had a 30 minute ceremony there and her reception elsewhere. And a friend had a wedding canceled with 36 hours notice. The health department said private property was the only place people could get married at that time during COVID. We have not been operating without permission."
Kerry Frank concluded, "We want to offer something for the community to do in Roscoe that would add value to our community and bring people together socially... We want to give summer jobs to local high school and college students. We plan to start a scholarship program... We’re hoping that this could just be the start of something that could help Roscoe attract a hotel down the road on I-90 or something that could have a greater impact."
Next, attorney James Hursh referred to page 24 of Roscoe's Comprehensive Plan, "which I was told didn't exist," saying that according to the plan, this property is part of an area intended to be low density residential. "It does not include commercial, and what you doing here is a commercial activity... I would also like to remind the Board that the bar and tavern comes without a recommendation or approval from the ZBA. The ZBA is put there for a reason. I know the people who were in opposition would strongly wish that you would follow the ZBA recommendation on this. I will not belabor the point any further."
Hursh later referred to section 6 in the Village's Comprehensive Plan which describes the purpose and intent for annexations. Hursh doubted that this classification district was intended to include a private event facility that is only open to the public every weekend, and said that the annexation agreement would be allowing non-public use in the public conservancy district.
Hursh then introduced three people that he had asked to give presentations in opposition.
Vince Bowers argued that the proposal does not follow the new Village of Roscoe Zoning Ordinance dated March 2, 2021. The proposed ordinance 2021-O04 calls for "establishing the P/C Public/Conservancy Zoning District" for the venue. Bowers does not believe this property fits the permitted uses for this type of district.
Roscoe Zoning Ordinance 155.6.1 (C) P/C – Public / Conservancy District says, "The P- Public / Conservancy District is intended to eliminate the ambiguity of maintaining, in unrelated use districts, areas that are under municipal, public related use, or where the use for public municipal purpose is anticipated to be permanent. Permitted uses shall generally serve the public municipal benefit and may include public or private utilities, parks, and natural features."
Bowers continued, "The plan does not include making Roscoe a destination; it is not a reason for annexation." He pointed out that Mr. Sanders had already stated this will not bring substantial financial advantage to the community. Despite what others have said, Bowers did not believe this will bring more traffic to Roscoe. "They will eat, drink, and leave." Since caterers and photographers are not located in Roscoe, this will not benefit Roscoe. "Placing what equates to a commercial property in the middle of a residential... this seems the definition of a spot zone," when the use of a parcel of land differs from the land around it. "I'm not opposed to a well-thought-out [plan] that benefits the community as a whole. I question the lack of research and studies. This area is on a 100 year floodplain. I do not think this is been discussed or documented. At a minimum, I believe this should be inspected by a qualified engineer. "
Jason Rotello, who lives in Hidden Creek, said, "I don't understand how the village will receive enhanced revenue from this. Out-of-town guests are likely to travel and stay far away and already have a place to stay. According to Rotello, the most likely place for guests to stay would be Beloit. "That's where people going to spend their money when they come to town for a wedding.... I want to ask the board to deny the annexation but on the off chance that you do approve it, I would like for the board to consider limitations on hours of operation and potentially days of operation... I think it's a reasonable ask" for music to be shut down by 9:00 p.m. instead of 10:00 p.m. Though the proposed ordinance requires the party to stop by midnight, Rotello wants guests to be off the premises at midnight. He points out that guests at an event often "hang out and talk, chit-chatting... I could see this going on much beyond midnight... I would like clarification on what the actual agreement is going to enforce." The Village wants events limited to 200 guests, but "there's no limitation on the number of staff - that is concerning to me... I'm kind of curious as to what the fire marshal states as to the max occupancy of the barn."
Noting that 60 decibels is the volume of normal conversation, Rotello said, "I'm within 300 feet of the property line, in the wooded area and I can hear the music playing from there. I can hear it at my home. There's no chance that at the property line, the noise is going to be 60 decibels... I don't see how the noise ordinance can be legitimately enforced here when we're talking about primarily an outdoor venue where amplification equipment is going to be used on a regular basis. He said it "kind of threw me for a loop" when he heard that the land could be subdivided, and wanted the Village to protect against that for 20 years. "These are just a small fraction of concerns and the holes that I can find in the two hours [since] I received the annexation agreement... These things tend to start out small and then they tend to grow and have problems, so this is the only opportunity we really truly have in order to place limitations on this so that it does not disrupt this community."
Laura Dingello, who lives on East Rockton Road, said, "I can hear every nail that is hammered, every saw, every drill... You want to be able to enjoy nature. I would like to sit on my back porch too. That's why we moved here. We moved all the way from Chicago so we could do that. My husband commutes four hours a day so we could do that. And we also worked extremely hard, that's why we are adamantly opposed." Her home is separated from the wedding venue by another large parcel that the Frank family owns.
Dingello said she was also concerned about the water table: "There have been no studies on the impact this can have on all the neighbors... I'm very concerned that my well's going to dry up. My concern is that there's been no studies at all... I have dreams too - they don't infringe on other people. With a 200 person wedding there will be drunk drivers."
Showing a picture of the view from her deck, Dingello asked if the venue would install a 7 foot privacy fence on the north side. "It's a huge intrusion. I was sitting there Sunday... sick to my stomach. We've raised three kids here. We will have to leave. I can't listen to that noise that was going on last summer. It was like having OSD (Old Settlers Days) in my backyard every single weekend coming and going. There are going to be families that are forced from their property. Asking for more trees on the north side, she said, "They can make sure these are full-grown trees. I don't want to have to wait 20 years for them to grow."
Dingello also asked for a closing time of 11:00 p.m. "The music might be turned down but you know how it is, if something isn't stipulated that they have to be off the premises. I know you said you want a nice quiet wedding that would be great. I'm troubled by the way it went through so fast."
Mike Sima, who lives in Promontory Ridge, began by quoting the Hippocratic Oath: "Do no harm." He continued, "You guys are trustees. We [are supposed to] trust you.... The people are starting to say they're gonna move, construction has stopped, people are not happy with this, there's been no studies... I heard every single note [of music from the venue] and so did my neighbors." Consulting an app on his phone, he announced, "I'm right now a little over 60 dB. I don't know how you can have amplification and have less than 60 dB... It will be extremely, extremely difficult to control live music and DJs." Sima suggested, "Why don't we go out there right now and have them play music?... If we don't even knowing how loud this is going to be, we will be stuck with this forever. Noise is the number one complaint... We need to have a way of monitoring sound which is fair... I think we should go out there and check... Put a band out there and see." Sima didn't feel that a $150 fine for a noise violation would be a deterrent and argued, "We should tie it to the revocation of these liquor licenses."
Trish Gifford, who lives on Raccoon Run in Northwoods, calculated that if events were allowed from 9:00 a.m. to 12:00 midnight, "that's 15 hours a day, seven days a week - that's 105 hours." She added that since wedding guests might come and go, the venue could be hosting many more than 200 guests a day, if the crowd turned over completely every three or four hours. If so, she said, "you're talking about 300,000 or 400,000 people going through that area [in a year]."
Gifford continued, "There's no stipulation in your agreement to limit the number of people in a day... You have a stipulation as well that if the land is sold, all these permits don't go with the land. But if any of you have been in business, there are different ways to sell assets in a business" without selling the land "so that will transfer to all the people who are buying.... I think you need to do a traffic study if you do in fact approve this annexation... We heard it in our subdivision loud and clear just like [Old Settlers Days] OSD as well. I don't think you have any understanding of how much the noise level travels. Even if you ignore that, you can't ignore the number of vehicles that are going on the road," claiming that her taxes would be increased for road repairs.
Kerry Frank later said that Trish Gifford was "doing a lot of crazy math" to come up with her estimate of hundreds of thousands of visitors, saying Gifford's calculations assumed the venue would be open 12 months a year, hosting outdoor weddings in November and December. "All of her numbers are based on that error."
Scott Liebert said he believed he was the only one in the neighborhood who was still finishing construction on a home, that all other construction has stopped because of the venue. He said that if Airbnb guests are allowed to bring their dogs to the venue and the dogs escaped, it would "cause a serious point of safety" to adjoining neighbors, who might have to purchase additional liability insurance.
Kerry Frank later responded, "We do have a policy that pets must be on a leash. They violate that at their own risk. Their own insurance policy would have to cover it if they don't follow the rules. I also take out additional insurance policies [in consideration of] my neighbors."
Kristen Comer urged the Village Board to delay, to do additional studies, including the venue's effect on the wildlife "which is important to me." She called the Village Board to work with law enforcement on how complaint calls would be handled. "I'm concerned that the streets around us will be turned into Indy car races with drinking citizens."
Not all who spoke during the meeting were opposed to the wedding venue. Jim Ehrlich on Timber Ridge, who called himself "pro community, pro-business," said, "I share the concerns that some of my neighbors have voiced," but asked them to "consider what this could bring to the community. I've lived in Winnebago County for the last 50 years. In the last five years, I've seen the taxes we all pay just creep up. The business community will benefit from something like this. It will bring business to other businesses. I think the Franks have brought the neighbors in. They have asked their opinion and told them what the plans were. My property butts up against the property. I'm not from the other side of 251, I'm right there. I'm telling you this is a good thing. "
Though Ehrlich disagreed with some of the opposing statements, he said, "I'm choosing not to go back and rebut what they said." While some had asked, "What about the precedent if they do this now, there'll be people who will want to do this later?" Ehrlich said, "I'm more concerned about the precedent of not allowing people to invest in the community. This has potential to [put] money in the community now. They're not trying to build a business and walk away, they live next to this property. I have concerns about the noise and light [too]" but since the Village was setting restrictions on noise and light, the Village "should hold them to that... Allow it to continue."
Richard Terasaki, who lives next door to Ehrlich, said "After seeing many misconceptions on social media in regards to the Frank’s “pushing this through the middle of the night,” it's false. As a user of their program and business they developed, I know for a fact they understand processes and procedures having worked with both airlines and the FAA. They are doing this the right way because if they weren’t, we wouldn’t be here tonight. They would simply be holding events and the gentleman behind me [Roscoe Police) would be issuing citations for the event." He said that, significantly, the Franks have the ability to stop future subdivision development in the area. "Don't add any extra burden to the Franks that you wouldn't give to [someone else]... [Don't put them to] a higher standard or a different standard. That's all I ask."
Another neighbor said, "I knocked on over 70 doors, I spent hours sitting on couches.... All my neighbors up and down White School Road are opposed to this. We pulled up additions together very quickly. We have 222 petitioners sign it. I don't want a wedding venue across from my house. This is our life. This is what we're going to have to live with the next 20 years."
Shortly before 9:00 p.m., Village President Mark Szula asked if there were any more comments in favor of the venue, and hearing none, closed the public comment session and began the regular Village Board meeting.
Village Board member Justin Plock began by listing several changes that he wanted to make to the ZBA recommendations: reducing hours of operation, limiting weddings to 150 guests, stopping the DJ one hour before closing time, requiring guests to leave the property at closing time, limiting the capacity of the bar to 60 guests during the week, and banning fireworks and bugles. Exceptions would be allowed, but the wedding venue would have to request special use permits each time.
Board members discussed other conditions on the annexation, such as allowing only "light, elevator-style" music after certain times, requiring a flashing light at the entrance and the planting of trees as a natural screen, adding a "last call" at the bar, mandating that police be alerted half an hour before a wedding ends, and limiting barn capacity. They asked what occupancy limit the Fire Chief had set.
Kerry Frank asked to join the conversation and Village President Mark Szula replied, "I'll allow it."
Kerry Frank said, "I'm not in this to make a $2 million a year... but some of this is blowing my business plan apart... just to cover my costs... I'm totally open to some different [ideas]... I am going after these boutique events but I have to have enough revenue. Otherwise I would've proposed two weddings a weekend and no events during the week. I want to think about how these limitations might affect me." Doing some quick math, she said, "It looks like you just cut my revenue by 50%." Saying that her business plan was based on about 300 wedding guests, "I just want to express that concern because that would handcuff me from even operating."
"The second part," she continued, "I met with the Fire Chief and there is no set occupancy limitation for outdoor properties.... Also [any capacity limit for] the barn wasn't set by the fire department. It was part of the engineering drawing for loadbearing. The upper level of the barn I believe came in at 60 and the lower level of the barn is at 40 or 50, I don't know which one... The levels are rated differently and they're both applicable..." She pointed out that guests need to have someplace to go when it's raining, but "the barn itself is envisioned to get your drink and go sit by the pond or by the fire pit. 60 people on 30 acres of property is quite a limit. That's a lot of property for only 60 people. It would really hurt my ability to just cover my costs."
Kerry Frank said she's happy to work with the Village on details, and asked, "Would you allow acoustic guitar, something that doesn't have amplification, on the patio?... I'm glad to work with the police. I even volunteered to pay the police officer."
When Board members asked about shuttle buses, she clarified, "I have no plans to have off-site parking and have people shuttled in... [People] could contact their own shuttles from hotels so we don't have people drinking and driving in traffic. They would do that on their own. We have committed that we will take keys away and will stop serving on our property. We've been very clear... There are no Ubers in our area... That's the only reason we suggested shuttles."
Kerry Frank noted, "I am trying to do these community events during the week, not at night. That just makes sense to me... We're seasonal, with only a month either side of when the school buses [are running.] We take that very seriously."
She added, "I would like to have a structure for false reporting as well as violations... As Rich [Terasaki] said, I work with the FAA... If someone says I went over 60 dB and it's a false claim, like I get a fine, they should as well. I also think this should be a remedy."
When Board members discussed capacity limits, Kerry Frank said, "My number was 300 and I worked very hard... Scott and Joe and I went through a lot of other issues and concessions that we've made and I came up with this number very intentionally... I understand your concern [but] it's very hard for me to go to 225 because the whole business plan... I took a week to come up with that number. It's really serious for me, I have to be able to pay for that property and have to pay for extra security and everything else, and it's a very serious number for me."
Kerry Frank said she envisioned the wine bar being open 3:00-9:00 p.m. "The trees [as a screen] at the driveway, that's fine... I know that everyone may not be thrilled, but I'm really looking to do a quality thing.... Many things make more money than what I'm doing... I'm okay with no fireworks. Would you consider fireworks that makes no noise?... I take that [60 dB noise limit] very seriously... During the week people would just be sitting around the pond or reading. I don't think most of my neighbors will even know they're there."
The Village Board adjourned the April 20 meeting without making a decision on the zoning/annexation request, rescheduling it for a special called meeting that was to be held April 30. But since the Village of Roscoe is working with Winnebago County to analyze how traffic would be affected by the venue, the decision won't be made at the next Village Board meeting on May 4.
However, according to reporting by WREX, the Village and Hidden Creek Estates have already agreed in principle to some changes to the ZBA recommendations:
- The venue can only hold one event per weekend (Friday-Sunday) with a capacity of 225 people. For events Monday-Thursday, capacity for the venue will be reduced, though a final number has not been set in stone at this time.
- Hours have been determined as follows:
- Friday & Saturday: Live music/DJ have to stop by 10 p.m., event has to end by 11 p.m.
- Sunday: Everything done by 9 p.m.
- Monday-Thursday: No live music/DJ allowed, event has to end by 9 p.m.
- No fireworks/explosive devices will be allowed at the venue.
- More screening to block headlights in the parking lot.