Trustees approve Roscoe Road townhomes despite opposition from neighbors
At Tuesday's meeting, Apr. 5, 2022, the Village of Roscoe Board voted 4-3 to rezone a cornfield on Roscoe Road to make way for the Townhomes of White Oak. Developer Josh Petry is president of White Oak Homebuilders LLC and wants to build multi-family townhomes at Roscoe Road and Old River Road.
Earlier in the week, Petry met with Rockton School District superintendent Glenn Terry, Hononegah superintendent Michael Dugan, Village Administrator Scott Sanders, and Village of Roscoe President Mark Szula. After that meeting, Glenn Terry joined neighbors from adjoining Hawks Pointe in urging the Village not to rezone the property for multi-family housing.
As always, Village of Roscoe President Mark Szula began the April 5 meeting by telling residents they had three minutes to speak. They should come up to the microphone, sign in, and state their name and address.
The first speaker to make public comments at the Village of Roscoe Board of Trustees meeting was a former Village of Roscoe trustee, Sharon Atkins. For 20 years, she and her husband organized the July 4 parade in Hawks Pointe. She reminded the board, as we reported, that Winnebago County had rejected similar road proposals in 2008 from Josh’s father Jeff Petry, when he was developing Denali Heights. Atkins said she was not opposed to progress: “We realize that something is going to go there.” But Atkins believes that the Village of Roscoe has a history of giving developers whatever they ask for. She said, “I really plead with this board to do something different.”
Only one speaker was in favor of the multi-family townhomes. Max said, “The only way to address the skyrocketing cost of housing is to build more housing… In defense of the American dream to allow more people to have access to housing, I support this development.”
Rob Baxter, another former Roscoe trustee and a 22 year resident, asked rhetorically, “Why does somebody buy a house?” He repeated that he was not against development, but “we'd like to see responsible development.” He lives two streets south of the proposed site
Another resident of Hawks Pointe, Jim Shortland, says even though Hawks Pointe Trail is not paved all the way to Roscoe Road, he still sees people driving too fast down it. Like other residents, he was concerned for the safety of neighborhood children if the population and traffic increases. Adding multi-family units and bringing in renters, he said, “means unknown quantities literally in our back yards.”
Rockton School District superintendent Glenn Terry and Hononegah superintendent Michael Dugan attended the Village meeting. Terry asked the board not to approve a multi-family development. He said that the Rockton School District knows that “growth is inevitable” but his school district has faced sudden growth before. “When Denali came, we had three other subdivisions at the same time.” Now that home building has resumed in Denali Heights, adjacent to Hawks Pointe, he is expecting 292 new housing units to be built there, plus the 142 units that have been proposed as part of the Townhomes of White Oak. Terry said he is concerned about “just the sheer numbers.” He added, “Develop it one way [as single family homes] and have 42 students come into the school district, or develop another way [as townhomes] and have 142 students…. Whatever you build, it's going to be sold quickly.”
Terry said that new residents “come here for our schools…” Developer Josh Petry will be paying impact fees intended to pay for new school facilities. But Terry said, “Truthfully, the impact fees might pay for one teacher for one year. They’re not going to come close to paying for a new school.” He added, “We're two plus years into educating children in a pandemic” and Illinois has a teacher shortage. “I can't even fill custodial positions,” he said. “I can't even staff what I have now, let alone what might be coming with Denali or another subdivision.”
Impact fees and traffic studies
Later, Rob Baxter asked if Roscoe had ever received any impact fees from any developers. Scott Sanders explained, with regret, that the Village of Roscoe had begun requiring impact fees only after earlier developments had already been approved. “This is the first platted subdivision west of the river for which we would collect impact fees,” Sanders said.
Village President Mark Szula added, “There's no way to go back and fix it. Believe me, we've looked at this seven different ways.”
Mike Wright, a former TV news director who has been the spokesperson for the Hawks Pointe residents, says he has collected 100 petitions and found very few residents of Roscoe or Roscoe in favor of the townhomes. He said, “We're seeking responsible and well-planned development.” He quoted from Village President Mark Szula's announcement of his run against John Cabello for the District 90 state legislative seat, where Szula said, “People have to come before politics.” Wright urged Szula to “please fulfill that promise.”
Other residents demanded to know who would pay for traffic studies and road improvements, saying, “Roscoe shouldn't pay for something the developer should be paying for.” Village Administrator Scott Sanders later assured the residents that the developer would pay for all traffic studies and road improvements.
Village President Mark Szula was anxious to keep the meeting moving, though he made sure everyone had a chance to speak. “Does anybody have anything to say?... I think we've pretty much had a lot of repetitive…”
William Babcock retorted, “I apologize if I say something redundant. You need to hear what we have to say. We are here to be heard. We're going to say what hasn't been heard for the last three meetings.” Babcock wanted to hear some justifications from trustees who favored the project. “We haven't heard the ‘wonderful’ benefits that we're all going to enjoy.” His wife had told him she didn’t believe it mattered what he said, because the board was already decided. Babcock said, “Let's keep the village a small community - that's what's attractive about it - our charm.”
No trustees replied to Babcock. Public comment is a time in which residents address their statements to the Village President, either before or after the meeting. There was no discussion among board members.
Other residents echoed Babcock’s views: “We would like Roscoe to go back to Roscoe, like it was, a small town community, which it's not anymore.” Another said, “Roscoe is not going to be any different from Machesney Park or Rockford.”
“Not a shovel of dirt will be turned"
Before the vote, Village Administrator Scott Sanders responded to the questions that had been raised by the public. He said, “There absolutely is a required traffic study” and County Engineer Carlos Molina had 10 bullet points that the study would need to cover. He repeated that the Village will not pay for the costs of the development. Water, sewer, and storm water management would all be paid by the developer, Josh Petry.
Sanders explained why Josh Petry hasn’t done these studies yet: Petry is waiting to see if the Village will change the zoning to multi-family before he spends the money on studies. “No one would pay for those without knowing if they have the zoning or not,” said Sanders.
Once the rezoning is approved, Sanders explained, a process called “design review” begins. The Village of Roscoe is the first step, but Winnebago County and the Illinois EPA must also approve Petry’s plans.
Sanders emphasized, “Not a shovel of dirt will be turned until all that is approved… No permits will be issued for any work until they have satisfied all the conditions.”
Upscale, nice homes
Sanders said that, so far, what Petry has submitted looks like a plan for upscale, nice homes. “We won't accept less than that,” he said. During the design review, Petry may be required to build the townhomes farther apart, with lower density per acre than in the current plans. “We certainly won't allow higher density,” said Sanders.
The developer will need to submit studies with plans for drainage, access from Old River Road, road widening, and a turn lane - all of which will be paid by the developer. “Those are not things we are reviewing or approving at this time,” said Sanders.
As they spoke, the Hawks Pointe residents often warned against the dangers of allowing multi-family housing and apartment renters into their neighborhood, but Sanders told them, “The applicant says repeatedly these will be sold as condos. They will not be apartments.” The condo buyers could always decide to move into them, but more likely, they will be rented out.
Sanders described the meeting with school officials as “beneficial,” but said this would be a “six to eight or ten to eight year implementation, not a two year.”
One addition to the neighborhood: Sanders announced that the Village of Roscoe is now the “proud owner of three lots in Denali Heights,” and the Village will develop them as parks which can be used by Hawks Pointe residents too. Jeff Petry, the developer of Denali Heights and the father of Josh Petry, agreed to deed the lots to the village as part of a legal settlement of a disagreement over the quality of the roads in Denali Heights.
More public comments
By the end of Sanders’ explanation, residents began interjecting questions and comments. Szula frequently asked them to come back to the microphone if they wanted to speak, but neither he nor the residents followed all those rules strictly.
Sharon Atkins said their group has been very respectful and the Village Board needs to follow the position of the majority of residents. They called for their rights to be respected. Szula said several times, “Petitioners have rights too.”
In response to the claim that the county already made their decision in 2008, Sanders said, "The county has never taken the position that this is not allowed… Nothing has been preapproved, nothing has been denied in advance."
One resident asked Sanders, “Are you supposed to be impartial?” Sanders replied that, yes, he was. Another resident said it was backwards to vote on rezoning before any studies had been done. Sanders politely disagreed.
By rezoning the property for multi-family use, the Village of Roscoe has merely decided that multi-family homes will be allowed. What kind of multi-family homes will be allowed - that is still an open question.
Some residents objected to Village Trustee Anthony Keene participating remotely over Zoom and not coming to meetings in person. For several months, Keene has been out west (“in the desert,” he says) on a work project. His home is in Chicory Ridge.
Another resident asked why the developer Josh Petry was not present at the hearing. Szula said, “He doesn't have to be present.” The resident thought Petry was showing a “lack of respect by not coming” to the meeting. It turned out that Josh Petry was present after all. Szula asked, “Josh, would you like to come forward?” Not surprisingly, Josh replied, “No."
Denali Heights: the elephant in the room
At one point, Sharon Atkins spoke up again, saying, “We have had so many issues in the past where the developer has made a promise… We have to sue them or settle [for less]... The developers has been sued time and time again.”
Atkins was reflecting a common suspicion in Roscoe: could they trust Josh Petry after suing Jeff Petry? Were they now dealing with a new entity - White Oak - that was owned by a member of the same family that had developed Denali Heights? Was this the beginning of a new day, or the same old day?
Later in the evening, Scott Sanders addressed those suspicions by saying, “Right now I absolutely believe we're dealing with Josh, and Josh alone, on White Oak.” He admitted he couldn’t guarantee how long that would be true. Josh Petry has said he has no intention of competing with his father and they have separate business interests. But the Petry family has owned many companies over the years and the family often comes together in collaboration or comes apart into separate projects, depending on the occasion. The suspicion is that the Townhomes of White Oak are going to end up like Denali Heights, where development stopped for years.
Sanders explained, “Denali Heights was platted as a rural subdivision. That was binding action.” But which rural standard applied to the subdivision’s roads, the 1993 version or the current version? Jeff Petry put in utilities and built narrower and thinner roads on top of them, according to the 1993 standard. In 2013, when the Village began insisting on thicker, 26-foot wide roads with curb, gutter and sidewalks, Jeff Petry sued the Village, and roads remained unpaved.
In August 2021, the Village of Roscoe settled their lawsuit with Jeff Petry, the developer of Denali Heights. Sanders said the settlement agreement means that any new roads in Denali Heights will be 26 inch wide. Also, whenever Jeff Petry pays for another building permit in the subdivision, money is going to a Plat 1 fund to reconstruct the roads to current standards. About the original road building, Sanders says, “It wasn’t done in a compliant manner, it wasn't done with the blessing of the Village.”
As a result of the settlement, the developer of Denali Heights was to pay a $5,200 fine to the Village of Roscoe. Josh Petry referred it to his father, who hadn’t paid it yet.
“Clerk, call the roll"
The conceptual drawings for the Townhomes of White Oak [PDF] show 37 buildings, a combination of three and four family structures. Josh Petry has said he plans to build six to eight buildings a year, so that translates to six to eight years until the development is completed. “I don't know if a single building will be put in this year,” said Sanders. “All that road work [such as turn lanes and stoplights] would be done prior to buildings being put in."
Questioned by one of the residents, Sanders admitted that the controversial stoplights at Chicory Ridge were not built until after the homes went in.
Once there were no more comments from the public, Szula asked if there was any discussion from the board. There had been much discussion at the previous meetings, but not tonight. Both sides had already said what they had to say. A crowd of residents stood at the back of the Village Hall, listening, along with more than 20 others watching via Zoom.
“Clerk, call the roll,” said Szula.
Trustees Stacy Mallicoat, Justin Plock, and Anthony Keene voted to rezone the property from the CG: General Commercial District to the RM: Multi-Family Residential District for a multi-family residential development as part of a proposed Plat 5 of Hawks Pointe Subdivision.
Trustees Sue Petty, Michael Dunn and Carol Gustafson voted against the rezoning, as they had at the Committee of the Whole meeting.
Village President Mark Szula said, “It's 3-3. I'm a yes. Motion carries.”
Later, Sharon Atkins responded, "Your vote tonight is such a disappointment. And we will remember.”
All the village trustees are elected officials, and could be reelected or defeated later, depending on whether voters like their performance. But Atkins was likely referring to Szula’s bid for the state legislature.
Another resident told Szula, “It seemed like you already had your mind made up. Especially with the platform you're running on: listening to the people.” Apparently listening doesn't always mean agreeing.
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