Still Time To Debate Special Use Permit

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On Friday, Winnebago County Board members got notice that their presence was requested Monday night at a special meeting. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss a text amendment that would allow a Special Use Permit in the Agricultural Priority District. The land along south Meridian road is being eyed by Wight Partners for an ethanol plant. But Monday night’s meeting left many wanting more time. The night started with one big decision. Would the County Board give the Zoning Board of Appeals a chance to discuss a text amendment and allow a Special Use Permit?

Wight Partners lawyers, Tom Lester says, "This is the start of the process not the end."

But the process isn't even going to begin. In a vote of 22 “yes” and 4 “no” County Board members laid over this decision. A suggestion made by Board Member Mary Ann Aiello that got a standing ovation. Aiello said, "Boy if we don't start straightening out our act. We look like fools."

Vice President John Goebel says this gives the company the opportunity to submit an application for Heavy Industrial Zoning but is in favor of a Special Use Permit. Goebel stated, “It gives staff the ability to put conditions on this plan to satisfy public concern."

Right now there is a dispute among landowners so it's possible the site on south Meridian will never house an ethanol plant. But Goebel says Winnebago County is his top priority.

Aiello states, "Let's re-group, let's talk to neighbors and let's figure out how to do this so everyone is happy. We don't want to lose jobs but we don't want horrible feeling in neighborhood that this was shoved down their throat."

Residents close to the property say the lay-over is another victory showing that their points are valid and their growing group is getting attention. Informed Citizens Engaged Leader Wendy Schneider says, “This gives time for applications due diligence part of the county. We believe it's been lacking and it's appropriate to give citizens a voice and to allow board members to be better educated."

The issue will come before the county board again on February 9th. Those for the Special Use Permit were just as vocal as those against. The Winnebago County Farm Bureau says all of their 7,000 members are in favor of the current process.

Richard Beuth with the Winnebago County Farm Bureau tells 23 News, “It's no different than elevator or feed mill so let's make it special use. The county will still have to follow all the rules the county board makes."

The Farm Bureau has collected about 900 signatures supporting the ethanol plant. Also in favor, the Winnebago School District could stand to gain $1.1 million per year.