Utica village trustees were hoping to finalize the comprehensive plan on Feb. 10. Now, the plan has some opposition from the anti-mining camp.
The Utica Planning Commission voted 4-0 Tuesday to recommend the village board pass the comprehensive plan at next month’s full board meeting. That clears the second-to-last hurdle before the plan can be adopted.
But now there are opponents.
After presiding over months of hearings with sometimes limited attendance, planning commissioners were suddenly faced Tuesday with a room full of protesters from Conserve Our Rural Ecosystem. About 50 Utica-area residents, some wearing CORE shirts, said they want no more sand mining and were unhappy to hear the comprehensive plan accommodates additional quarrying.
Mike Hoffman, vice president of Teska, said at the outset the comprehensive plan should not be confused with a zoning map. The former is an advisory document and the latter is a legally-binding one.
“Just because it says ‘mining’ on the map doesn’t mean it will always be mining,” Hoffman said, indicating maps that denote where quarries already are established. That remark drew a derisive laugh from the assembly.
Tom Guttilla, chairman of Utica Planning Commission, further noted the maps indicate projected growth in rural areas beyond the village’s jurisdiction.
“We have no real authority to do anything outside our city limits,” Guttilla said.
That did little to mollify protesters whose home values have cratered, and who’ve reported other quality-of-life complaints, since new quarries were annexed into the village.
“The enjoyment of my property was lost when Northern White Sand required (I use) earplugs to sleep,” said Kelly Dempsey.
Waltham Township supervisor Bill Stack said the plan flies in the face of La Salle County’s own comprehensive plan, which emphasized the need to preserve prime farm land.
Monty Whipple of rural Utica said the plan doesn’t preserve or protect land in Waltham Township or protect it from mining and will result in the loss of agricultural land that “will be lost forever.”
CORE also wants at least two rural residents added to the body that will consider the comprehensive plan to ensure sufficient input.
“Please be neighborly,” said Mary Whipple, another CORE member. “Remember, the families who live in Waltham will have to look at what Utica does in their backyards every day. Should they not have some input?”
The comments led Hoffman to recommend some minor changes. First, that the maps be stripped of the word “mining” in favor of the more general term “industry.” Second, that the plan make at least a reference La Salle County’s competing plan to preserve agricultural.
Still, the public comments got under the commissioners’ skin.
Planning commissioner Doug Gift said he chafed at the notion that the village failed to alert its neighbors of the plan — public notices were issued months ago — or in any way locked them out of the process. He also flatly rejected the calls to start the process over.
“This is a document going into the future,” Guttilla said, trying to steer the hearing away from a rehash of the village’s withering sand mine hearings. “It can’t undo what happened in the past.”
Tom Collins can be reached at (815) 220-6930 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter: @NT_Court.