Saturday, September 24, 2005

Forest preserves are probably the most important source of open space that a suburban/exurban area like Elgin requires. City parks are also important, but they are typically small and offer different forms of recreation. The health of a county's forest preserve system is, in my opinion, an important barometer of the quality of life and environment in that area. So how do we fare in Elgin? Elgin is lucky that on the east it borders the Poplar Creek Forest Preserves of Cook County. On the other borders, I think much more can be done.

Cook County has 67,000 acres of forest preserve. Dupage County has 24,000, as does Lake County. Where does Kane County stand? Kane County has only 14,200 acres of forest preserve. This is the smallest of the comparable surrounding counties. Even rural McHenry County as 20,000 acres of forest preserve.
A full 11% of Dupage County's landmass is forest preserve. Cook County claims that 11% of its landmass is forest preserve, but according to my calculations, that figure is only 6.4% How about Kane County? 4.2%

When I suggest that the Stony Creek project become a forest preserve project rather than a subdivision project, it's because there is a need for more forest preserve land in Kane County. We lag the other counties in the preservation of open space, which is both important to the environment and to quality of life. Thousands of people use the forest preserves for biking and hiking, fishing, riding, skiing and so on, while teachers use it to give students and children a first-hand look at ecology and science.

The fact that Campton Township felt the need to go out and raise their own money and buy properties like Corron Farm indicates that Kane County is not moving fast enough to protect our natural resources. Examples like Stony Creek suggest that the county is being outmaneuvered by developers.

The recently-approved $75 million bond offering will be helpful, but is expected to buy only 4,000-5,000 acres, whereas we need about twice that acreage in order to be in line with surrounding counties. I hope that in the future, we hear as much about new forest preserves as we do about new subdivisions.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

That I supported Stony Creek initially was, I think, attributable in part to how ineffective the campaign to stop the annexation has been. I want to devote this post to describing some of the problems that I see in the movement. This is not meant to be a criticism of the Preserve Campton organization. I understand that people have worked hard on this. And they deserve respect and praise for that. This is just feedback. I could be wrong--I often am, but this is how I see it now. I see three general problems:

  1. Offering an inferior alternative option: a large-lot development. This is hardly better than a higher density subdvision from an open (public) space and environmental perspective. This also allows the newspapers to spin this as a struggle to preserve Campton's way of life of "high-priced homes on large lots." Can you really expect middle class voters in Elgin to be sympathetic to preserving Camptonites semi-baronial way of life? The superior alternative option: a large, high-quality forest preserve.

  2. Failing to provide a consistent and unified name for the Kane County Forest Preserve properties on the west side of Corron Road and the Campton Township Open Space, including Corron Farm, on the east side of the Road. Look at that sentence. Who's going to be able to understand, much less talk about this? It's unwieldy. And it's unwise to keep talking about these properties in this way. They must become a single property under the control of Kane County Forest Preserves and the unified whole must have a catchy name. Corron-Meissner Savannah is one option. The word savannah has powerful associations and will draw wide interest. Ears will perk up when they hear the word savannah.

  3. Taking an adversarial "Campton vs. Elgin" approach. Let's start with the name, "Preserve Campton." If this was a fight where camptonites' votes mattered, this name would be fine. In reality, it is the voters of Elgin who will decide--through their influence on city council members--whether Stony Creek is constructed or not. If you call the movement "Preserve Campton," you set up an adversarial dynamic with Elgin. You define the fight as, "Preserve Campton vs. Let Elgin Grow." If you define the fight this way, the people of Elgin will naturally side with their city. So what should you do? Change the dynamic from "Campton vs. Elgin" to "We're all in this together." Cast this as a fight to save open space in the Elgin area, or more specifically, a fight to save the Corron-Meissner Savannah for Elgin area residents. In the context of this fight, the word Campton must give way to "Elgin Area," a term that works well in Elgin, where many organizations and officials harbor regional ambitions.

The ideas I suggest here represent a major shift in strategy. Up to now, the Preserve Campton organization has been taking the fight to Campton residents, people who can't influence Elgin's city council, instead of to the Elginites who can. They've been huddling in Wasco, miles away from Elgin, when they should be meeting in downtown Elgin, to send the message to Elginites that this is their fight, that they are the ones with the most to lose. They've been talking about the impact of Stony Creek in terms of the pressure that it will put on St. Charles or Campton's schools, traffic, etc., none of which impact Elginites living miles away. Instead they should talk about the loss to Elgin if this subdivision is built. Elgin will lose a large forest preserve on its southern border, a forest preserve which encompasses oak savannah, an immense prairie, wetlands and woodlands, and which by virtue of its size and quality can arguably be called the gem of the Kane County Forest Preserves.

In order to frame the argument in this way, I think it's crucial that a single, unified and catchy name be chosen to describe the natural and protected areas that straddle Corron Road. Furthermore, all of it must be describable as Kane County Forest Preserves. As long as the term Campton Township Open Space is used to describe any of the threatened properties, it will draw little interest in Elgin, because Elginites will not be concerned about threats to Campton's open space. To people in Elgin, the term Kane County has meaning; that's something they are a part of--they live in it. The term Campton Township, on the other hand, is alien. In short, a threat to Kane County Forest Preserves will draw a response; a threat to Campton Township Open Space will not.

Time is running out. The day of the final annexation vote will arrive well before fall does. Will litigation buy time to make these changes? Stay tuned and find out.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Proposed Stony Creek Subdivision (eastern site)
In light of new information that I didn't have before, my view of the Stony Creek annexation has changed. I don't think that in this particular case, the creation of a new subdivision on this specific site would benefit Elgin. This site possesses too much potential for natural restoration and preservation as protected open space in the form of a large Kane County Forest Preserve.

A large preserve, as I envision it, would be bounded by Silver Glen and McDonald Road to the south and north, respectively, and the Arlington Estates subdivision and Corron Road to the east and west, respectively (for now, I will ignore, the Kane County Forest Preserves on the west side of Corron Road). It would include the property now known as Corron Farm, which is I believe currently under the control of Campton Township rather than the Kane County Forest Preserves.

I support development in general and in other sites in the city, but there's a reason that this site has drawn more interest and opposition than others. Initially I thought the reason was just that it was encroaching on Campton, but in fact, it's a problematic project because it would destroy a site which possesses great potential for a forest preserve to be used by Elgin residents as well as the residents of neighboring municipalities. A forest preserve, with its myriad possibilities for recreation, is a major amenity and selling point. The presence of the large Poplar Creek Forest Preserves on the city's east side is one of the major selling points that Elgin has. To have something similar on the south side would greatly enhance Elgin's image as a modern, "green" city situated in the midst of beautiful woods, prairies and wetlands.

An ideal negotiated solution, in my view, would result in something like the following:
  1. Neither Elgin nor Campton Hills annexes both sites (at worst, the eastern site) making them available for purchase by the Kane County Forest Preserves
  2. Campton Hills agrees not to incorporate north of Silver Glen Road (at worst, McDonald road), respecting Elgin's planning boundaries
See some pictures of the site.