Janesville City Council denies mine’s annexation request

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September 28, 2010
— It’s over before it started.

In a highly unusual move, the council on Monday declined to introduce an annexation and zoning of land that could have paved the way for a sand and gravel mine on the south side.

Normally, requests to annex and rezone are introduced at the council level, usually without any comment from residents or council members. The requests are referred to the plan commission, where a public hearing is scheduled, and then returned to the council with the plan commission’s recommendation. There, another public hearing is held.

On Monday, council members said too much staff time would be wasted on an issue about which they had apparently already made up their minds.

Neighbors turned the meeting into an impromptu public hearing. Council President Kathy Voskuil warned at one point that the council really should not be asking questions of the speakers and discussing the merits of the operation because the annexation was merely being introduced.

Company representative Dave Anderson said after the meeting that he was shocked when the council did not refer the matter to the plan commission, where information is meant to be exchanged and concerns answered.

“We didn’t think that something like this could happen where they don’t give us the opportunity to at least explain and go over the concerns and provide the reports and data,” Anderson said. He especially took issue with comments from council members questioning the benefit of the operation to Janesville, saying they didn’t allow representatives a chance to explain the many benefits.

Residents last week presented a petition to City Hall with about 1,500 signatures gathered by neighbor Betty Ellefson. On Monday, the owner of the mining company, Eric Gilbert, presented his own petition with more than 1,085 signatures in favor.

MH Materials owns 316 acres in La Prairie Township and wanted to annex 75 of those to Janesville and then zone those for mining.

The operation would have employed about 25 people.

Township officials several years ago took the mine to court, saying ordinances passed in 1977 forbade mining. The company’s attorney, Bob Consigny, said Monday that the company owners, who bought the mine in 2002, thought the mine had operated continuously since before the ordinance was passed so it was a non-conforming use. That was based on information provided by the land’s former owner, Whilden Hughes, Consigny said. A judge agreed with La Prairie.

Councilman Russ Steeber made the motion to deny the introduction, noting that the mine had already been shut down by the township.

“If they couldn’t sell the case to the township, how could they sell it to us?” he asked. “Secondly, we have a community that is very concerned about their property, their neighborhood,” Steeber said.

Councilman Tom McDonald said he was leaning against the project but acknowledged that he was not certain he had enough information to make that decision. Both he and Voskuil said they were concerned about the staff time that would be devoted to the issue.

Voskuil said she believed there had been due process.

Councilman Frank Perrotto was the only member to vote against Steeber’s motion. He noted the petition, and said he understood the concerns of the community.

“But, I’m torn here,” he said. “There is something called due process. … I believe everyone has an opportunity to present their case about some of the concerns mentioned here tonight.” Perrotto would have also sent the issue to the Janesville Sustainable Committee for a recommendation.

Allan Arndt of La Prairie Township said last week that the town’s concern was the loss of good farmland, and supervisors were happy to hear that Gilbert would keep most of the land in farming under the company’s latest plan. Township officials, though, were not happy to lose any land to Janesville, he said.

The area is zoned light industrial in the city’s recently passed comprehensive plan.

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