How I Voted: Maxxam Partners/Glenwood Academy

Petition #4364 CAMPTON AND PLATO TOWNSHIPS
Petitioner: Glenwood Academy/Maxxam Partners, LLC
Location: 41W400 Silver Glen Road, Section 3 – Campton Township,
Section 34 - Plato Township, (08-03-100-009) (05-34-300-032)
(05-34-400-025)
Proposed: Special Use for a private-pay alcoholism and substance abuse
treatment facility
2040 Plan: Institutional / Private Open Space
Objectors: Area property owners, Village of Campton Hills, Campton
Township, Campton Township Plan Commission, Plato Township,
Fox River and Countryside Fire Rescue District
Recommendations: Regional Planning Comm.: N/A
Zoning Board: DENIAL
Development Committee: Approval

 

 A beautiful property, it now lies vacant due to petitioner controversy and lack of community support.

A beautiful property, it now lies vacant due to petitioner controversy and lack of community support.

This was by far the most controversial issue I’ve had to vote on so far (as of July 2017), and it’s one that attracted a lot of attention and energy. I surprised some people with the way I voted when I voted against the company.

On Tuesday, May 9th, 2017 the full County Board voted 14-9 against giving Maxxam Partners the Special Use permit for the former Glenwood Academy for Boys. They wanted to convert the former school into a drug rehabilitation facility which I personally thought was a great idea.

We were asked to judge the petition for special use based upon 6 criteria. Some criteria weren’t very relevant to the matter, but I think the first one is where the petition failed in my estimation:

"That the establishment, maintenance or operation of the special use will not be unreasonably detrimental to or endanger the public health, safety, morals, comfort or general welfare;"

 

The People Said No

The amount of furor from the residents over this petition was tremendous. It was clear that the people of the area were not going to want this facility no matter what— even if their assertions were incorrect or exaggerated. 

I believed that there was a way that this facility could be made to work but I saw nothing but resistance from residents. Now, on the one hand, I know that we are elected officials that are meant to use our judgement on behalf of the voters, but I realize that you also are expected to represent the will of the people. If this issue had come up in my district and I disagreed with the voters, then it would be my job to persuade them or suffer the consequences at the voting booth if I defied their mandate.

The commissioner representing that district, Barbara Wojnicki, was in full agreement with her constituents that this facility would be a bad thing for the community. It is hard to ignore that, but even all of that alone isn’t enough for me to vote against what I think is the right thing.

But, that opposition alone signals the potential for detrimental outcomes in the residents’ comfort. I do not believe their personal safety would have been in jeopardy, I do not believe that their morals would have been in jeopardy, and I do not believe that their general welfare would have ever been in jeopardy if this facility would have been allowed.

This is where I sternly disagree with the residents of Campton Hills. I think there was a lot of fear-based talk going around about this, but not a lot of facts. You had people, many people, actually worried that some drug addict (who is paying Hollywood-level money to get treatment) is going to “escape” from the facility and wander off into their homes and raid the booze, steal the jewelry, and rape the daughters. That’s really what some people out there believed and to me it was baffling.

I visited the Glenwood site. I saw how wide open and beautiful it was. I realized how tucked away it is, and how unappealing it would be for someone suffering withdrawals to walk through the big fields and through the wooded area and then just bust into someone’s home looking for a fix. The people that could afford going to that place would call an Uber and head to the nearest drug dealer’s house or local tavern instead.

 

Public Health Angle

So the project is certainly a disruption of the residents’ comfort, but it’s the public health angle that concerned me the most.

Silver Glen Rd, where the facility would be, is a pretty narrow road in many spots. This wouldn’t be much of an issue except for the fact that long stretches of the road have almost no shoulder whatsoever. A point was made often, I think rightly so, that this situation could pose some safety concerns for drivers. I can imagine that if the facility gets a few calls a week (although it seems estimates are a bit higher than that) and there is a foot of snow on the ground and someone is in distress, drivers along Silver Glen Rd are going to find themselves in some potentially dangerous conditions as emergency vehicles try to get through.

The property is otherwise surrounded by private lots so there is no chance that an access road can be built to the north of the property. I really wish there were more access points but as it is now, it does concern me that Silver Glen Rd is so narrow with no shoulder in many parts.

But there’s a deeper public health issue that concerned me and ultimately caused me to vote against this facility. The emergency personnel available for the Campton Hills area is insufficient to handle the increased workload. It takes 3 hours for each EMT to go through the motions from the first call to filling out reports afterwards. If the Maxxam site ends up getting a few calls in one day, and the townspeople just happen to have some accidents occur, there will be some unfortunate lag times in emergency services.

Do I think that there could be accommodations made to adjust for all of this? Yes, but that's not for me to say and I wouldn't have any way to make it happen. Did they try to get an EMT company to station at the Glenwood site? That could solve a big problem they have there and I didn't see that it was addressed. As towns expand, so will the emergency services, but they come at a cost. So when they can improve the availability of those emergency services in the area then I will give my vote new consideration. 

 

Trust Issues

 The petitioner, Mr. Marco, completely failed to garner the support of the locals. He just didn't speak their language at all.

The petitioner, Mr. Marco, completely failed to garner the support of the locals. He just didn't speak their language at all.

And something that lurks in the background of this entire subject is the petitioner himself, someone who is largely mistrusted by the local residents and certainly didn’t seem to “do business” in a way that those folks could appreciate. He didn't influence my vote one way or the other, but I think the petitioner, Mr. Marco, could have done a more focused campaign to persuade the locals, but instead he chose to try and push it through the County Board. Ultimately it backfired and even though there is the threat of a lawsuit now hanging above us, if he truly wants to get this thing passed the right way he should go and have a beer at the local tavern and try to understand the people of Campton Hills better. 

When the people are in agreement with a project, then we hear them say that government works, but when people do not understand or agree with a project, and the government goes ahead with it, then we hear how much it is broken and working against us all. I agree with both perspectives, I can see the merits of both sides.

In this case, I was personally in favor of the type of facility proposed but when it came to some of the finer details, I found that I needed to remain clear in my objections. Some of my colleagues expressed surprise that I would vote against this, being a young liberal and all, but just like the Kowalczyk petition that you’ll read about in another post, the petitioners were not exactly the best representatives for their side as far as persuasion of the neighbors goes. Had they been, I imagine there wouldn't have been any controversy over the issue and the facility would be in operation. 

In the end I hope that Maxxam is able to increase their ability to sell this project to the people of Campton Hills and the Kane County Board. I do think this facility is a good use of the property, and if ultimately it fails after opening then at least we tried and had some revenue coming in.

For now, the entire beautiful property sits vacant with no prospects for a tenant on the horizon.