Crown development in Sugar Grove draws big protest

Audience members listen to Village of Sugar Grove President Jen Konen deliver her 2024 State of the Village at Waubonsee Community College on March 20.

Several hundred people June 18 made it very clear they oppose using property taxes to help pay some of the costs of transforming 861 acres of farmland near Sugar Grove into warehouses, offices, stores and housing.

Many in the crowd wore protest T-shirts during the almost two-hour public hearing on whether the Sugar Grove Village Board should find the land eligible to become a tax increment financing district.

Crown Community Development owns the land. It has proposed building The Grove, which according to a CCD website would have a 244-acre business park, 123 acres for office, commercial, retail or civic use and 393 acres of housing.

The land is east of Route 47, straddling Interstate 88. The village has not yet annexed the land.

The hearing was only about whether the land qualifies to become a TIF district. That disappointed many speakers who wanted to talk about The Grove concept, the effect of keeping property taxes from other taxing bodies, whether Route 47 could safely handle an increase in truck traffic and other concerns.

“This isn’t about projects or potential projects,” Village President Jen Konen told the crowd. “This is about TIF creation.”

People participate in a protest against Crown Development on Tuesday, Oct. 3, 2023 in Sugar Grove.

Residents were allowed to speak about those issues at the end of the Village Board meeting that resumed after the public hearing, but most of the crowd had left by that time.

In a TIF district, property tax payments to taxing bodies are frozen at their current level for 23 years. As property values increase, the difference between what the government collects and the higher taxes the land generates goes into a fund that helps pay for the improvements.

A TIF report by a consultant estimates that as much as $350 million in development costs would be eligible for reimbursement.

The TIF report said the land is vacant and qualifies because it is blighted because it chronically floods and runoff from the site contributes to flooding in the Blackberry Creek watershed.

Speaker after speaker said the land is not vacant because it still is being farmed commercially. They also disagreed with the flooding claim.

“There is no factual basis that any of this water creates any problem beyond this property,” Sugar Grove resident Perry Elliot said. “They [Crown] are assuming that everybody will buy this [finding] and let it slide.”

Blackberry Township Supervisor Esther Steele said the township board opposes the TIF.

“We believe this TIF will have an extensive negative effect on the well-being of Blackberry Township and Blackberry Township taxpayers,” she said. “We do not agree that healthy farmland is blight. It does not conform to the state statute. This is not blighted. This is healthy farmland.”

In response to a claim made by a speaker, Konen denied having any financial stake in getting the land developed.

Several parcels adjacent to the site are owned by Konen-Hysell Trust 101, according to Kane County land records. The trustee is Judith Hysell of Michigan. She is the sister of James Konen, a single man who had no children when he died in 2018, according to an obituary. He and Hysell were the only children of the previous owner, Arthur Konen, according to the obituary.

“It doesn’t matter if I tell you that I don’t own the [Konen-Hysell] property. The accusation still comes,” Jen Konen said, choking up. “We [she and her husband, Eric Konen] do not own the property and, therefore, are not being bought off.”