Residents near Moraine Hills State Park want answers about new parking lot and path under construction

They say they weren’t notified about plans

In photos taken Thursday, Sept. 14, 2023, resident Anthony Parker shows where his lot line meets a parking lot now being built  by the Nunda Township Highway District. Neighbors say they did not know a parking lot, set to access Moraine Hills State Park, was planned.

Residents of Steuben Road in Nunda Township want to know why a parking lot and pathway is being built off their street as a new access point for Moraine Hills State Park.

Several attended the Nunda Township Boards of Trustees meeting Thursday night hoping for answers.

“This is the first time I am hearing about a parking lot,” Trustee Tim Parrish said. “We see the bills after the work is performed.”

This is the first time I am hearing about a parking lot.”

—  Nunda Township Trustee Tim Parrish

The parking lot is under the purview of township Highway Commissioner Mike Lesperance. He has not attended a township meeting since November, when resident Barbara Ellisson came to complain about Steuben Road’s condition, Trustee Rob Parrish said.

“Before, I was the only one to fight him. It was terrible,” Ellisson said of her efforts to get the road rebuilt.

That work started in December.

Lesperance could not be reached for comment Friday.

The township board and the highway commissioner have long had a contentious relationship. In November 2021, Lesperance sued the board over its attempts to change the property tax levy from what he’d proposed. A judge agreed in December 2021, ruling that the highway commissioner has sole authority to determine the road district’s levy.

This week, 38 residents of both Steuben and nearby Landl Park roads signed a petition to protest the parking lot. Of those, 14 attended the township meeting.

Resident Anthony Parker said the parking lot and an adjacent trail – on land owned by the township – is now being built inches from his property line.

Residents were never informed of the lot and the new access to the park, Parker said, adding that residents first learned anything was happening when crews started taking out trees and preparing the parking lot base.

Parker said he and other residents were happy that the road condition was being addressed, noting that the first layer of asphalt was finally laid Thursday.

What residents said they didn’t expect was a parking lot.

“The parking lot in question is the size of a Walgreen’s parking lot. Who signed off on the engineering or the parking lot?” resident Matthew Smith said. “None of the records are online or available.”

Smith said he emailed a representative of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources but that the neighbors don’t know why or how the secondary access point was approved.

A representative of IDNR, which oversees Moraine Hills State Park, could not be reached for comment.

Township Supervisor Leda Bobera-Drain said there is little the township trustees can do.

“It is under [Lesperance’s] jurisdiction, and we don’t have a lot of say,” she said.

Tim Parrish suggested the residents reach out to Lesperance and set up a meeting.

“Make that contact, and keep telling him you do not want it,” he said.

He also thanked the Steuben Road residents for coming to the meeting.

“This is why I ran” for the seat, he said. “You guys asking for help. That is why I am here.”

Northwest Herald’s Claire O’Brien contributed to this report.