Woodstock OKs development over objections from neighbors: ‘Not acting irresponsibly’

Attendees clap April 2, 2024 at the Woodstock City Council meeting.

The Woodstock City Council gave its unanimous approval to the controversial Riverwoods subdivision Wednesday morning, overriding the Plan Commission, which gave the proposal a thumbs-down in December.

Opponents of the subdivision, where about 250 single-family homes and 76 duplex units are planned, have raised a number of concerns about the development, including density, soil quality and the loss of trees, among other things.

Tuesday’s meeting was moved from City Hall to the Opera House to accommodate the large number of residents who came out for the vote, largely in opposition to the Lennar development, and the meeting extended long into the night.

“This was a long and appropriately detailed process,” Mayor Mike Turner said.

Despite the council overriding the Plan Commission, Turner said during the meeting that he “trust[s] the Plan Commission.”

Catie Bullen speaks out against the Riverwoods subdivision April 2, 2024 at the Woodstock City Council meeting.

The Opera House auditorium was mostly packed, but the balconies were empty. Many attendees wore green to represent environmental concerns. The room also thinned out as the night progressed, some attendees seeing the writing on the wall.

The votes of approval at the meeting that began at 7 p.m. Tuesday finally took place after midnight.

Before the council began discussing Riverwoods, Turner reminded the crowd to be civil. He didn’t admonish anyone, although opponents had reactions to various comments throughout the night.

“We operate in a respectful manner at [the] Woodstock City Council,” Turner said.

Opponents clapped after almost every public comment, but after the votes were taken, many of the opponents who stuck it out quietly left the auditorium. More than two dozen people spoke, mostly in opposition to the development.

Amber Bauman, who lives by the development, was among the opponents who addressed the council, repeating a quote from a Bob Dylan song: “Money doesn’t talk, it swears.”

“This entire situation is swearing at everyone,” Bauman said.

TJ Liebetrau also spoke out against the development, saying it was “dangerously close to the Kishwaukee River.”

Lisa Haderlein of the Land Conservancy of McHenry County said her organization has had a “very close relationship” with Woodstock.

“We understand that development is going to happen,” Haderlein said.

The Land Conservancy sent a letter to city officials with concerns about the number of trees that might need to be felled to make room for the development.

City Council member Darrin Flynn suggested that Lennar partner with the Land Conservancy on this project.

Alan Eriksson of Midwest Land Partners said “Lennar has the financial wherewithal” to do this project.

“I’m asking for you to use sound judgment,” he told the council.

Midwest Land Partners owns the property, according to city documents.

Duplex density has been a particular sticking point, with one commissioner at the Plan Commission meeting in December saying the duplexes should be in town rather than the outskirts. The development will be located by Northwestern Woodstock Hospital on the southeast side of town.

Megan Liebetrau, whose property backs up to the development, asked before the council’s zoning vote whether Lennar could come back and try to make the whole development duplexes.

City officials noted that Lennar technically could come back and ask, but Turner said he would give a “hard no” on such a proposal, and the rest of the council agreed that it would vote no on that.

Liebetrau said that “doesn’t hold much water for me” in response.

According to city documents, the soils present on the development property are common in McHenry County, and built-up portions in places such as Crystal Lake and Algonquin are on these soils.

Trees and impact fees also were items about which opponents raised concerns.

Opponents brought up older trees being cut down to make way for the development, as well as the fact that the tree survey used for the development was from the mid-2000s.

According to city documents, Lennar’s arborist performed a field verification of the study.

Lennar will be required to plant 320 new trees and will be taking steps to minimize tree loss, according to the city.

Lennar representatives said Tuesday that they are planning to plant about 760 new trees as part of the development, which is “well over double” the requirement of 320 for this development, said Rich Olson, the land planner on the project.

Turner said Woodstock is “increasingly a Chicago suburb,” and the southeast quadrant of the city is a strategic focus. He mentioned the Route 14 corridor is “vital,” which includes the Food Shed co-op scheduled to open next month.

City officials showed a map of Woodstock and Crystal Lake boundaries in the Route 14 corridor and noted that Crystal Lake is growth-oriented.

“Lucas Road will get developed by somebody,” Turner said.

Council member Bob Seegers said the council was “not acting irresponsibly.”

“I admire the passion and effort you all showed,” Seegers said of the opponents.

Impact fees were another sticking point for opponents. Lennar was assessed about $5 million in impact fees, but city documents indicate that that figure was proposed to include an estimated $1.5 million reduction.

Notably, the portion levied for the school district isn’t slated to be reduced. Turner said such reductions are common in this development environment, but opponents said the impact fee reduction will be shouldered by city taxpayers.

Turner said the city isn’t writing Lennar a $1.5 million check, and property taxes came up in both his and other council members’ comments.

“One of the biggest complaints we get is property taxes,” he said.

Several of the council members mentioned growth in their comments.

Council member Melissa McMahon said Riverwoods was “very much an emotional topic. ... We haven’t had a lot of growth. We haven’t had [a chance] to.”

She added that she came into the meeting unsure of how she would vote and said she had hang-ups about the potential for 6-feet setbacks.

Turner also said he didn’t “care for” 6-feet setbacks.

Lennar representative Rick Murphy said, “We love this market,” adding that Lennar “want[s] to be in Woodstock.”

Council member Gordie Tebo said the city “will grow,” adding that the question for officials is, “How do we manage that growth?”