Local News

With poor private roads, Wonder Lake neighborhood considers leaving village, eyeing township program

Residents for decades have refused to pay to upgrade streets so they can be transferred to the village for future maintenance

Every spring, it’s almost impossible to hold a drink without spilling it while driving a car through the Wonder Lake neighborhood John Tollini lives in, he said.

That’s because the roads through the neighborhood, known as Wildwood, have always been privately owned maintained, although the property owners more than a decade ago agreed to be annexed into the village of Wonder Lake.

Tollini is the neighborhood leader of Wildwood’s homeowners association, which is made up of 53 homes.

Now, some residents of the neighborhood are pushing to secede from the village, which would require going through a legal process and taking a vote among the property owners.

But doing so might make the neighborhood eligible for a program run by the McHenry County government with the McHenry Township Road District as a partner.

The program, established five years ago with $8 million in county funding, is wrapping up but converted 23 miles of what had been privately owned subdivision roads into public roadways across four different townships. The money went toward upgrading the roadways to meet current standards, and then the townships agreed to cover the future maintenance and snow plowing for the roads.

McHenry Township through the program has taken over the maintenance for several subdivisions in the Wonder Lake area that were never annexed into the village, including Indian Ridge, which is far larger than nearby Wildwood, with hundreds of homes.

But the township is unable to do that for the Wildwood neighborhood because it already is in the village.

The reason the village hasn’t taken over Wildwood’s roads yet is because at the time it was annexed into Wonder Lake, the village said the roads were in too poor of condition for the village to pay the entire upgrading costs.

In the 1990s and early 2000s, many other subdivisions around the lake decided to annex into the village, so they could start getting their roads taken care of by Wonder Lake instead funding their maintenance with homeowners association dues.

They established special taxing districts called special service areas, which are used to charge additional taxes for a specific purpose within a set area. All annexed neighborhoods – except Wildwood – set up special service areas to upgrade what were once private roads over a period of years and now those streets belong to the village.

Shortly after the village annexed Wildwood, though, a majority of the residents of the neighborhood voted against creating the special service area that would have financed the repairs of their roads.

After the township program came into existence, subdivisions that never annexed into the village got its roads improved that way.

The disparity between the neighborhoods has divided the community, current and former local officials said.

“I think the village provides a stronger sense of community, but it would be better if there was more participation,” said Tollini, who serves as president of the Wildwood Association of Lookout Point. He also is a trustee on the Wonder Lake Village Board.

There are legal obstacles to the neighborhood successfully leaving the village, in particular a property outside the subdivision that is a part of the village but would no longer be contiguous to the village if the Wildwood exits. Isolating a property in that way cannot be done during a disconnection from a municipality, according to advice Tollini said his association was given by its attorney.

A special service area still could be established for Wildwood, and the village would accept the roads if one is, officials said.

“I’m at my wit’s end of trying to find a solution that enough people are happy with,” said Tollini, who is against the neighborhood leaving the village.

County Board member Joe Gottemoller, who was County Board chairman at the time the private road improvement program started, voted against establishing it because he felt uneasy about taxpayers from across the county subsidizing upgrades to private roads used most frequently by relatively few motorists. But he said Thursday the results have been successful as it upgraded 23 miles of streets.

“I think it benefits everyone in the county by having these roads maintained and taken care of, but still I didn’t think it was fair Huntley was paying for roads in McHenry,” Gottemoller said.

Former County Board Chairman Jack Franks had no intention of expanding it, he said, opting not to bring discussion of funding it further to the McHenry County Board because he felt the money was inequitably distributed, with the bulk of it going toward subdivision roads in McHenry Township.

“I think it’s a terrible program,” Franks said.

The program had another impact, as well, Wonder Lake Trustee Dennis Palys said.

He said it helped to endear more voters to townships as such agencies were facing pressure and scrutiny from activists and lawmakers who supported legislation and local ballot measures aimed at abolishing them.

But he also said he thinks the program has been a success, although he feels it has somewhat dampened the drive of residents to annex into Wonder Lake.

McHenry Township Highway Commissioner Jim Condon said his intention has never been to influence any subdivision’s desire for annexation into a village. But he said he understands why the program’s establishment could upset people who paid out of their own pockets to get their roads up to par.

“I can understand both sides of the coin,” Condon said. “In the end, it turned out to be a really good program. We found a way to get a whole bunch of roads improved and that’s the bottom line.”

Palys concurred.

“This is not a win-or-lose situation. This is governments working together to make things a little better for everybody. Condon deserves credit for doing this. I applaud his actions. Some of these roads were a disaster,” Palys said.

Sam Lounsberry

Sam Lounsberry

Sam Lounsberry covers local government, business, K-12 education and all other aspects of life in McHenry County, in particular in the communities of Woodstock, McHenry, Richmond, Spring Grove, Wonder Lake and Johnsburg.