by Susan O’Neill
Elburn—Progress on the Elburn Station development came to a halt on Monday night, after four Village Board trustees declined to vote on an agreement with the Kaneland School District.
Elburn Station is a proposed transit-oriented development that would add more than 2,000 residential units, as well as commerical properties, in an area ranging from the Elburn train coachyard, Anderson Road, Keslinger Road and Route 38.
The agreement, which had been negotiated between village and School District officials, included capital impact fees to help pay for the new students the development would bring. Although the agreement initially focused only on the Shodeen development, the final draft version was a village-wide agreement between Elburn and the district.
When trustee Ken Anderson made a motion to vote on the agreement, no one else would second it. The motion died on the floor. The other trustees present were Jerry Schmidt, Jeff Walter, Bill Grabarek and David Gualdoni. Ethan Hastert was absent.
“One issue I have is there’s no clause that protects Elburn from another plan being negotiated (between another municipality and the School District) that is lower,” Walter said. “I want to see a guarantee that we would go to the lower fee structure.”
The other trustees raised similar concerns. Several years ago, all of the municipalities within the Kaneland School District agreed to the same fees, to level the playing field for developers looking to build within the district.
Last fall, however, all of the district’s municipalities except Sugar Grove agreed to a revised fee structure for the schools. Sugar Grove declined to participate. That agreement included higher fees than the one Elburn is currently considering.
Sugar Grove Village President Sean Michels said the village’s decision last year not to participate in an across-the-board agreement with the School District boiled down to capital infrastructure improvements needed for different developments.
“We support a strong School District, but we’re trying to look at development as a total package,” Michels said. “We have to balance the needs of all the taxing bodies.”
The four Elburn trustees said they are concerned either that Elburn will end up paying the lion’s share of the cost to educate the children in the district, or that developers will build somewhere else to avoid the fees Elburn charges.
“Let’s make it a level playing field,” Gualdoni said.
“I don’t want to see a failed development because it’s cheaper to build in Sugar Grove,” Grabarek said.
Village President Dave Anderson and trustee Ken Anderson found themselves in the minority on this issue.
Dave Anderson said that the board should not put the burden of development onto existing Elburn property owners.
“They are all our kids; we’re all responsible,” he said. “We’ve got an opportunity to do it right. I don’t want to inhibit growth, but it should not be at any cost.”
He asked the other board members, “What’s the quickest way to kill a village?”
Answering his own question, he said, “Let your School District go to pot. This will come back to haunt us.”
Ken Anderson asked the others what they would do if another municipality decided not to pay the School District anything.
“That’s not looking out for our future kids or the future of this town,” he said. “Do two wrongs make a right?”
Further complicating the issue, Shodeen developer Dave Patzelt expressed surprise that the 25 percent fee reduction in impact fees did not apply to all housing units within the development. The discount in the impact fee structure begins with homes valued at $300,000 or more, and gradually increases until it reaches the full 25 percent reduction.
“The discount sounds good, but in reality, it’s not a discount,” Patzelt said.
He said he was not interested in moving forward with the development under those conditions.
At one point during the discussion, Patzelt said that his company believes in quality schools and paying a reasonable fee for the schools. He offered to create an escrow account, which would be used to pay directly for the students his development brought into the village. That is when Ken made his motion to vote on the School District IGA.
Ken Anderson on Tuesday expressed surprise at the board members’ reactions on Monday.
“It looked like we were on the same page last week,” he said.
Ken said he didn’t have a problem with having a flexible agreement, so that if new numbers or new data became available, the fees could be adjusted up or down.
“It should work for the benefit of the village and the schools,” he said. “The schools still cost money to run. That doesn’t change because the economy is bad. They’re still paying teachers and they’re still maintaining buildings.”
The board opened up the public hearing on the annexation and planned development agreement on Monday, and will reconvene it next week.
“I would strongly recommend that the IGA with the School District be done before the annexation agreement with Shodeen,” Village Attorney Bob Britz said.
The next regularly scheduled board meeting is set for Monday, May 21, at 7 p.m.