Iowa Public Television


Rural Township Incorporates To Fight Suburban Sprawl

posted on July 5, 2002

In the 1990s, suburbs didn't just experience a growth spurt -- they exploded. An American Farmland Trust analysis says states losing the most farmland to urban development include Texas, North Carolina, Ohio, California, Florida and Illinois.

Urban sprawl is often thought to occur mostly along interstates or highways that readily lead to major metropolitan areas like Boston, Chicago or Dallas.

Some rural areas may even think they are safe from the "sprawl" because there is no particularly fast, easy way to get there.

But as Nancy Crowfoot reports, sprawl has reached at least one county in Illinois … even though there is no commuter train stop, or toll way access, or major highway.


Rural Township  Incorporates To Fight Suburban Sprawl

This is rural eastern Illinois. It used to be tractors and acres of corn and beans. Today, its vans, sedans and subdivisions … as developers see an opportunity to take advantage of the growth oozing southward from Chicago. With land selling for upwards of $35,000 an acre – farmers, too see an opportunity. But other rural residents, like businessman Russ Petrizzo, see frustration.

Russ Petrizzo, Mayor, Village of Homer Glen, IL:

"Don't blame the farmers at all. I mean, I'm sure they just scrape making ends meet when they're selling their harvest. We don't blame them. It's their right to do what they want with it."

Last week, Market to Market examined the effects of urban sprawl on farmers in this area just east of Joliet … where at least one farmer adapted to suburbia by switching from his once typical corn and bean rotation … to raising pumpkins … and Christmas trees for his "new" neighbors.

This week, how the rest of the rural community dealt with the sprawl they didn't seek.

Russ Petrizzo, Mayor, Village of Homer Glen, IL:

"I've lived out here going on 17 years and everybody that you talk to that lives in this area moved out here for the same reason. It's open.

"It was beautiful, no developers down our throat, no surrounding municipalities trying to grab our property. But in the last few years it's changed."

The "change" in the demographics of this once rural area forced many residents, like Russ Petrizzo, to become community activists. They knew they could not stop the growth. And they've been unable to prohibit adjacent towns from continually annexing the land in their unincorporated township. It's been an annexation process occurring since 1988.

The solution, the activists decided, was to push for a vote to incorporate into a village … which they knew, wouldn't be easy.

Russ Petrizzo, Mayor, Village of Homer Glen. IL:

"It's been tried, I think, this is the seventh attempt in 15 years."

But this time was different, Petrizzo says.

He and about 100 other pro-incorporation activists drew up maps showing in orange the land owned by developers and investors.

Purple shows land owned and operated by farmers. Blue, indicates the future land use is unknown. White is primarily land already developed and an existing forest preserve.

Homer Township promotional video:

"When development is in the hands of someone else, it impacts us and we pay the penalty."

Calling themselves The Committee To Incorporate, they produced and distributed to residents 3,000 copies of a videotape explaining the urgency to approve incorporation.

Homer Township promotional video:

"If Will County allows this subdivision to be built, the 3,000 students from that subdivision will create a need for four more schools which could easily cost $56 million.

Homer Township cannot make the developers pay impact fees to the school district because the area is unincorporated."

The pro-incorporation campaign was a success, and on April 17, 2001 -- passing by a two-thirds majority – just over 22,000 people had a new 20 square mile town called the "Village of Homer Glen." A Web site was created to, among other things, post a mission statement … and answer concerns from residents about the change in status from township to village.

Once incorporated, the town qualified to receive revenues from various taxes collected: including state motor fuel and income taxes and part of the sales tax collected within its borders. The revenues total approximately six million dollars annually, and pays for things such as roadwork and police protection contracted with the county sheriff's department.

City Hall, as such, is a rented space in a strip mall.

A Will County judge appointed the town's first government leaders, including Russ Petrizzo as the new town's first mayor. One of the first things on his agenda is to control the development.

Russ Petrizzo, Mayor, Village of Homer Glen, IL:

"We want to see a balance of commercial and residential. We're trying to control the growth of the residential and the character around the settings. If we have one-acre home sites, we'd like to see one acre next to that, not quarter acre and that's what we're trying to do."

Petrizzo has made it no secret that he prefers to see the larger, wooded lots become the norm for the Village of Homer Glen. But he also says commercial development, which is currently lacking … is crucial to increase the tax base and not place the entire tax burden on homeowners.

Russ Petrizzo, Mayor, Village of Homer Glen, IL:

"Some of the commercial in Homer Township did not annex in. We're working on getting that annexed in. That's going to help us.

There's some large box companies that want to come in here. We're not looking to make this a monument and we're just trying to run it like a business, which we have been."

Just trying to "run it like a business" also means keeping a promise to those who voted in favor of incorporation – to not raise property taxes.

But no matter the tough promises … and the sometimes painful birthing process of creating a brand new town … Mayor Russ Petrizzo says it is worth it … especially if the rural countryside is being transformed into what residents consider undesirable.

Russ Petrizzo, Mayor, Village of Homer Glen, IL:

"We would have loved to stay a township. It was great. There was nothing wrong. But you have no rights. So grab your borders when you can before you lose them, because developers will come out eventually and take over, or the surrounding communities."

Since incorporating, town leaders may feel they have stopped the "take over." But time will tell, just how successful they are at determining their destiny.

The Village of Homer Glen was one year old in April.

For Market To Market, I'm Nancy Crowfoot.


Tags: agriculture news rural suburban