Riley Township officials question plans in Marengo

MARENGO – Some Riley Township officials and residents are concerned Marengo leaders are moving too hastily with their long-term development efforts as the city prepares to extend its limits to Interstate 90 next month.

Riley Township Supervisor Karen Schnable said the city first directly revealed to the township its comprehensive plan 2½ weeks before the City Council endorsed it last week.

The plan calls for industrial, commercial and residential development to the south and west of Marengo. City officials have been developing the plan while simultaneously talking with seven property owners within Riley Township about being annexed into city limits.

The City Council was supposed to annex 750 acres into the city last week but delayed the vote until March 11.

“It’s all happening so fast,” Schnable said. “It’s very hard to get the word out to people when they adopt the plan, annex the land and annex more land.”

The city is trying to annex 2,500 acres along Route 23, all the way to Interstate 90, to better negotiate with the Illinois Toll Highway Authority on funding a full interchange that could accelerate development.

The council could vote on as many as three annexation agreements, covering 1,425 acres, during its March 11 meeting. The total amount of land targeted for annexation covers cornfields, sand and gravel pits and three houses.

But Schnable fears township residents are having a “difficult time digesting” the city’s development plans, even if the residents aren’t a part of the annexation.

She said residents haven’t had proper say on how neighboring development would change their way of life. She encouraged residents who have questions to address the City Council.

Dave Diamond, Riley Township highway commissioner, has spoken numerous times during public meetings “as a concerned taxpayer,” arguing Marengo has not thoroughly developed its long-term plans, which are dependent on an unapproved interchange.

He said the city hasn’t given any thought to how much tax money is needed to extend city services to potential property owners annexed into the city or how to pay the city’s portion of an interchange

“They are betting on a whim that economic prosperity will come with this location,” Diamond said. “It’s a long shot, and they are gambling with taxpayers dollars.”

But City Administrator Gary Boden has a message for critics of the city’s swift efforts to spur future development: Criticize the law.

The city is within its legal authority to annex properties and extend its limit. Riley Township also has no legal standing to do anything about it because individual property owners have the supreme authority to decide to be annexed.

Boden also expects potential changes to city services would be inconsequential because the city would extend services to only three additional homeowners.

The city also would be tasked with maintaining a quarter-mile stretch of Pleasant Grove Road and about two-tenths of a mile on Blissdale Road, if all 2,500 acres are annexed. He said current county regulations on the sand and gravel pits would be unchanged.

Marengo is confident the tollway authority would endorse half the funding for a $60 million interchange because it announced plans to invest $2.3 billion to expand I-90 from Chicago to Rockford.

Officials also have been negotiating with the tollway authority, as well as talking to local partners such as McHenry County – on helping to pay the local share of an interchange, Boden said.

The city officially unveiled its broad planning intentions last summer. Boden said the comprehensive plan was first introduced to the council in December, despite Riley Township not being aware of it until late January.

“The fact is we have been deliberate and transparent, and it’s been seven months since we first started talking about this publicly,” Boden said.

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