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home : news : north central illinois   April 28, 2016

11/14/2012 2:26:00 PM
Bureau County Board balks at house-on-stilts proposal

Outvoted, 15-7

Members of the Bureau County Board who supported Steve Graham’s request were Dan Rabbi (R-Princeton), Robin Rediger (R-Sheffield), Laura Rose (R-Buda), Volker (R-Princeton), Tom Giorgano (D-Ladd), Mark Pierson (R-Princeton) and Rob Pozzi (D-Spring Valley).

Goldie Currie
Princeton Bureau Chief

PRINCETON — The Bureau County Board denied a request for conditional use permit to build a private community residential care institution on a secluded piece of property outside of Tiskilwa near the Hennepin Canal.

Steve Graham of Tiskilwa had plans to build the facility to help house homeless people or provide a retreat for those wanting a break from the city.

Graham said his plans included partnering with local organizations, like Public Action to Deliver of Peru and Ottawa and Freedom House of Princeton to help those in need. His proposal included building a two-story straw bale house on stilts at the dead end of 2160 East Street near Tiskilwa Bottom Road south of the railroad tracks. The facility would be built on stilts to avoid potential flood damage from the nearby canal. The institution would have been built large enough to house up to 10 persons.

The Bureau County Planning Commission made a recommendation of approval with stipulations that all building codes and licensing requirements were met, and the Zoning Board of Appeals voted a 4-1 recommendation approval with a stipulation of only allowing up to 10 residential care residents and 12 volunteers or supervisors in the facility at once.

When the county board opened its meeting on Tuesday with public comment, they heard from two Tiskilwa residents who were opposed to building the facility in the area. Dale Kimberly and Terry Munson both farm land near the purposed site and said building in the particular area would cause a number of concerns, including flooding, getting fire trucks under the low railroad trestle that vehicles have to drive under to get to the property, the large quantity of mosquitoes and security to neighbors.

Munson presented a petition to the board that included signatures from 80 percent of residents living in the immediate area opposing the structure.

“People that have lived here for a number of years ... have seen the floods, have seen the problems down in there. They are the ones that know what’s going on rather than someone that drives down there on a Sunday afternoon to see the area and say,’oh, everything looks good and fine here.’ It’s down a hill, underneath a 10-foot railroad trestle, it’s between the railroad and the canal on 38 acres of land,” he said.

Although Graham was listed under public comment, he showed up to the meeting after public-comment session, and therefore was unable to share comments about his proposal. Chairman Dale Anderson however allowed board members to ask Graham questions about the idea.

A lot of the board members made opposing comments about the facility and said the idea of the institution “seemed too vague.”

Board member Robin Rediger (R-Sheffield) asked why Graham had chosen a location that seemed to have a number of safety issues. Graham replied that he didn’t see any issues with the property.

“There are a number of things about the property that do make it attractive for what we want to do,” he said. “It is away from most people. We were trying to not make it close to a lot of people. The nearest neighbor is about a half a mile down the road... We are also taking our safety personally, so we didn’t feel we would be unsafe if the neighbors didn’t feel unsafe.

“Another aspect, is that there is a bicycle path running right along it and we could ride into Tiskilwa anytime we like... and we would have a state park for a front lawn which we thought made it attractive,” he said. “The flooding is unattractive, but we have ways of dealing with it.”

Board member Loretta Volker (R-Princeton) explained to the board how easy it can be to make quick judgments after hearing snippets of “hearsay” and “buzzwords” around town. She said “flood area,” “house on stilts made of straw” and “mosquito haven” were among some of the “buzz words” being used.

She tried to weigh the argument by reminding the board that the property is an area that floods, not a designated FEMA flood zone and that the county does have building codes for structures built on stilts. She also said that it had been noted that the Tiskilwa Fire Department’s truck could fit under the railroad trestle.

Although Loretta Volker ended her argument stating that the proposal should be sent back to the Zoning Board of Appeals for review, board member Marc Wilt (R-Walnut) made a motion to deny the conditional use permit and Jim Donarski (R-Princeton) seconded the motion. The board cast 7 votes in favor of the permit and 15 votes to deny it, with Joe Bassetti (D-Spring Valley) abstained from voting. Robert Albrecht (D-Ohio), Mike Maynard (D-Walnut) and Mike Kohr (D-Princeton) were absent from the meeting.

Goldie Currie can be reached at (815) 879-5200 or

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