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Spot zoning again becomes an issue

City panel opposes request for planned banquet facility

ROCK FALLS – Another planned business project just outside the city limits has failed to win the support of the Rock Falls Planning and Zoning Commission.

Juan Roman of Sterling recently bought property at 12717 Lawrence Road for $55,000 from the Rock Falls Company of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Roman plans to have Jolene Rodriguez, also of Sterling, operate a banquet facility at the building that had been used as a church.

In order to carry out their business plan, Roman must have the property rezoned from residential to business use. His application was received by the Whiteside County Board on Dec. 26.

As was the case with a recent community solar project that had been proposed by Sunrise Energy Ventures, the city was given an opportunity to object to the request because it is within a 1.5-mile radius of its borders.

The city’s zoning commission voted 5-to-0 Thursday against Roman’s petition to have the property rezoned to accommodate a business.

City officials said they had expected Roman and Rodriguez to attend the meeting, but they didn’t show up. They were unavailable for comment.

Prior to the vote, City Administrator Robbin Blackert said two main factors were considered in the city’s recommendation that the request be denied.

“We looked at whether the requested use was consistent with the county’s comprehensive plan and whether having a business there constituted spot zoning,” Blackert said.

Spot zoning, by definition, is giving a small piece of land a different zoning classification than the larger surrounding area for the benefit of the petitioner and to the detriment of the surrounding landowners.

Neighbors can take spot zoning challenges to court, and although they can be difficult to win, cities and counties are more vigilant about avoiding the practice. Before the request could be approved by the county, Roman would have to contact all neighbors within 250 feet about his plans.

According to the county’s comprehensive plan, the area is considered rural transition land, but unlike the solar project area, it is zoned residential for single-family homes.

“The comprehensive plan doesn’t list B-1 as consistent with future use, but since it’s zoned residential instead of agricultural, the county’s plan doesn’t serve as much of a guideline,” Blackert said.

The panel, however, unanimously agreed that having a business there would be considered spot zoning. Because a church had most recently been on the property, it had been allowed in a residential area.

The commission’s recommendation will now go the council, which is likely to vote accordingly on the heels of its objection to the solar farm based on similar concerns.

The county can overrule the city’s decision, but it now must do so by a three-fourths majority instead of a simple majority.

Mark Searing, the city’s building inspector said there isn’t much of a precedent for the county to overrule the city’s objections in these cases.

“I haven’t seen them do it since I’ve been here, but if they feel strongly enough about it, I suppose they could,” Searing said.

In the solar project request, the county didn’t get a chance to make that decision. The council had given its approval Jan. 2 to send its official opposition letter, only to discover the next day that the company has withdraw its county zoning request on Dec. 20.

The solar company, based in Minnesota, contacted the city earlier this week to tell Searing that they decided to pull the petition after learning of the Planning and Zoning Commission’s recommendation made on Dec. 13.

Whats next

The Planning and Zoning Commission's recommendation will move to the Rock Falls City Council when it next meets at 6:30 p.m. Jan. 15 at City Hall, 603 W. 10th St. 

The agendas will be posted at and at City Hall. Call 815-622-1100 for more information.

The council meeting also airs live on Channel 5.

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