When two communities fail to plan together, they end up being played off one another — to a giant developer’s benefit. On February 1, 2009, Sprawl-Busters reported that 7 residents of West Dundee, Illinois, had turned to litigation to stop a Wal-Mart supercenter from impacting the value of their homes. This battle tracks back to June 10, 2008, when residents in the village of East Dundee, Illinois were in an uproar because a real estate listing showed that Wal-Mart discount store # 1531 in the village was being advertised as available for lease or sale, and that a larger superstore was going to be built in neighboring West Dundee. East Dundee’s Village President met with local Wal-Mart officials, who seemed as surprised as he was. “We have no official word from Wal-Mart that anything is happening at this point,” a local Wal-Mart spokesman said. But Wal-Mart officials eventually told the village it was shutting down its store in East Dundee to move to West Dundee. The store in West Dundee will be less than 2 miles from the existing store in East Dundee. One local official described Wal-Mart’s move from East Dundee as a “body blow” to village finances. The East Dundee store generates about $600,000 a year in sales tax revenues for the village — a gross number, before subtracting lost sales at other businesses, and the substantial municipal expenses, such as police, fire and road maintenance. East Dundee Village President Dan O’Leary said his community would lose 15% of its service-related funds when Wal-Mart shuts down. “I am guessing we could see a $600,000 cut from our $4 million operating budget,” O’Leary said. “That could mean a reduction in services like police and public works, and then we just run out of places to cut back.” West Dundee officials seemed to have little qualms about stealing revenues from their neighbor. West Dundee’s Village Manager admitted that Wal-Mart was negotiating with General Growth Properties Inc., the owner of Spring Hill Mall, for a mall out lot that was commercially zoned. To make matters worse, it appears that East Dundee will make the transfer of location possible through a deal between the two villages in which the East provides sewer services for the West. So the West will be able to offer sewer to the new 186,000 s.f. Wal-Mart stolen from East Dundee, by using East Dundee’s sewer system. By the spring of 2008, West Dundee residents were speaking out against the superstore. The citizen’s group, Dundee Neighbors, dominated the hearing process. “We just don’t think that a Wal-Mart Supercenter is a right fit,” a spokeswoman for Dundee Neighbors told the Chicago Tribune. “There’s really no need for it in our community.” But the West Dundee Trustees voted unanimously to approve the final engineering and landscaping plans for the Wal-Mart Supercenter. “It’s what they call their ‘green’ building with skylights,” one Trustee proudly told the Courier News. “It isn’t your blue-looking Wal-Mart.” The color of the store seemed to be more important than the neighbor’s strident opposition to the plan. Wal-Mart will build a store with “oak” and “coffee” colors, and the new Wal-Mart logo. Citizen comments got the village to require that the rear light standards be lowered from 40 feet to 30 feet, and some buffering for the loading dock to shield it from the nearby homes — but these changes will not mitigate the harm done to residential abutters. Dundee Neighbors remained upset by the potential increased traffic, the increased crime, increased storm water runoff and lack of any market need for another Wal-Mart so close to the East Dundee store. On September 13, 2008, Dundee Neighbors shared the following press release with Sprawl-Busters: “Families of the Dundee Neighbors group have filed a complaint in Kane County Chancery Court today. The complaint is intended to challenge the recent Village of West Dundee Board of Trustees decision to grant a Special Use for a Planned Unit Development for a Wal-Mart Supercenter on Huntley Road near Route 31. “Putting a twenty-four hour development this size up against homes is irresponsible,” said Julie Reed, one of the plaintiffs on the complaint. “The process was fraught with problems, and we think that the Board decided wrongly. What’s worse, as our questions got more intense, the Board rushed to a decision, rather than slowing the process down to allow for greater transparency.” The complaint alleges that the Board failed to enforce its own ordinances, and improperly granted a Special Use permit for a Planned Unit Development. The complaint also points out the failure to meet basic standards for a Special Use. Four and a half months later, the neighbors case came up for its first hearing on February 2nd. Wal-Mart and the Village of West Dundee asked the courts to throw out the case of “The West Dundee Seven” includes homeowners Julie and Wayne Reed, Toni and Nelson Martell, Kristin and Stephen Geati and Lisa Geisler. The defendants — Wal-Mart, the village, Spring Hill Mall, and General Growth Properties — want the case dismissed. Lisa Geisler told the Suburban Courier News, “One of the main concerns is that in 2000, the property was zoned B-2 when the Meijer was going in, but they pulled out. Our own ordinances (in West Dundee) say that if a building permit is not applied for within six months, it reverts back (to R-2 residential zoning.) That’s why they can’t legally build. It’s zoned for residential.” West Dundee’s Village Manager disputes that. “The legal argument is one that you can’t automatically revert zoning without a hearing on any piece of property,” Manager Joe Cavallaro told the newspaper. “Regardless of what it states in the (village) code, you can’t rezone property without giving the property owner due process.” The neighbors feel their due process was trampled on, and they have been energized by this process to change the way homeowners in West Dundee are treated. Lisa Geisler, along with co-appellant Stephen Geati, are running for seats on the West Dundee Village Board in April. “I’m not satisfied with the things I see happening and the decisions being made in West Dundee,” Geisler told the Courier News. So she’s running for public office to replace the people who disregarded her property rights. On March 24th, Sprawl-Busters reported that the hearing and ruling on the lawsuit has been pushed back until April. Sixteenth Circuit Court Judge Michael J. Colwell initially indicated that he would reach a decision in March, but the next hearing was postponed until April 7. The wasteful destruction of the East Dundee store to build another, larger store minutes away, has all but been forgotten in the battle of whether the new land is properly zoned. But the East Dundee/West Dundee fight is emblematic of the mindless growth pressure created by Wal-Mart’s quest for more market share. This week, Judge Colwell threw out the case of the West Dundee Seven. The judge’s written decision has not been issued yet, but West Dundee’s Village Manager is declaring victory over his residents. “Based on recent events, the judgment validates the decisions made by the village board regarding commercial development in and around Spring Hill Mall,” the Village manager said. The two West Dundee residents who were running for Village Trustee in last week’s election did not win their seats. But Lisa Geisler, one of the plaintiffs, said the citizen’s group had not yet decided on whether or not to appeal the judge’s ruling. They have 30 days to file their appeal. “We are disappointed in the judge’s decision,” Geisler told the Chicago Daily Herald, “but we have not seen the written ruling. We will look at all of our options and exhaust them once we see the ruling.” If the tables were reversed, and General Growth Properties or Wal-Mart were the plaintiff, the appeal would already have been filed.
This site was zoned for commercial use in 2000 when Meijer had expressed interest in building on the land. West Dundee argued that because the village never held a hearing to rezone the land, it’s still commercial property. The village also claimed that the statute of limitations had expired because zoning maps printed every year since 2001 have listed the property as zoned for business. “We don’t think a big box store is right for West Dundee,” Lisa Geisler told the media. “We are working on smart growth and reduction of spending.” This lawsuit is just the first step to a broader effort to bring transparency and community input to planning decisions, according to Dundee Neighbors. Kristin Geati, another of the plaintiffs, added, “Too much of the planning process is obscure to the public. If taxpayers felt they could positively impact the process, then they would be more involved. Right now, it is a developer’s game. Our Village should be more active in partnering with the community to pursue shared goals and values.” There is really no need for a Wal-Mart in West Dundee. Historically, this site has provided a transition zone between shopping uses and 205 homes in a nearby subdivision. Dundee Neighbors are literally fighting for the future value of their homes. The property is adjacent to a park with baseball fields, tennis courts and a playground. Neighbors know that if a huge retail project encroaches on this buffer zone, that their homes will be harder to resell, and will lose value — not to mention having a noisy and congested neighbor. “It had a residential zoning, but it was never intended to be developed residentially, because it was part of the Spring Hill Mall holdings,” said West Dundee’s village manager. But the mall owners had no right to a rezoning. The neighbors hired land use attorney Brian O’Connor, who told the Chicago Tribune, “They understand it’s not a matter of if it will happen, but when it will happen. But it needs to be consistent with the residential character of that area.” The fact that the store is going to be coffee-colored isn’t going to change the damage this store will do to the quality of life in the neighborhoods, and the value of homes. Readers are urged to visit the Dundee Neighbors website at DundeeNeighbors.blogspot.com. To find out to help this group of homeowners pay their legal bills, email them at [email protected] The citizens need help with their legal battle thus far against Wal-Mart, and one of the largest mall developers in the nation, General Growth Properties.