Metra Ridgefield Station Chugs Along, But Planning and Zoning Commissioners Want Traffic Improvements, Too
The Crystal Lake Planning and Zoning Commission gave preliminary approval to Metra’s proposed Ridgefield Train Station, but conditioned it on making multi-million dollar road improvements recommended by city engineering firm Patrick Engineering.
The improvements, most overdue, according to Patrick engineers Ryan Westrom and Chris DeRosia, would include signals at Country Club and Hillside Road, plus Market and Ridgefield Road next to the Union Pacific railroad tracks. In addition, suggested improvements at McConnell Road and Country Club were requested. Finally, the motion asked that Metra make whatever improvements would be necessary for commuters to be able to get out of the parking lot on the 9,360 vehicle per day Country Club Road.
“If improvements are made, they will accommodate the traffic we projected,” Westrom told the commissioners.
The engineering firm, starting from scratch, projected that about 36% of the station’s commuters would come down Country Club Road from the north, 41% down Hillside Road and 22% from north of the site across the tracks through Downtown Ridgefield. Do the math and you see that 77% is predicted to come from the same side of the tracks where the 17.5 acre station will be located.
Members expressed frustration that none of the roads were under city jurisdiction. The engineering report said current traffic volumes merited signals on both ends of Market Street in Downtown Ridgefield. And, one at Tartan Drive and Ridgefield Road by 2015.
Consensus was expressed that commissioners wanted to protect Ridgefield residents and business owners, although none are located within Crystal Lake city limits.
Motions to change the zoning from Estate Residential to Semi-Public and Public Use passed 5-0, as did a motion to approve how Metra proposed to meet the city’s Watershed Ordinance.
A motion from former City Councilman Dave Goss to approve a Preliminary Planned Unit Development, contingent on staff recommendations and road improvements suggested by Patrick Engineering passed 3-2.
Metra’s presentation suggested that property values around train stations generally increased with the prediction being that farmland north of the station site on Country Club Road would “have development pressure…(with) higher density development, higher land values.”
Goss voted against his own motion, based on his belief that the commuter station would lower property values in Ridgefield. He was joined by Commission Chairman Jeff Greenman.
Commissioners Don Batastini, Vince Esposito, Alan Skluzacek voted in the affirmative, although Esposito had said earlier, “I don’t think a train station that size needs to be out there.”
When the issue reaches city council on April 6th, a three-fifths approval vote will be needed, according to Metra’s local attorney Joe Gottemoller.
Earlier, Gottemoller had argued that the new traffic generated by Metra “is very small.” He noted that none of the improvements recommended by the traffic consulting firm, for example improving Market Street, were on McHenry County’s Five-Year Plan.
During the public comment period Chris Conway from Hillside road worried about increased garbage on the road and its taking more than the ten minutes it now takes her to get out of her driveway.
“We kind of feel there’s some insider trading going on on this property,” speaking for herself and neighbors.
The property is half owned by McHenry County Board Chairman Ken Koehler.
Also speaking was Craig Steagall, land owner across the tracks from Koehler’s land.
He questioned the traffic experts traffic projections. Earlier he had hired his own traffic consultant and presented results to the city council.
“How did 84 Lumber get in there without making those improvements?” he asked.
Steagall also asked how the decades-old agriculture zoning for the former Flowerwood nursery property got changed to industrial through “a zoning map correction.” (Later Planning and Economic Development Director Michelle Rentzsch confirmed that what Stegall said was correct.)
“There’s been an allegation I’m on my high horse because of a sour land deal,” he continued, telling of how Metra approached him to buy 12 acres and how Alexandra Lumber was considering purchasing 20 acres prior to purchasing 84 Lumber’s abandoned yard. Steagall then pointed out that under the discussions he had had with Metra to buy land south of the tracks, he and his partner would have had to put in $500,000 to a million for infrastructure improvements, a cost burden he considered unreasonable.
Steagall compared Metra’s planned station to
- “Health Care—Start over,”
- “the Bridge to Nowhere” and
- “the Cornhusker Kickback.”
Speaking also of the Lily Pond Road station, which will be built on donated land, Stegall concluded,
“It’s Metra stations for all our friends.”
Another man asked if people, especially McHenry County College students and employees would have walking and biking access.
“Would it be good service to the college.”
No one from McHenry College offered public comment.
“What prevented Metra from putting the station on the south side of the tracks,” another person asked.
In rebuttal, a factoid came out that was interesting.
Over 60% of the people using the Pingree Road Station are from Lake in the Hills.
Replying to Steagall, Gottemoller said, “Sour grapes. That’s a political item that we don’t have anything to do with.”
Rick Mack, representing Metra, explained that 15 trains would come down the track each morning and that the Lily Pond Road Station (called East Woodstock) was put on the south side of the tracks so most cars using it wouldn’t have to cross the tracks.
He explained that capacity throughout McHenry County was being expanded, pointing to all the empty land between Woodstock and Harvard.
“This is an entire upgrade, not just to address today,” Mack continued. Earlier, it had been pointed out that train storage would be moved from Crystal Lake to north of Woodstock, that there was no room to store additional trains in Crystal Lake.
“All of these improvements are interconnected.”
Traffic concerns were widespread among the commissioners.
“We’re going to trust the county to do what it needs to do and trust the state to do what it needs to do.
“There are so many interdependencies, so many ‘what if’s’
“It’s a huge risk.”
At the end of the meeting, Goss thanked the city council “for standing up for the traffic study.”
Metra had asked to use its own traffic consultant, but that was rejected by the council in favor of one on the city’s approved list.